Valerie Street Speaks Out On: Access To Healthcare, Education, Housing, Economic Safety, And Livable Wages


Career Visions of People Remaking Our Small Planet: Issue  #1

"We Must Challenge

The Status Quo,"

Says Valerie Street
As She Looks Back At Her Journey

From Segregated Schools In Ohio

To Public Service In California

Michael Chacko Daniels, Editor & Publisher,
New River Free Press International:

Valerie Street explores with us her vision of remaking America as she takes us from her childhood in the 1950s in segregated Cleveland, Ohio, on the city’s East Side, and the restricted world of work for Black Americans, to entering a college run by Jesuits at the very young age of 16, to her remarkable two decades of public service.

As passionate about the need for ‘change’ as she was when she started out, Ms Street has these words of encouragement for young people envisioning their role in fashioning our common future:

  • “We need the hopes, dreams and compassionate purpose of young people to begin shaping public policy through public service.”

  • "If young people can do these things, the world they will inherit from us will be forever transformed and changed. The result will be a world that becomes the hope and reality of what we, who came before them, dreamed of and longed for during our time of service. AMEN!"

A Valerie Street Data Bank

High School
East Technical High School, Cleveland, Ohio

John Carroll University

Law School
Case Western Reserve Law School, Cleveland, Ohio

Teacher that influenced Valerie the most
Judith E.W. Young, 7th-9th grade math teacher,
who taught me about faith, perseverance, and hope

Books that influenced Valerie
the most as she was growing up
James Baldwin's Fire Next Time and Go Tell It On The Mountain

Favorite Philosopher
Socrates and St. Thomas Aquinas

Favorite Singer
Sarah Vaughn

Favorite Quotation
"A fearful life is one not yet fully formed in LOVE.”


New River Free Press International:

Tell us about yourself.

What makes you who you are?

ValerieStreet I am an African American woman who was born in the 1950s, who grow up at a time of racial segregation in America.

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended segregated schools on the city's East Side. African Americans at that time were not allowed to live outside of that area, due to legal restrictions on home ownership.

My view of the world was shaped by a very loving and supportive community, which included family, church, neighborhood, and school.

My schooling in the early years was comprised of a nearly 100% African American teaching corps in the community, who demanded excellence and expected good behavior and a willingness to come to school to learn.

When I was 16 years of age, two events occurred that forever changed the course of my life.

First, I was old enough to "legally" enter the work world. During that time, Blacks were limited in the types of work we could do because of the lack of equal access, opportunity, and education, so most jobs were in the category of domestic/home cleaning and maintenance, hotel cooking and maid work, working in factories, going out on trucks in the early morning to pick fruit and vegetables on local farms, or building cleaning and maintenance, and the like.

The professions like teaching, nursing, medicine, and law had some Black people in them because of access through the historical Black colleges (and a few white ones, especially for those on athletic scholarship), but opportunities were limited due to financial pressures on families, as well as the total number of students that could actually access colleges in a given year.

The summer of my 16th year, I got a job working in a huge commercial laundry that was old, the machinery poorly maintained, and the nearly 100% Black workforce forced to do work that I imagined our ancestors did as slaves.

Because we were the commercial laundry for hospitals, schools, and hotels in the Cleveland area, we had to wash, press, fold, and box thousands of sheets, blankets, rugs, and the like each day in small, cramped areas. These areas were for the most part hot, dirty and smelly because of the 100 degree temperatures produced by large commercial pressers and irons.

There were many Black women in my work area who were broken in mind, body, and spirit. Many had long time back, arm and hand injuries, and terrible arthritis.

Since the laundry did not offer medical benefits, many of these women were never able to access healthcare and medicine that could have helped them, or at least alleviated some of their pain.

Many, if not most of them, felt uncared for and unloved in their lives and just wanted a sense of hope, peace, and rest. Unfortunately, working at $2.00 per hour, and then working other jobs in addition, that wasn’t a reality in most Black women’s lives at that time.

That summer, I came home each day and told my beloved mother about my experiences in the laundry and she listened.

One day, after a particularly bad day at the laundry, I came home crying about how the women made "fun of me" and called me names after I told them I was going to college at the end of the summer. I can still remember the words my mother said to me that day after I told her what had happened to me.

"Valerie,” she said, “you must always remember who those women are. They will never have the opportunities you will have in your life and many of them are beaten down and broken by a life they have been forced to live due to circumstances because of their color and being women.

“You are blessed to be who you are and live in this changing time, that will allow you a good education and opportunities in America that those women and myself could only dream of. Never forget them or their sacrifice as you journey toward your own future.”

I have never forgotten my mother’s words, or her sacrifice either, as I have made my way in public service and in my life.

The second event that shaped my life was the fact that the Jesuit fathers allowed me entrance into college at age 16. I was one of the youngest students ever admitted to their university during that time. I lived on campus and grew to understand, and became committed to, the "Catholic way of life," consisting of sharing time, treasure, talent, and service to the community.

Since my early years, I have been committed to helping and serving others. I believe the meaning and purpose of life lies in the lessons we learn by sharing what we have, what we know, and what we can do with others.

Many years ago, I was asked by a wise teacher “what would I want to say to GOD” about my life after leaving this frail "veil of tears." I said in response that I wanted to be able to say two things to my God:
That I did the best I could with what I had, and

That I was happy to be in His service each day I was allowed to live on earth.


New River Free Press International:

What was your vision

of society that brought you

to public service?

ValerieStreet When I finished college, I went to law school. Upon graduation from law school, I moved to California and began doing criminal legal appeals at San Quentin Prison for a law office in San Francisco.

After working with the prison population for a while, I had an "epiphany." I noticed that most of the men in the prison were either Black or Brown (Hispanic) and many had the same types of childhood backgrounds: broken homes, poor/no schooling, had been either physically or sexually abused, lacked access to loving families, came from families who had substance abuse issues and who never worked, or had limited ability to get good paying jobs, etc.

It came to me that maybe the "system of government" in America was the barrier in most minority folks’ lives because they were being "purposefully" excluded and shut out from access to opportunities for change on an individual and community level including access to good education and job opportunities.

The more I thought about government and public service, the more I believed maybe a "better way for me to effectuate change was from the inside out."

Once I made that decision, I entered a government affairs and leadership program called the Coro Foundation.

Through Coro, I completed a government public service internship and became even more convinced that it was "government and the people running it" that needed to change, in order to effectuate transformation in the life of the community.

I have now served in government public service for nearly 20 years and still feel as passionate about the need for "change" as I felt many years ago starting out.

Sadly, after all these years in government public service, I still see in far too many instances, government and the bureaucrats making decisions in their own interest and not the people, especially when it comes to opportunities and access to quality education, livable wage jobs, healthcare, and decent, safe affordable housing.

Until that changes, we, the people, will continue to be at the "beck and call" of the power brokers and power holders known as government.


New River Free Press International:

What do you think we

should remember as we remake

America through the work we do?

ValerieStreet We should always remember that we come together in all that we do with each other as equals, not doing for, but doing with each other. This is critical to remember because far to often, unintended imbalanced relationships can occur among people, if we are not cognizant of that reality. If relationships among people are imbalanced, feelings of misunderstanding, patronizing attitudes and anger can occur, that will ultimately defeat the cause of “working together” as equals.

All of us are born with unique gifts and talents that only need the "mixture" known as opportunity to be able to make change individually and collectively. That is the history and legacy of humanity through the ages.

If we are filled with a collective spirit that "hungers and thirsts" for peace, equality, justice, and opportunity to change and grow, there is little we cannot change for the better in our lives, or for the common good, or in the community, no matter the circumstance or location on the planet.

However, what is needed is hope and a vision for "that which can become" and movement toward that vision and goal.

Human rights struggles around the globe are classic examples of how hope, vision, and movement toward equality and justice work together to make change; no matter if the place was India in the 1940s and 1950s being challenged by Gandhi and his supporters, or the 1950s and 1960s American south with its Jim Crow laws against Black people being challenged by Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the ethnicities of people that came together under the civil rights movement.

Hope, vision, and movement make for change in a society, and that is the lesson we must always remember.

As people committed in mind, body and spirit to peace, equality and justice for all, we must continue to:

  • Challenge each other and our assumptions about the way we speak and do things that impact the "body politic" conversation—locally, nationally, and globally;
  • Challenge the status quo that often favors those in power and those who "have," versus those who have not, and who are thereby left behind, often without the necessities of life;
  • Challenge the assumption that materialism and consumerism equal meaning, status and purpose of our earthly life; and
  • Always work with, advocate with, and demand inclusion for, people who are refused entry and/or are discriminated against when it comes to the basic entitlements of a society, including meaningful work/jobs, education, housing, and healthcare.

New River Free Press International:

Has your vision

changed as you have

participated in the

remaking of America?

ValerieStreet Yes, my vision has changed.

As far as the individual person is concerned, I can still see in most people a belief in their ability to change and be resilient in life, no matter the circumstances.

As long as people have hope and a dream for better in their lives, they will work until their vision for better is accomplished, for self and those whom they love and/or care for in their lives.

However, I am less optimistic about the humanistic transformation of the governmental (including military), corporate, and religious structures that impact our daily lives as individuals here in America and around the globe. It seems the triad is moving to become "One" in absolute power and control in the life of the individual—physically, economically, and, in many instances, religiously.

This is not good for any of us for a variety of reasons, including the potential inability to have the freedom to choose living one’s own life on individual terms in peace, dignity, and respect.


New River Free Press International:

What challenges do you

perceive in achieving your

vision of society?

ValerieStreet The major challenge relates to lack of shared values for the "common good" of society including the need for adequate provision and access to healthcare, education, housing, economic security, and livable wage work.

Most of the political and economic struggles in American society are presented as "either or propositions." Rarely do we hear any discussions related to the question: "What is best for the common good of all."

Today, there seems to be an approach of "either you are a friend by agreeing, or an enemy if you disagree." It is this polarization that keeps people divided in mind and spirit and doesn't allow for evolution of thought or change that could be in the "good/best interests" of most people in the society.

This type of polarized, self-centered thinking doesn't allow for innovation, creativity, and, in may instances, the compassion that is called for in order to respond to human need; it is a selfish/self-centered, "winner take all mentality" that is detrimental to society and, ultimately, to the human spirit, because it takes away the prospect of "hope" in the future.


New River Free Press International:

What needs to be done

to overcome these challenges?

ValerieStreet Holy Scripture says, "People without a vision, soon perish.”

People in America and around the world, must find common ways to band together and demand access from governments to the basic human essentials for quality of life existence, like:

Clean water, livable/clean environment, access to adequate and nutritious food, healthcare, housing, education, economic security, and livable wage work.

This is the “just vision" that all of us around the globe who care about the quality of our human life, must promote and demand in "one voice" until our demands are met, person by person, country by country.

These are the essential elements for a basic quality of life we must struggle together for, die together for, and fight for, each day of our earthly life until they are in place for all humans on the earth. AMEN!

How do we do this? By joining political and action groups; by using the internet to connect common causes and people together, by protesting in huge numbers in the streets and public meeting areas until our voices are heard, by using the tool of economic boycotts of corporations until they do "right" by the people, and by voting out of office people who do not and will not represent the "common good" of all the people.


New River Free Press International:

What pointers would you give

young people of the 9/11 generation

as they work in public service assignments?

ValerieStreet First, I would encourage them to have a "dream of a better world" that they carry in their mind, body and spirit each day. I would remind them that the way they "see their lives, shapes their lives" and that the greatest tragedy in life is not failure or death, but a life without purpose and without service to others.

We need the hopes, dreams, and compassionate purpose of young people to begin shaping public policy through public service.

It is vital that young people always, always remember to put the needs of the poor and dispossessed FIRST in all that they do and work toward and NOT let their ego, pride, possession of money or need for power and control be the "end result" of their service.

If young people can do these things, the world they will inherit from us will be forever transformed and changed. The result will be a world that becomes the hope and reality of what we, who came before them, dreamed of and longed for during our time of service. AMEN!


New River Free Press International:

What personal and public lessons have

you learned from the devastation

caused by the Asian Tsunami?

ValerieStreet I have learned that "nature" does not discriminate by race, class, or status, so that when natural Earth changes occur, we humans are always at HER mercy wherever we are in the world. Nature and Earth were here and moving, long before humans ever walked the Earth. Somehow, we must come to learn, better understand, and respect her power and presence with us now and forever, as well as to teach our children the same truth.

Secondly, sadly, I have witnessed the ongoing class, race, and status reality, as it relates to the planning for, and response to, natural disasters around the world. The same "color" and economic divisions seem to exist all over the world and because they do, it seems that people who happen to be darker in hue, no matter where they live including Africa, Asia, or America, bear the largest brunt of the pain and suffering due to discrimination based on skin color.

I believe this ongoing categorization of humans, based on skin color or economic status, leads to a perception that allows for separation. This in turn allows for people to see themselves NOT to be the same as others, which then leads to viewing people as "other, less than, or not worthy." This separation and categorization is morally reprehensible and an abomination because, ultimately, it allows people to be seen as expendable.

One day, we in the world will wake up to face ourselves and see this ugly truth. Maybe then we will finally decide to make a change in mind, heart, and spirit.

If I have learned anything from the Asian Tsunami, I have learned that all who hurt and suffer around the Earth are MY brothers and sisters. They are a part of my human family and deserve all the help, love, and attention I can give and I can do, with what I have in the way of resources at my disposal.


New River Free Press International:

What personal and public lessons have

you learned from the post-Hurricane

Katrina tragedies in New Orleans?

ValerieStreet Same as above.


About the Editor: San Franciscan Michael Chacko Daniels, formerly a community worker and clown, and now a re-emerging writer and editor, grew up in Bombay. Books: Writers Workshop, Kolkata: Split in Two (1971, 2004), Anything Out of Place Is Dirt (1971, 2004), and That Damn Romantic Fool (1972, 2005). Read all about his Indian and American journey at He helped found the Jobs for Homeless Consortium in 1988 and was its executive director from 1995 till its closing in 2004.

All views expressed in the interview are those of the interviewee
and not those of the editor or this website.
______   *   ______ 

Signed, Limited Editions

An avid reader's comment about

Michael Chacko Daniels'

handcrafted books:

"The books are beautiful,

they look like little treasures."

--Brenda Coleman

Each copy is

a work of art in itself.

Click here to read more about
 Michael Chacko Daniels' books.

Click here to view a digital version of

Anything Out of Place Is Dirt
on Google Book Search 

Click here to view a digital version of

Split in Two
on Google Book Search


______   *   ______ 


Have you visited the rest of

Michael Chacko Daniels' website,

US-India Writing Station?

If not, please do and be sure to

bookmark it. If you wish to

refer others to it, here's the URL:

Feel free to visit, and explore: Fiction, Poetry, Community Service, Homeless, Commentary, & Discussion On The Road To Remaking The World We Live In . . . San Francisco, Grand Rapids, Evanston, Bombay, Kerala, Oakland, Berkeley, Monterey, Bangalore, Calcutta . . .

Feel free to share the above link with others.

Have you read Michael Chacko Daniels' flash fiction story,
Sing an Indian Name,
on Denver Syntax's free online magazine?
If not, here's the URL:

Feel free to share the above link with others.



And the following

Popular History Pages

Posted on Thursday, June 30, 2005 at 06:07PM by Registered CommenterMichael Chacko Daniels | CommentsPost a Comment