Edith Avila Olea

In June, I had the privilege of listening to lawyer and racial justice advocate Bryan Stevenson at my commencement. He called everyone to think about their role in the injustices we see today.

There are a few phrases that stuck out to me from his speech that I continue to go back to, reflecting on my own role at my diocese and in my role as a member of the community.

Two of the phrases include: “Hope is your superpower” and “hope is critical to your capacity to change the world.”

How timely these words have been. Along with many other leaders, I’ve spent weeks getting the immigrant community ready for the expected immigration raids.

This work is overwhelming. It wasn’t a surprise when I found this effort triggering some of my own immigrant experiences. I don’t have the privilege of walking away or ignoring the news cycles. I don’t have to imagine how hard it is to live in daily fear of being brown because I am brown. I can’t walk away from this reality.

Like many advocates, my personal life is intertwined with my work life. There are very few moments in which I’m not in the trenches of the immigrant crisis. Consequently, my nightmares have returned, and my anxiety has increased. Needless to say, this type of persecution is exhausting for the immigrant and the ally.

The journey isn’t just pure hardship though. I’ve also been reminded of the journey of hope that we, immigrants, are blessed to live.

I keep repeating a third phrase that Stevenson said, “Stay close to people who are poor and vulnerable,” for they will bring you hope. They (immigrants) will be your energy to continue to fight this good fight.

I’m learning it’s the people that I serve and commune with that keep me hopeful. God gifted this community to me so that I could witness the hope in people, not just the fear.

In the organizing community, we talk a lot about the power. Power comes from two places, positions of power and the power of people in large numbers. We see this especially true in the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. moved masses of people to fight for equality. You know what moved those people to show up? Hope (and probably righteous anger, but that’s another conversation for another column).

“Hope is your superpower.” I’ve heard hope described in many ways, but never in such a simple yet powerful picture. This picture, the image of hope standing on top of injustices, makes me feel empowered.

I see hope in our immigrant families who through great fear still come together for a meal — like Christ did with the disciples at the Last Supper. Even through such uncertain times, our families are still praying, still working and still celebrating. They are living and moving forward in this country. They give me hope for tomorrow.

I see hope in the organizers I work with who never tire of serving their people. They work all week, weeknights and weekends without ceasing. And through their exhaustion, they greet the workers and volunteers with a smile. We lock arms and march forward. They give me hope for tomorrow.

I see hope in our allies, who refuse to sit back and do nothing. Even with their limited Spanish knowledge, they come out to trainings, marches and protests to stand up against racism. I am proud to work alongside them. They give me hope for tomorrow.

I see hope in the cross, where Jesus was stripped of his dignity, beaten and died. Even then, death could not stop him.

If hope is our superpower, it’s because Jesus conquered all injustice set before humanity. I don’t know what will be of tomorrow, but I know that it won’t be the end of our story because in the end, I know justice will be brought forth for us all.

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Edith Avila Olea is associate director of justice and peace for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois. The 2015 winner of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, she holds a master’s degree in public policy and a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication.