Ron Thomas on OC homelessness.
Ron Thomas on OC homelessness.
Yasmin Nouh/OC Weekly

Ron Thomas at CSUF Social Justice Summit: Defend the Homeless

"Here's that beautiful picture of Kelly on the right," said Ron Thomas, as he pointed to a portrait of his smiling son toward the end of his PowerPoint presentation on homelessness at Cal State University Fullerton's eighth-annual social justice summit on Saturday, April 14. "Right here, [Kelly] is greatly disabled with mental schizophrenia. And how would you know it?"

On July 5, 2011 six Fullerton police officers confronted Kelly Thomas downtown, repeatedly shocked him with a Taser, and beat him to death.  Thomas was speaking to a crowd of nearly 70 in Titan Theatre. His message to the students: don't be afraid of the homeless.

Ron concluded his hour-long workshop with a call to action, urging students to show respect and compassion for the homeless, volunteer at food banks, and donate, even the simplest items. "The homeless love socks," he said. "Have you ever given a pair of socks to a homeless person? They love them."

The one-day summit featured two dozen other workshops in CSUF's Titan Student Union hall, where approximately 600 students, faculty, and community members attended. During the day, attendees could choose to attend from a diverse roster of workshops on topics ranging from higher education, Mid-East policy, Occupy protests, the immigration system, organic foods, the struggles of the LGBTQ community, racism, and the U.S. militarization of Latin America.

The summit opened with sociology professor Dr. Jeb Middlebrook and ended with Santa Ana-based, community activist Abraham Medina, who performed spoken word on Arizona's SB 1070 legislation and Joaquin Luna Jr. - a troubled, undocumented student who left a suicide note saying he'd never accomplish his goals. "To get to heaven, you don't need papers," recited Medina, in his piece reflecting on Luna's death, and how it hit home for Medina, himself an undocumented immigrant as well.  

Project director and student Harpreet Singh Bath said the summit provided a platform for students and community members to foment tolerance for victims, regardless of their race or identity. The popular workshops this year included Ron Thomas's homelessness workshop, "Women of Juarez," and "Human Trafficking 101" which opened fifth year student Jiotzi Gutierrez's eyes to an issue she hardly knew existed in California.

"Everyone thinks [human trafficking] only happens in third-world countries," she said, "when it actually is one of the worst here in the United States."

Other students, like first year Cindy Manzo, couldn't fathom the violence they learned about in another workshop on the border town of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. For the past two decades, murder and rape have rocked the town that lies just south of El Paso. It compelled Cindy to write a letter to state senators demanding that they address the brutality, and put an end to it.

Her friend, Mixtitlan Vasquez, said she was upset to discover the gravity of human trafficking, violence in neighboring Mexico and poverty in the United States when she attended the summit.

"It reminds me of that saying," Mixtitlan said. "What is it? We've got money for wars but we can't help the poor."

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