Former NOW president, Latino writer to speak

The Assembly Series will bring two speakers in as many days in the last full week of March to Graham Chapel.

Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) from 1991-2002, will deliver the Women’s Week address at 11 a.m. March 26. And writer and activist Luis Rodriguez will speak on “Hearts and Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times” at 4 p.m. March 27.

Ireland is one of the most influential feminist leaders in America. As president of NOW, she used her experience in corporate law to move the organization to the forefront of the political scene and establish herself as a groundbreaking activist.

With more than 300,000 members, NOW is widely recognized as a key player in the effort to improve social and economic conditions for women in the United States and around the world.

In journalistic circles, Ireland is considered a “must quote” for articles that concern women’s rights issues, and she is widely consulted by newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and USA Today. She has been the subject of numerous feature stories as well.

In 1975, Ireland graduated cum laude from the University of Miami Law School, where she served on the boards of both the Law Review and the Lawyer of Americas, the university’s inter-American law journal.

After a 12-year career as an attorney, Ireland became a partner in a Miami law firm. She served as NOW’s pro-bono legal counsel and as a political strategist on many fronts, including the Equal Rights Amendment.

Prior to Ireland’s legal education, she worked as a waitress and can-can dancer, but it was her job as a flight attendant for Pan-American Airways (Pan Am) that launched her career as a feminist political leader.

When Ireland’s husband needed expensive dental work, she discovered Pan Am would not cover him under her employee health plan, although it did cover the wives of her male co-workers. Ireland fought Pan Am and, with the help of the local NOW chapter and the then-new affirmative action laws, won equal benefits.

What Women Want, Ireland’s 1996 book, focuses on political and personal empowerment for women. In it, she addresses such controversial issues as abortion rights, sexual choices and the need to elect more feminist women to political office.

What Women Want also reviews what women have gained since 1920 and what is at risk for women in today’s political climate.

The author of eight books in memoir, children’s literature and poetry, Rodriguez is best known for his searing portrait of gang life in the 1993 autobiography Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. Written as a cautionary tale for his then teenage son who had joined a gang, the memoir was an international best seller, captured several literary awards and was designated a New York Times Notable Book.

His more recent books are Hearts and Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times and a short-story collection of barrio life, The Republic of East L.A. In Hearts and Hands, he takes a hard look at the endemic violence and desolate futures of so many of our country’s youth and offers his advice for helping teens at risk.

His advice comes from more than 20 years of personal efforts working with gang youths, prisoners and others at risk.

He has created a number of important outlets for children and teens traditionally underserved in communities, including Chicago’s Guild Complex, one of the largest literary arts organizations in the Midwest; Youth Struggling for Survival, a nonprofit community group working with gang and non-gang youth; and Rock A Mole (rhymes with guacamole) Productions, a company providing artistic outlets.

In addition, he has conducted workshops and has given readings and talks in prisons, juvenile facilities, homeless shelters, migrant camps and Native American reservations throughout the United States.

All Assembly Series lectures are free and open to the public. For more information, call 935-4620 or visit the series Web site,