I cannot and will not write about the death of Coach John Wooden, as better and more eloquent men and women than I have said everything that can be said about him across the years. I’ll tell you about another John, a man who I was blessed enough to sit at the feet of (literally – his classes were wildly popular and I usually ended up sitting on the floor) learn from, and know personally – John Delloro, who passed away of a heart attack last night/this morning.
For those of you that don’t know him, John was a teacher, political activist, and community leader. He grew up in Southern California, went to Bishop Alemany for high school, transferred to UCLA from College of the Canyons in 1991, and graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and an MA in Asian-American Studies in 1996. For those of you who are alumni and were active in the Asian-American student orgs, you might remember John as working on behalf of sweatshop workers in his time at UCLA and working at KIWA (the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance) and helping found the Pilipino Workers’ Center of Southern California.
He worked as a labor organizer for UNITE and SEIU, eventually becoming a lead organizer for SEIU 1000. He weathered a heart attack in 2006, after which he moved into labor education at the Dolores Huerta Labor Institute of the Los Angeles Community College District, and later became a lecturer at UCLA in Asian American Studies and Labor and Workplace Studies.
Besides all this, John was a father, a husband, and a dear friend. I can’t think of anybody who he hated, or who hated him, even with all the arguments and polemics I’ve seen him in. Rather, he hated oppression, he hated ignorance, and he hated the foolishness that turns people against each other. For him serving the people and loving people were wrapped up – and it showed in his classes.
I met John earlier this year. I was frustrated. I wrote something about my burning need to do something meaningful, that built up justice and mercy and integrity, and I got an e-mail. An e-mail led to another e-mail, and I found myself on a bus to MacArthur Park. I walked into the UCLA Downtown Labor Center, felt awkward as hell, and met John. He was a prince among men – he apologized, since the screening I had gone to was for people looking for a job, but he told me to take his class in the winter. I did. It was probably one of the best I’ve ever taken – who, after all, can teach you how to build a campaign, talk to people, analyze power structures and then manipulate them? John was as brilliant as he was good, and all of us – every single student he had that I know – adored him, and rightly so.
When in that class, John told us about his 2006 heart attack – and how he learned the hard way that working for social justice was as much about taking care of yourself and those you loved than standing up to the principalities and powers. He had a scar running along his arm where the surgeons had taken nerves out to fix his heart, and he used it as a reminder of how to live. I never knew that his heart would turn on him again. For my part, John brought back to politics, to community activism, to something I had always dreamed about doing but didn’t over my years at UCLA. When I was ready, fate or God or whatever brought me to him, and he sent me on my way. I just wish I had more time to ask him how to walk that road.
For those of you that don’t know him, he was a great and good man.
For those of you that did know John…no words can express anything right now. I ache for and with you because you all know, as well or better than I, John’s dedication to his work, love for those around him, and passion for building a better, more righteous world.
For now, there will be a vigil at Royce quad (between Royce and Powell) tonight at 7pm. Please come.
My family brought me up Seventh-day Adventist. Consequently, I’m a believer in the Resurrection; I’ve believed, since I was a child, that the righteous dead (and I include John here) will awake at the sound of Gabriel’s horn and see the world they fought for made new. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s nothing. On the flip, perhaps John’s sitting in heaven right now with Tam, Cinthya, and Coach Wooden. I’d hate for them to see all the people they love torn up like this.
But until I find out or meet him on the other side of the Jordan, I’ll keep fighting for truth, justice, relevant education, a just and multicultural society, civil and human rights, and all power to the people.
I hope all of you do, too, dear friends, gentle hearts, and committed souls – it’s what John taught us all to do, after all.