We lost a great hero this week. Muhammad Ali died, yes, but that is not who I mean. I’m talking about Helen Fabela Chavez, the partner who sustained the late Cesar Chavez during the 31 years he led the United Farm Workers of America. Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta told NBC News that the UFW would not be what it is today had it not been for Helen Chavez:
I call her the invisible foundation because she was so supportive of everything that Cesar did, Helen never liked publicity, she never liked to be in the limelight, but we knew she was always there. The United Farm Workers would have never been what it is today had it not been for Helen, because her support for her husband, for Cesar, for her children … and not only that, but also for all the volunteers and all the staff of the United Farmworkers. So she will be sorely missed, and we have lost a great, great human being.
We all know the name Cesar Chavez. Streets across the country bear his name. He did great work for those at the margins, and he deserves our praise and appreciation. However, I can bear personal witness that one rarely accomplishes significant things in this life without someone quietly supporting and encouraging them. The hidden strength of people like Helen often goes unnoticed and unnamed, and that is how they usually wish it to be. The trouble is, by being so invisible, they cannot be role models for others.
I spend a lot of time trying to raise up future leaders for the church. There are literally thousands of churches in America desperate for strong and healthy leaders. It would make all the difference in the world if they had them. Hundreds of seminars have been given, classes have been taught, and articles have been written trying to find or create them. I wonder, though, if we have missed the point. Perhaps the shortage of leaders is caused by a shortage of Helens. I, for one, know they really are the most important people in the world … and they never have streets named after them.
Rev. Michael Piazza