Saturday, July 14, 2007

Steve Orel: December 20, 1953 – July 7, 2007

Posted at Susan Ohanian's web site:

The world has lost a brave warrior in the battle for justice. Rectal cancer had spread to his liver and he lost his last battle for life in the rainy early morning hours on July 7, 2007.

He was 53 years old. While in his teens, Steve left his comfortable world in Los Angeles, California and made his way, ultimately, to Birmingham, Alabama. He started as an organizer for the National Lawyers Guild, helping to establish the Peoples College of Law, a progressive, non-profit, community-run law school in Los Angeles. Along the way, he worked in slaughter houses and ship yards, organizing the unorganized for better wages and working conditions.

While in LA he also worked as an organizer for the SEIU and then, arriving in Birmingham, as an organizer for ACTWU, going beyond his specified duties to assist textile workers whose plants had been shut down due to NAFTA. Eventually, laid off himself, he turned to his love of teaching, in honor of his mother, to become an adult educator.

He finally found his calling in the Woodlawn section of Birmingham, founding the World of Opportunity (WOO), a non-profit, free adult education school with the motto, “Teaching to and learning from the whole person.” The WOO has assisted hundreds of “pushed-out” students in getting their GED certificates, with many going on to local colleges. There is also a nursing program, for students wishing to obtain their nursing assistant certificates.

Steve’s belief in the students’ abilities and the respect and admiration he showed them was the basis for WOO’s success. Upon first meeting a potential student at the WOO, he would use humor to overcome initial stiffness and lack of trust, stubbornly refusing to continue with the interview until he raised a smile from a broken face. Steve was told he had “a way of looking past what’s on the surface and seeing what a person is really like.”

Statements from friends and family from across the world included: “Those who led a life like Steve leave so many positive memories and victories that the immediate loss will be overcome by a legacy of courage, creativity and vision…” “Your actions have changed [personal] histories, and opened minds, bridging barriers among people of all walks of life.” All of these things resulted in Steve and the WOO receiving many awards and accolades. Though he refused to take personal credit for any of this, it was his vision and unique gifts that earned them.

The honors included: The “John Dewey Award,” Presented by the Vermont Society for the Study of Education in recognition of the extraordinary professional, civic and political courage in exposing and resisting the harms of high stakes testing and exemplary commitment to social justice; the “Southern Hero” award presented at the Birmingham City Council meeting by SouthernLINC Wireless in appreciation for outstanding community service and leadership; 2006 Libarary Champion award presented by the Jefferson County Public Library Association; One of the 25 top Good Small Schools, based on a study of over 3000 small schools in the United States by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
More information on this last honor can be found at:

Steve’s story and the story of the “522 Pushed-Out Kids” has been presented in several publications, including, “Silent No More - Voices of Courage in America”

Heinemann (2003); Susan Ohanian, “What happened to recess and why are our children struggling in kindergarten?” McGraw Hill, (2002); and, -“Divided We Fail - Issues of Equity in American Schools” Danny Miller, Editor, Heinemann (2005).

He was preceded in death by many beloved friends and family members: his beloved father, Ben Orel; his beloved father-in-law, Glen P. Creel; his beloved Aunt Rochelle and Aunt Estelle; Uncle Ben; Cousin David; Dr. Dan; and beloved friend, Alan.

His Birmingham family and friends: He is survived by his beloved wife, Glenda Jo and his beloved son, Justin; his mother-in-law, Annie Jo Creel, sister-in-law, Lisa Stevens and his beloved niece, Kayla Jo Stevens, his Uncles L.M. & Cob; his beloved Father Charles; the beloved WOO folks, Mary, Jerome, Denita and Tara; friends, David & Kathy;

His Los Angeles family: His beloved Mom, Jeannette Orel, Sister, Judy Ravitz, Brother-in-law, Kenny Ravitz, His beloved cousins, Mark, Dorothea, Andrew & Landon; Les & Dianne, Noah & Jonah; Debbie, Bianca & Alexa;

His West Coast and in between Friends: Barbara & Gary; Larry & Janet; Janet & Debbie; Ross & Linda; Forey, Danny & Luke.

Steve also enjoyed the love of his canine family: Percy Jo, Max, Boomer, Shmangie & Shmatta.

Understanding that individuals alone cannot accomplish what needs to be done, he always kept the words to this song in his head and heart:

“Step by Step the longest march, Can be won, Can be won.

Many stones can form an arch, Singly none, singly none.

And by union what we will, Can be accomplished still.

Drops of water turn a mill, Singly none, singly none.”

(The United Mineworkers song)

The following poem, sent by a friend and written by an unknown Native American, truly expresses how Steve would want people to think of him:

Don’t stand by my grave and weep,

For I am not there.

I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow

I am the diamond’s glint on snow,

I am the sunlight on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn’s rain,

In the soft hush of the morning light

I am the swift bird in flight,

Don’t stand by my grave and cry,

I am not there,

I did not die.

Steve urges all of you to get a colonoscopy!

In lieu of flowers: Please contribute to:

The World of Opportunity (WOO)

7429 Georgia Road

Birmingham, Alabama 35212

One more time:

[Warmest peacebuilding greetings,

Steve Orel]

A Memorial will be held at Temple E-Manuel, Hess Chapel , 2100 Highland Avenue South, Birmingham, Alabama 35205. Ph: 933.8037

On: August 7, 2007 at 11:00 a.m.

A hand-in-hand remembrance will be held at the World of Opportunity

7429 Georgia Road

Birmingham, Alabama 35212

On: August 8, 2007 at 12:00 p.m.

1 comment:

Son Of Unity said...

Seriously, does ICE even serve a real purpose other than to drive a wedge within our union? Has ICE ever accomplished anything worthy of mention? And no, a sham presidential candidate in the last election, shoddy quality YouTube films, and heckling during the Delegate Assembly doesn't count.

-Son Of Unity, the next generation
I'll be back!