Sunday, January 16, 2011

Felice Yeskel, longtime Arise ally, dies

Sometimes it can seem like  Springfield and the upper valley are separated by thousands of miles...but Felice Yeskel was one of the rare persons who bridged that divide.

I couldn't do better to describe her work than to reprint the obituary written by her partner, Felicia Mednick, for the Hampshire Gazette.

AMHERST - Felice Yeskel, age 57, died at home in Amherst on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011, of cholangiocarcinoma.
She is survived by her life partner of 18 years, Felicia Mednick (whom she was able to marry in Massachusetts in 2004); her beloved 12-year-old daughter, Shira Ma'ayan, and her circle of chosen family, who surrounded her to the last minute of her life. Felice was born in Manhattan to Phyllis and Harry Yeskel, and attended Hunter Elementary School for gifted children. She then went to Seward Park High School (where she helped to change the dress code for girls).
Felice devoted her life to activism on issues of equality, diversity, and nonviolence. Rabbi Julie Greenberg, her long-term friend, said in her eulogy, "Felice was a master of identity development and the dynamics of social change."
Beginning as an anti-war and feminist activist in high school, she continued her activism at the U of Rochester. After college, she moved to California where she worked against the anti-gay Briggs initiative. Then she moved to Philadelphia, where she obtained an MA in Psychology. She joined Movement for a New Society, living with other activists for social change. She helped lead the Seneca Women's Peace Encampment to protest against cruise missiles. In 1982, she moved to UMass to attend the Ed.D. program in Organizational Development. While there, Felice was a member of Diversity Works, a collective which led workshops on transforming social inequality.
Upon graduation, Felice presented UMass with research about the difficulties gays and lesbians faced on the campus, which moved the university to launch a pioneering center for GLBTQ concerns (later to be called the Stonewall Center), with Felice as the founding director. She served in that role for 20 years. Felice also served as an adjunct faculty member in the Social Justice Program. Her first book was a manual for teaching activists on other college campuses how to set up centers for queer students and faculty.
With Chuck Collins, Felice co-founded United for a Fair Economy in 1995, an organization dedicated to reducing the growing economic divide in the United States. She led inspiring workshops on this issue for thousands throughout the USA. She was in demand internationally, as a consultant and facilitator, on issues of class and diversity. She co-authored, with Chuck Collins, the groundbreaking book "Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity."
Six years ago, Felice and Jenny Ladd co-founded Class Action, an organization dedicated to helping people and organizations explore issues of class differences and cross-class communication. Felice believed that raising awareness about class issues was a necessary first step in building a movement to create change.
Felice honored her working-class roots throughout her life. She touched thousands of lives, enlightening, inspiring and supporting. She will be deeply missed.
Donations in her honor can be made to the Institute for Policy Studies and its programs on economic inequality (30 Germania St., Building L, Boston, MA 02130) and the Global Fund for Women (222 Sutter St., Suite 500 San Francisco, CA 94108, USA). Print Friendly and PDF

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