Faces of ALBA: Josie Yurek and Andrew Plotch

September 15, 2013
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Josie Yurek with ALBA board member Nancy Wallach at ALBA’s reunion, May 2012. Photo Richard Bermack.

Josie Yurek (r) with ALBA board member Nancy Wallach at ALBA’s reunion, May 2012. Photo Richard Bermack.

Josephine Nelson Yurek

ALBA Board Member

You are the daughter of Lincoln brigader Steve Nelson.  How did you first learn about the Lincoln Brigade and what kind of impact did your father’s experience have on you growing up? 

For as long as I can recall, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade has been a part of my life. I remember marching in a parade with the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade up Fifth Ave right after World War Two ended. I attended nearly all of the public events with my family and our home was constantly visited by the vets, journalists, students and others. During the McCarthy era trials the support of the vets enabled us to raise the money to fight the case up to United States Supreme Court. The Volunteers, which was written by my father, told the story of his experiences in Spain. This book had worldwide distribution thanks to the efforts of the vets and the profits made were used to pay for the defense. In addition, during a court approved cross country fund raiser we visited many vets in cities across the country to raise funds for the trials.  These contacts continued for many years.

My father’s experiences impacted on everything we did from where we lived, what schools we attended, who our friends were, and even what camps we attended.

Josie Yurek with ALBA board member Nancy Wallach at ALBA’s reunion, May 2012. Photo Richard Bermack.

Josie Yurek with ALBA board member Nancy Wallach at ALBA’s reunion, May 2012. Photo Richard Bermack.

After my father died I realized that I had to support AlBA because its goal and my goal was the same: To ensure that another generation continues to appreciate the contribution of men and women from the thirties who saw that it was the right time to fight fascism. As the veterans died during the 1990s and early 2000s I went to many of their memorial services.

What have you learned through your long involvement in education?  Has your philosophy on childhood education changed?

The union had a profound positive effect on the schools in NYC. It raised the morale of the teachers, their salaries and codified the rules. By the inclusion of paraprofessionals in a career ladder minorities were able to join the profession. All of this had a positive effect on the children during the teaching-learning experience because a better prepared group of educators entered the system.

Josephine Nelson Yurek is a founding member of the Bronx National Organization for Women. Founding member of the Cinnamon Tree Day Care Center. Member of the board of directors of Lehman College Performing Arts Center for ten years. Retired as a high school administrator from the New York City public school system. Daughter of a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Steve Nelson. 

Andrew Plotch

Winner, ALBA/Puffin Student Activism Award

Andrew Plotch (right) with Sergei Alschen, social studies teacher and ALBA institute alum at Bergen Academies, New Jersey.

Andrew Plotch (right) with Sergei Alschen, social studies teacher and ALBA institute alum at Bergen Academies, New Jersey.

When did you hear about the Lincoln Brigade for the first time?

During sophomore year of high school I took a class called “Political Activism and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” It included an inspiring hands-on experience at the archives.

What kind of impact did the story of the Lincolns have on you?

The Lincolns were willing to fight injustice no matter the odds. They have inspired me to be a more politically active part of the world around me.

You received the 2012 ALBA/Puffin Student Activism Award Recipient. What impact did the award have on you?

That was the first time I spoke publicly about my commitment to activism. At the reception after the ceremony I felt like a superstar. Everyone wanted to talk with me about my work, shake my hand, or even take a picture with me. I then realized that ALBA was a family and I was a part of that family.

What causes have you been involved with since then?

I created and run a campaign at my school called “Fight Apathy,” in which students have the opportunity to speak out on any issues they care about. I worked with an organization, the Junior Statesmen of America, to lead the campaign. During the first year more than 600 students identified causes they cared about ranging from Marxism to Jesus, sparking discussions in the hallways and the cafeteria. This coming year I will bring Fight Apathy to a national level. By the end of the school year 40,000 students will have worked together to bring awareness to our generation.

Andrew Plotch at ALBA’s 2012 event. Photo Richard Bermack.

Andrew Plotch at ALBA’s 2012 event. Photo Richard Bermack.

You are a young adult and are already committed to different causes. What would you tell a person of your age who feels detached from the world we live in?

One day pick up a newspaper, read it until you find something that you think should change, then get involved— write letters, sign petitions, and call policymakers. Over time you will grow as an activist.

What are your interests, or is there something else that you would like our readers to know about you?

This past summer I spent a month backpacking, kayaking, and ice climbing the Alaskan backcountry. I also am proud of my two useless talents- I can solve a Rubik’s Cube and I’m a great juggler.

 

To read an edited version of Plotch’s acceptance speech of the ALBA/Puffin Student Activist Award, click here.

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