An Activist and Mother Finds a Path to Carolina
In her life, Mary Grace has been an activist, a mother, a teacher, a student and a world traveler. Now, she’s a Carolina student.
When Mary Grace was in her late teens, a four-year college was out of reach. Roadblocks to higher education were everywhere.
“It was the ’70s, and we couldn’t figure out the money or the path,” she said. “I was one of eight children, and I had to make my way. In my world, a young woman would not often be seen as someone with those possibilities.”
Grace, who is now 64, grew up in a family with strong faith, which led to a heart for service. She also developed a deep commitment to social justice. As she followed those callings, she found a lifetime of education. She’s been an activist, a mother, a teacher, a student and a world traveler.
And, now, she’s a Carolina student.
When I get to campus, I’ll have a button on my backpack that says: ‘I’m old and learning new stuff.’
And, the student body might learn a thing or two from her.
After earning an associate’s degree in physical therapy in 1976, Grace joined the United Farmworkers Union to work in Washington, D.C., and California as an organizer.
“That was all such an education – in American history and labor, Chicano history, agricultural and immigration disparities, and diversity. I saw it all just because I said ‘yes’ to this life. This context of living history was fascinating. We were working so hard to make real what most of us say we believe in – peace and justice.”
Grace met her husband, Sebastian, when he successfully represented her after she was illegally arrested for free speech outside the Pentagon. Sebastian also took a different First Amendment case to the Supreme Court after Grace and a friend had been threatened with arrest. In 1983, they won United States v. Grace, which struck down a federal statute prohibiting picketing and the distribution of leaflets on the public sidewalks surrounding the Supreme Court.
Grace continued her work in activism, visiting Iraq to observe nonviolent conflict resolution in a war zone and teaching English in South Sudan. She later returned to South Sudan to volunteer with a women’s fair-trade cooperative and helped organize a conversation with administrators and educators on public schooling in South Sudan, specifically integrating alternatives to violence and war.
“I’ve had all these adventures. One adventure after the other. I’m ready for more.”