I knew Marilyn Gittell for many years, as a friend and colleague. We traveled together to Brazil, we attended conferences and meetings throughout the U.S., and we enjoyed a long term friendship and a shared vision for social justice.
Marilyn had a great sense of humor and a hearty laugh. She was always fascinating to talk to, because she had done so much, accomplished so much, and always had strong opinions on almost everything. She had an edge, and was never afraid to speak her mind. But Marilyn also had a warm and generous heart, and was a loyal and devoted friend.
Marilyn dedicated her life to the movement for social justice. She studied about it, wrote about it, and she was an influential scholar and activist. Although New York was her home and the center of her universe, I was impressed that she was always intrigued about social movements in Los Angeles. She spent quite a bit of time learning about Los Angeles labor and community struggles, and had a keen insight into the L.A. movement.
When I had an event at the City University of New York (CUNY) for my book on undocumented immigrant students in 2009, I sent out announcements to a wide range of friends in New York City. To my surprise, Marilyn showed up. She came not only because she was my friend, but because the issue of undocumented students touched her. She connected to the issue as an educator, one who had invested years of her life developing, training, and mentoring students of color. And she also connected to the issue as a social movement activist, who understood the importance of the struggle for immigrant rights, and the significant role that immigrant youth and students have been playing.
Marilyn invited me to speak at the last conference she ever organized in February 2010 at the Ford Foundation. Unfortunately, Marilyn’s health was deteriorating and she was not able to attend. The focus was on access to higher education. I spoke on a panel with two undocumented immigrant students, including the late Tam Tran, a gifted film maker and Dream Act leader. And as I looked across the room, I could see the impact Marilyn had had up until the very end. She was a scholar, an activist, a connector, a mentor, and a friend. She brought together people from diverse parts of the country, from diverse backgrounds, around a shared vision for educational access and social justice.
While we mourn Marilyn’s passing, we celebrate her life. For Marilyn lived the type of life she wanted. She was a scholar, an educator, an activist, and a mentor who had a major impact on others in her field. Marilyn enjoyed life. She traveled throughout the world, made life-long friends, and was surrounded by people who shared her passions. We will all miss her, and will always appreciate her never-ending work to make the world a better place.
Post by Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center.
This post is part of a series called Voicing the City: Remembering Marilyn. Professor Marilyn Jacobs Gittell was a longtime member of the doctoral faculty in Political Science at the City University of New York. She passed away on February 26, 2010. She was a renowned scholar, inspiring teacher, and highly respected social activist. Please feel welcome to contribute a post or a comment.