Interrogating the Myth: Molly Delano '98
Social responsibility runs in Molly Delano's blood —and what was not instilled and nurtured by her parents (organizers for the United Mine Workers of America) developed during her time at Sarah Lawrence, where she studied sociology with Regina Arnold and labor history with Priscilla Murolo '80.
"My parents raised me to care about social justice," says Delano, "to know that political action is very important, and to think internationally."
Her family moved from West Virginia coal country when Delano was small, and spent some time in Maryland before settling on 125th Street in Harlem. "I became a New Yorker there," Delano says. "My community is different; I feel a commitment and responsibility to it. I know the work I have to do."
Sociology classes at SLC helped her find a way to turn her personal convictions into real-world action. Since leaving Sarah Lawrence, Delano (pronounced De-LAY-no and, yes, FDR is in the family tree) has worked for social justice organizations: advocacy for the poor and homeless, community leadership training for high school students and, currently, life skills training for young people just out of prison.
She also helped found La Abeja Obrera ("The Worker Bee"), an organization which undertakes community service projects in New York City and, twice a year, in Cuba. For two weeks this past summer, Delano and 18 other La Abeja Obrera volunteers labored under the steamy eastern Cuba sun, helping locals clear land for a botanical garden and plant bamboo that will one day be used to build houses.
"The trip was great," she says. "I felt so much love from people. And I have a new love for bamboo."
Delano's own personal interest in Cuba is blended with the origins of La Abeja Obrera. "I've always wanted to know more about the revolution," she says, "about this country that occupies a mythical place in the minds of most Americans. I wanted to interrogate the myth."
Two and a half years ago Delano planned a trip to Cuba, to learn Spanish and work with young people on arts projects at a community center. A friend helped her put the trip together, and in return Delano collaborated with her to create a politically and socially aware group to do volunteer work on the island. La Abeja Obrera makes no secret of its opposition to U.S. government policy toward Cuba, and its admiration for what it sees as the dignity and perseverance of Cubans in their economic and political isolation. Part of the group's preparation for a Cuba trip includes readings and discussions about revolutionary movements and civic involvement.
"We're not about charity," Delano says. "We're about solidarity. It's not only their interests you're serving, it's your interests as well—'I'm better if you're better.'
"There are different kinds of tourism. This is the least 'take-take' kind. We're interested in contributing, doing something that will be there after we're gone."
Back home, Delano thinks of herself firstly as a youth organizer. She taught community activism to high school students at her last job, before leaving in late summer to work at a special school for ex-offenders, where she's designing leadership and arts programs for young people trying to re-find their way.
The poor standards, sporadic violence and neglected facilities for which New York City public schools are notorious, she says, have spurred Delano to think about quality of education as a human rights issue.
"Going to Cuba definitely teaches one about that," she says. "Education has a different value there; society and government take it very seriously. Equality of education, regardless of economic circumstances, is an entitlement; people have a right to it. It's so precious and valued.
"Cuba is not a utopia. But it is a guide; it has lessons to offer."