College student puts faith into action working for justice

Gladys Gutierrez has a lot of ambition and even more spunk. Armed with her faith and a passion for justice, she’s a force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to helping to ensure civil liberties.

Gutierrez, 21, is a senior at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph where she’s majoring in communications and minoring in theater. She has hopes of attending law school and perhaps one day becoming an immigration attorney.

She’s always had a heart for those who live on the margins of society, something she believes her parents instilled in her at a young age.

“From the beginning, my parents have always told me that what’s in the Bible is all about justice,” Gutierrez said. “I believe we have to use the words that are in the Bible and enact them ourselves. Jesus was an organizer. He was organizing the people, he was telling the truth and he was seeking justice for everyone. I want to follow in his steps by bringing justice to people who are often overlooked.”

Gladys Gutierrez in front of the Church of St. Joseph in Waite Park. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt/ for The Visitor)

Gutierrez was born in Washington but has spent most of her life in the St. Cloud area, except for two years when she attended high school at Perpich Center for Arts Education in Minneapolis. She attends St. Joseph Church in Waite Park and loves singing, dancing, theater, trying new things — especially foods — and spending time with family and friends.

At 19, she was hired by Greater Minnesota Worker Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on worker advocacy, economic and social justice and immigrant rights.

In October, she was hired by La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles — the Assembly of Civil Rights — to work as an organizer, specifically focusing on those affected by the immigration policy called DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“When I was pretty young, it was my mom who became a part of Asamblea and she always dragged me along to the meetings,” Gutierrez recalled. “But as I got older, I started to pay more attention to injustices that were happening to people. I became more involved and started to participate in the meetings.”

According to its website, La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles is a statewide, faith-based, non-profit organization that organizes immigrants from predominantly Latino congregations to build support for changes in the immigration system and the underlying political and economic structures behind it.

“At Asamblea, we have always had the narrative of a dream for all,” she said. “Not only for the students but also for their parents and their families. When you don’t speak the language it is very hard to speak up for yourself. Getting their stories out and getting them to stand up and speak out is what is important right now.”

Father Tony Kroll, a retired priest of the diocese, nominated Gutierrez for the YAYA award because of her “leadership capacity to unite a crowd and get them worked up.” Gutierrez is the winner for the month of December.

“I admire that in her,” Father Kroll said. “I wish we had more people who would be willing to put their faith into practice like she does, even if it costs them something.

“I wish we had more people who would want to develop a spirituality that includes the people who are kicked around, who are not wanted. Like Pope Francis says, that’s where our joy will come,” he added.

Patty Keeling, a close family friend of Gutierrez and vice president of Asamblea, has watched her grow from a young teen.

“Watching someone grow from a child into an amazing woman, it just takes your breath away,” Keeling said.

“If we can have more Gladyses in the world, our world would be a better place. It is just so hopeful to see young people like Gladys growing up and doing the work she’s doing for social justice. She listens to people, she shares in their lives. My faith has grown through them, too. I feel like I’m closer to God because of knowing them.”

Gutierrez hopes to be a bridge by using her education in communication and her experiences to bring more light to justice issues.

“There’s so much work that’s being done but it’s not being broadcast in the mainstream media,” she said. “I think it’s really important for people to know the work we do so that we can multiply it and have more people supporting it.”

She also wants to encourage youth to seek out their God-given talents.

“I want youth to know that they can use their talents to better their situation. We might be in a dark moment, but we have to use our talents that God has given us to better our situation because this is temporary. If we can come together and talk about our problems, we can make the situation pass even faster,” she said.
And she finds the wisdom she’s gained in her young life comes from some of the hardships her family has endured.

“My mom, her resilience, her strength — she’s my hero. She inspires me to do better every day. She pushes me to reach the expectations people have for me and to surpass them. And my dad really shaped me ethically. Every time I got in trouble, he always backed it up with some sort of Scripture and made it connect with what I needed to learn,” she said.

“Life experience, I think that’s what shapes you,” she added. “Definitely other people have suffered a lot more than me, but it is injustices in our lives that really shape us. That is what has made me who I am today.”

More about Gladys

Age: 21

Where you grew up: St. Cloud

Parish: St Joseph, Waite Park

School and/or occupation: Senior at College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph; community organizer at Asamblea De Derechos Civiles

Movie you could watch over and over: “Selena”

A saint who inspires you: Mother Teresa

Favorite appetizer: fried pickles

In your spare time, you can be found: binge watching Netflix, at the gym or jamming out to some karaoke

A pizza isn’t perfect unless it has: PINEAPPLE! And jalapenos

If you could be a superhero or cartoon character, you would be: Wonder Woman

Favorite Bible verse or story: “God is within her, she will not fall.” (Psalm 46:5)

You couldn’t drive by which restaurant without stopping: Sushi Tango in uptown Minneapolis

Your favorite thing about being Catholic is: Forgiveness

Let your voice be heard

Q: What is one accomplishment you are most proud of?

Gladys: Graduating high school and soon college.

Q: What is one gift you bring to the church?

Gladys: Awareness, love and peace.

Q: What is one gift the church could give you?

Gladys: Support for the community organizing I do.

Q: If you had the opportunity to talk with Pope Francis, what would you tell him?

Gladys: I would thank him and tell him to continue to voice his support for the immigrant community. I would also ask him to please move U.S. clergy to support grassroots organizing for comprehensive immigration reform.

 


Nominate someone!

To nominate a youth or young adult — ages 15-39 — for the YAYA awards, visit
www.stcloudvisitor.org and click on the “YAYA Awards” button to fill out the nomination form. Or call 320-251-3022 to have a form mailed to you.

YAYA nominees should be enthusiastic about their Catholic faith, set a good example for their peers, and be active in their parish.

Each month, a panel from The Visitor will select a winner, who will be featured in the print edition and online.

 

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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