Photo Courtesy of Francisco Verdin

Community activists and politicians marched with others along Brand Boulevard in Mission Hills through Laurel Canyon in Pacoima to honor César Chávez, the late civil rights leader who fought for social justice for farm workers.

The march, which took place on March 29, has grown to not only encourage support for the United Farmworkers Union. There were also signs and banners representing an amalgam of causes that included support for the boycott of Super A markets, and the push to increase the minimum wage in the city of Los Angeles.

Increasing the minimum wage is a part of a national movement spearheaded by unions to raise salaries for low-income workers.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed raising the minimum wage in the City to $13.25 an hour by 2017 and $15.37 by 2019. Studies favoring and opposing this idea have already been submitted to the Los Angeles City Council. Some argue it would provide minimum-wage workers an economic boost that would transform into more buying power and jobs while others predict dire consequences, such as business closures and loss of employment opportunities as companies get pinched in their profits.

“César was a great Californian and a great American, and that’s why we propose raising the wages of more than one people,” said Garcetti, before leading the march.

“Poverty is bad business and business leaders know it,” Garcetti said this week as he welcomed Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to Los Angeles for a tour and press conference at North Hollywood-based Bobrick Washroom Equipment, where he made another pitch for wage increases.

Appeal For Donors

This year there was a new addition to the march called “Be the Match, March For Justice Health Fair.” Vivian Hartman, founder of Sophia’s Angels — a Sylmar-based nonprofit organization that aims to assist children with cancer and their families — organized a bone marrow donor drive and encouraged people to register as potential bone marrow and stem cell donors.

The drive was held in hopes of finding a match for Kathryn Childs, a girl about to turn 4-years-old who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of seven months. She spent the next two years in and out of hospitals undergoing chemotherapy and painful procedures. After two or three months of treatment Kathryn’s leukemia went into remission and her doctors thought she would make a full recovery.

About three months after her treatment ended, Kathryn contracted a Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection. It took several months to get the infection under control and left her partially blinded her left eye. Shortly afterward, she came down with a bad case of pneumonia and went back to the hospital. She has been in and out of the hospital for the past year with pneumonia.

Doctors discovered that, while the leukemia was gone, the treatments had left her with a rare condition which eliminated the ability of Kathryn’s body to produce T-cells that can identify and help fight infections. This left Kathryn without an immune system and an inability to fight off the pneumonia.

At this point, Kathryn’s last chance of a full recovery is a stem cell transplant, and finding a perfect match to donate stem cells is the hard part.

“She’s going to heaven unless they find a match,” Hartman said of Kathryn’s situation.

Hartman knows this struggle firsthand. Her 12-year-old daughter Sophia died in 2005 without finding a match for the bone marrow transplant she desperately needed to overcome refractory leukemia.

Even though she organized bone marrow registration drive, Hartman still had to roll up her sleeves and hit the pavement.  The owner of Buffalo Bruce’s Mercantile in Sylmar passed out flyers at street corners to get the word out encouraging people to come to the event.

“I remember [when my daughter was sick] how difficult it was for me to find people to participate in a bone marrow drive,” she said.

Spreading The Word

She set up a booth at the gathering at Ritchie Valens Park, where the march ended, and got up on stage to encourage people to participate. “No Momma should have to beg for people to come to a bone marrow drive,” she said.

To register as a donor, Hartman explained, one must be between the ages of 18 and 44 and meet certain health requirements.

“Fourteen people signed up as donors, but we educated more than 40. But they didn’t qualify to register as donors,” said Hartman, who added her grandmother Margarita Rosas had walked alongside César Chávez.

Hartman, with other volunteers, explained the process to potential donors including those who didn’t qualify but could encourage others to register.

 “Although it’s very easy to get tested and register, many people still don’t do it  partly because of misconceptions or lack of information,” she said.

The old way of getting tested was by doing a blood test. Today it’s done with a simple cotton swab passed through the cheeks. The swabs are sent to a lab, and the results become part of a national registry.

“If you are a possible match for someone awaiting a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, you will be contacted,” Hartman said.

Reassuring those who visited the booth, she told potential donors that if they are selected, both stem cell and bone marrow are completely replenished in the body in a couple of weeks.

Hartman, emphasized that the main requirement needed to become a donor is to have love.

“It does take love of a human being to help another,” she said.

In addition to assisting children and families impacted by cancer,  Sophia’s Angels offers group seminars on massage, reflexology and aromatherapy to people affected by serious illnesses. For more information about Sophia’s Angels, visit www.sophiasangels.org. For more information about bone marrow donation, visit www.bethematch.org.