Making Democracy Work

2016 Making Democracy Work Award Honoree Mimi Gingold

Mimi Gingold - 2016 Making Democracy Work Award Honoree

Mimi Gingold and her husband, Alphonse Gerhardstein, are receiving the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area's inaugural Making Democracy Work Award because of their accomplishments in empowering citizens to shape better communities. We invite you to join us at the Making Democracy Work Celebration where this award will be presented on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016.

By Mimi Gingold, November 23, 2015

I applaud the good work of the League of Women Voters.

While I graciously accept this honor along with Al, I am well aware that my contribution, toward the mission of LWV is small. I will try, nevertheless, to pinpoint a few of my endeavors that seem to align with empowerment of citizens to shape better communities.

Education is my passion.

Maybe it the only hope we have to sustain our planet and its people. In my thirty years as a career educator I was most excited about two of my roles. First, in the 1980s--during the years of the post Vietnam War and the Cambodian crisis, I taught English to refugees and other foreigners in the Cincinnati Public Schools. In the classroom I had students of multiple grade levels, from over eleven countries, and at multiple levels of English proficiency. Introducing them to this country was an honor. Just as important as my work in their classroom was my work in the school to advocate on their behalf with teachers--some of whom were sympathetic to their challenges and some who were not.

The other role I loved in Cincinnati Public Schools was my role as Library Media Specialist in two very low-income urban schools, Millvale and Whittier, from 1989 until I retired in 2004. I saw this role as a way to influence the quality of education throughout each school. In both cases I walked into libraries with deplorable conditions, with outdated and dilapidated books and resources, with virtually no technology beyond filmstrips, and with little support, if any, for classroom teachers. I learned to write grants and in so doing raised well-over $100,000.00 at each school to create state-of-the-art library media centers and family literacy programs. I especially loved the opportunity to have students attend the naturalization ceremonies conducted by Judge Spiegel at Whittier and then serve as hosts for refreshments in the Library Media Center.

Knowledge is empowerment.

The strength of our democracy...indeed of our communities....is in its diversity. Diversity of economics, race, national origin, religion, abilities.

I came to value diversity early in life as the daughter of a Lutheran and a Jew. I am second generation American and learned about the Old Country from my Belarusian Jewish grandmother and grandfather. In fact when things get too homogenous and vanilla and bland, I reach out to shake up the status quo and try to grow a larger comfort zone for myself.

When our children were young and world travel was not practical, we filled our home with strangers. Refugee families from Vietnam and Kosovo, exchange teachers from China, and citizen diplomats from Azerbajan, Slovenia, Russia, Saudi Arabia....through Cincinnati's Global World Affairs.

When hosting people from other countries in our home, I have come to know that it is not unusual for some to come here with preconceived attitudes of discrimination especially toward African Americans and LGBTQ people. And, so their re-education begins...at our home in Kennedy Heights where I treasure introducing them to my neighbors...gay, lesbian, African American, Jamaican, French-speaking, Welsh, Caucasians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Atheists, Christians, Jews. Kennedy Heights is a jewel in the crown of Cincinnati neighborhoods of diversity.

I have been fortunate to have had international experiences from age 16 as an exchange student to Turkey until age 64 as a visitor to Bhutan. I learned early on that my world perspective is one of many. That the US is not the center of the world. That open-mindedness is a life long journey. My most significant travel is person-to-person through the Friendship Force, Global Routes, Sister Cities, Hospice Partnerships, or Cooperative for Education. I have received hospitality from Buddhists in Thailand and Bhutan, Moslems in Turkey, Hindu's in Zambia, Georgian Orthodox in the Republic of Georgia, non-believers in China and Japan, Catholics in Guatemala and France. I have been so enriched.

My passions for education and diversity have come together in my retirement.

For each of three years, I took twelve fellow Cincinnati teachers to Liuzhou, China where we lived with families and ran Summer English and Culture Camps for over 200 students. I was happy to establish an annual student exchange between a school in Guatemala and Oak Hills High School and to establish a teacher resource library in Kabwe, Zambia at a school serving street kids. With educator friends, I returned there two additional times to provide teacher training opportunities. I have been able to support an excellent literacy program in two schools in Guatemala through Cooperative for Education. I formed a company that has brought about 20 Chinese students to Cincinnati high schools. I was a founder of the Kennedy Heights Art Center which has been a total joy.

Our church, First Unitarian, is our spiritual home. Some of our refugee work was accomplished with the church. I have also joined other members in tutoring kindergarteners at South Avondale School. And, ten years ago I initiated Interfaith Hospitality Network at First Unitarian. For ten years we have worked with other congregations (Lutheran, Humanistic Jews, Moslems, Christians, and other Unitarians) to welcome homeless families to live in our church four weeks of every year.

So, I count my blessings that my passion for education and diversity have so enriched my life. And, that I have had such an amazing life partner with whom to share the journey.

About the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area
The League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area is a nonpartisan public policy educational organization, which builds citizen participation in the democratic process. We believe in respect for individuals, the value of diversity, the empowerment of the grassroots, and the power of collective decision making for the common good.

The League of Women Voters was created out of the women's suffrage movement and was formed quickly after women gained the right to vote in 1920. While our name connects to our history, the League works to educate and empower all voters. We invite you to get involved.