(Editor’s note: Oscar Velez was this year’s speaker at Mustard Seed’s Building Futures Banquet. You can watch his full ten-minute speech in the video above.)
Oscar Velez (’89) says that because he attended Mustard Seed School, he’s seen mountains move in his life and in the lives of others. The seeds of faith and social justice, planted so many years ago by his parents and teachers, have compelled him to serve others in his work and life.
Every day he puts his Mustard Seed education to work as the principal of a school in the poorest ward in Jersey City. More than 86% of his students live below the poverty line. He’s teaching them to make their city a better place to live.
Recently his students recently built 10 little sidewalk libraries. It took planning and coordination. They worked with the city to put them up around their neighborhood where local libraries are understocked and often inaccessible. Local businesses donated over 8,000 books. Each little library promotes a love of reading. Helps students continue to read during the summer months when they’re not in school.
Reflecting on his own school experience at MSS, Oscar remembers that it was normal for him to learn and play with students who came from poverty and students who came from wealth…and everyone in between. Even though the world saw differences, he remembers that in the classroom, they were all on equal footing. Receiving the same exceptional education that gave Oscar the skills to succeed in high school (the Stony Brook School) and college (Rutgers University; New Jersey City University).
He remembers visiting museums and embassies. Attending the Joffrey Ballet. Collaborating on a peace poster that ultimately hung in the United Nations. And traveling to Washington D.C. with a group of MSS students and teachers to accept the the National Blue Ribbon School Award for 1987-88 from President Reagan. “I was just a kid from Jersey City, but going to see the president seemed like the most normal thing in the world!” he says.
Service projects like the baby food collection made an impact. So did stories of faith in action like St. Francis. Mother Theresa. And Oscar Romero, the martyred bishop of El Salvador and champion of the poor.
Because Oscar can relate to people all across the socio-economic spectrum, he’s found himself in extraordinary situations. On missions trips to the most violent cities in our hemisphere. Building a shelter for homeless men and battered women and children in Medellin, Columbia. Or a free Christian school for deaf children in Honduras, a country that doesn’t educate the disabled. In fact, he’s been on over ten missions trips. In the communities where he’s worked, he’s seen mountains move.
“I’ve worked beside the poorest of the poor,” says Oscar. “People who don’t own a pair of shoes. I’ve also spent time with the President of Honduras, a world leader in a place of great wealth. I learned to navigate these vastly different worlds in the classrooms of Mustard Seed School. Where I studied and played with students from different walks of life.”
In every situation Oscar says, he wants to bring peace, social justice, and transformation—desires inspired and formed through his parents and a Mustard Seed education.