By Catherine Tsounis
“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” – Greek Philosopher Diogenes. This is the philosophy of an energetic educator I met through the Hellenic Paideia of America organization at theFortieth Anniversary Luncheon of the Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus” that was held on Sunday, February 28th, afternoon at Terrace on the Park, Flushing, N.Y. this writer was impressed with this educator from Staten Island focus at a Greek language of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. My friend said “this is a fine, educator with roots in Greece and Magna Graecia. Listen to his story.” Francesco A. Portelos unfolded an amazing story that reminded me of Harry Markopoulos, the whistle blower of Bernard Madoff’s billion dollar securities fraud.
“My name is Francesco Portelos and I’m a parent and educator in Staten Island,” he explained. “As a first generation Greek American, I never forget my roots. In fact, I’m positive it’s the Greek blood running in my veins that pushes me to fight. The reason I fight is because as an educator in the NYC public school system, I see many things that aren’t right. When I do, I speak up. I’m never afraid to expose that students aren’t receiving the best, educators are being harassed or our union contract is being violated. This brings forth retaliatory acts against me.”
Harry Markopoulos, in an interview in 2009 said “We had to stand up and do this for free, for patriotism,”1 Mr. Portelos shows the same strength of character. “When I found that the principal of my inner city middle school was stealing, I spoke up and was immediately attacked,” he explained. “Instead of investigating the principal, the DOE exiled me to a basement to sit two boroughs away. Did I give up? No, I fought even though the DOE launched over 37 investigations against me. I persevered and fought off their attacks. My principal was found guilty and forced to retire. I was returned to the classroom after two years in exile. The whole time the union was absent in protecting me and countless other members that were in the same boat. I created UFT Solidarity, a political party within the UFT that supports members. I’m running for president with a strong team this May. We hope to lead this large union in a new progressive direction. We will bring strong support to members who need us.”
I was interested in his roots. “My Mother is from Icaria and father from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily,” he explained. Ionia encompassed the western coast of Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea, Samos and Ikaria. To the Ancient World, the Ionians were one of many Greek tribes. To the Asians, the Ionians were all the Greeks who are called Giounan (Giounan) today. Ionia has given world civilization famous men of philosophy, science and a school of art that led to the accomplishments of 5th century Athens Golden Age. Homer spoke in the Ionian dialect and is perceived to be from this region.”2
Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily is outside of Segesta. Experts say the best intact Doric temple is in Segesta. Segesta intrigued me, because it was built by the Ionian Greeks from Troy in Asia Minor, Turkey. Experts say the best intact Doric temple is in Segesta. Thucydides in book VI, 2 of his The History of the Peloponnesian War said that “on the fall of Troy, some Trojans, having escaped from the Achaeans, came in boats to Sicily and settled next to the Sicans under the general name of Elymi, their cities being Erice and Segesta.” I was given the opportunity to see the accomplishments of Greek immigrants in new lands through Dr. Gaetano Cipolla’s Arba Sicula Sicilian Tours, assisted by Dr. Florence Russo. Mr. Portello comes from the finest ancient Greek ancestry of Magna Grecia. His Modern Greek roots in Icaria, a North East Aegean island, is part of the 2016 effort to save Middle Eastern refugees. Now an online petition has been launched calling for the efforts of these “unsung heroes” on islands in the Aegean Sea to be recognized with a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.3 These are the UFT Solidarity Presidential candidate’s roots.
Everyone is tired of the “Establishment” that is getting richer. The middle class, created by the WWII Veterans, is emerging into a working, heavily taxed underclass with no hope for their children’s advancement. The UFT Solidarity website stated the following strong statements: “The UFT used to be strong and we owe a lot of what we currently have to the hard work of those union members who fought before us. However, the current UFT leadership… has given away too much and has become too comfortable going along to get along. This has been at the current membership’s expense. UFT Solidarity Caucus is here to “shake things up”…. In May of 2016, UFT members will have the voice and power to change the direction of their careers. All UFT members will receive a paper ballot in the mail at home, and with a few strokes of a pen, can change the course of their careers… Vote in Francesco Portelosfor UFT President, and the rest of the UFT Solidarity team. Bring hope and positive change back to our professions.”4 Every night on CNN and Fox News, these themes are repeated by presidential candidates. This fever is spreading in the 2016 UFT elections. More information can be found at www.UFT2016.com.”