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ID: Vira Douangmany Cage

  • Vira Douangmany Cage<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Vira Douangmany Cage<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Vira Douangmany Cage<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Vira Douangmany Cage is a 38-year-old Lao American, mother, wife and Amherst resident. She believes in the innate desire, sheer will and determination of Americans to come together when there’s a need and take collective action. Cage has experience with community, campus, labor and youth organizing. She has been recognized for her efforts with Justice for Charles, a grassroots media and community campaign, which paved the way for her nephew’s exoneration from a murder conviction.

She was among four women to receive the 40th anniversary Center for Women and Community social justice advocacy award. At this year’s Lift Every Voice Lecture Series for Black History Month at Spring of Hope Church in Springfield, she received a community service award and a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives signed by Speaker DeLeo and Rep. Ben Swan “…for a commitment to civil rights, social justice and advocacy in Justice for Charles.”

Full name: Vira Douangmany Cage

Date and place of birth: May 31, 1974, Vientiane, Laos

Who lives under the same roof as you? My husband of 10 years, Edward Lee Cage Jr., my daughter, Monica, 9, and my son, Darius, 7

Education: Bachelor’s degree in sociology (2001), University of Massachusetts Amherst

Hobbies: Visiting libraries, museums, beaches

Book you’d recommend to a friend: “Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges” by Byron Pitts

Five items you can’t live without: Library card, coffeehouses, laughter, housing and health care

The last thing you purchased just for fun: Assorted costume jewel-embellished rings

What’s at the top of your bucket list? To live and work in Southeast Asia

Life-changing experience: In 2010, sitting in on my nephew Charles Wilhite’s murder trial in Hampden County Superior Court. I watched a wrongful conviction unfolding. I endured the 14th and final day of trial when a judge sentenced him to life imprisonment without parole

Strangest job you ever held: I spent a semester in Washington, D.C., volunteering at the Community for Creative Non-Violence, an organization which operates the largest homeless shelter in the nation. I covered the night shift supervising the women’s wing of the shelter. By day, I went to work at a button shop. On one of the shifts, the store hosted a book signing and I was “asked” to step in to be the “White House Mouse.” I reluctantly donned a full costume portraying the children’s book character.

Dumbest thing you ever did: Rack up student loans

One trend you’d like to see return: I would love to see energies to create utopian communities again. I learned such a society existed in Florence from a recent walking tour organized by the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue Committee

What really sets you off? Injustice

If you could spend the day with a celebrity from any time in history, who would it be? I would organize a walk with Malcolm X. We’d get breakfast at Haley House Bakery in Roxbury, visit the site where 29-year-old Lennie Brown lost his life on Oct. 10, 2008, inside a holding cell at Springfield police headquarters on Pearl Street, Springfield, and sit down with Brother Johnnie at his noontime Wednesday radio program on WTCC 90.7 FM broadcasting out of Springfield Technical Community College. We’d head up Interstate 91 to UMass for a reception sponsored by the Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama Cultural Centers. Yuri would be the surprise guest

Best advice you ever got: From my mother. It was more a vote of confidence: I should shoot for whatever I wanted as long as it made me happy

Favorite place to get a bite: El Comalito Restaurant in Amherst. Their pupusas are great

What does your ideal weekend look like? Sunny skies, spending money, full tank of gas, sandals, new things to see and do

One thing you would change about yourself: I could use more confidence

What gives you the creeps? Halls of justice because it has become our gas chambers where few escape

People who knew you in high school thought you were: Serious

Whom do you most admire? I admire my parents for managing to provide a secure, stable and nurturing home life for my sisters and brothers. My parents had the courage and faith to orchestrate our escape from Laos in 1979, when I was 5. To prevent suspicion, we split up as a family and went on different trips on different days cloaked in the dark of night each party boarding a boat to cross the Mekong River into Thailand. We reunited in a Thai refugee camp. About a year later, after my dad wrote daily to agencies in charge of relocating refugees in countries such as Canada, France, Australia and the United States, we lucked out with a few families who with the support of their churches banded together to sponsor our relocation and acclimation. Their names are Miriam Malkasian, the late Ruth Gregory, Barbara “Bunny” Frey and her late husband, Bill Frey

Parting shot: Have a clear goal, and make a way to get there

Legacy Comments2

I know that Vira will provide a voice on the Amherst School Committee for those parents and children who feel that their educational needs are all too often not addressed.

This is inspiring! So glad to read of an immigrant making it, and then helping others to make it, too. Amherst is lucky to have Vira Douangmany Cage among its residents. She's running for the Amherst School Committee in the Town election on Thursday, March 23. Amherst would be lucky to have Vira on the School Committee, too.

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