Andy Silverman and Starr Sanders: Committed to helping others

When Starr Sanders was 13, she asked a friend about a tall guy practicing basketball at a Phoenix high school.

“Oh, you don’t want to be with him,” her friend advised, “He’s into causes.”

At that moment Starr decided that she did want to be with him. It wasn’t long until she and Andy became a couple, bonding over anchovy pizza.

Married for 51 years, they have been “into causes” ever since. From 1959, when Andy wanted to hear “a smart guy” who was coming to Phoenix to discuss politics – turned out to be JFK – and later, after moving to Tucson in 1966.

Both their careers reflect an undying commitment to social justice: Andy is the Joseph M. Livermore Professor Emeritus of Law and Director of Clinical Programs at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. Starr retired after 30 years of high school teaching.

“My parents were very involved in the Phoenix Jewish community when I was growing up,” says Andy. “My mother was a brilliant woman who graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1923. She worked as a secretary. She was always into helping other people.” His father, Nat Silverman, adds Starr, was “Mr. Jewish Life.”

Andy’s interest in ’60s anti-Vietnam war demonstrations began in high school. While at Arizona State University he was a police reporter for the Arizona Republic. He intended to remain in reporting, but in 1966, he started law school at the UA and never looked back.

“Once I’m involved in an organization [or a cause], it becomes a lifetime commitment,” affirms Andy. “I’m not going to get involved unless I’m really involved.” His involvement runs the gamut – from No More Deaths, Southern Arizona, to the Tucson Housing Trust Fund, the Primavera Foundation, the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty, Ben’s Bells and many more.

Andy, now 74, “flunked retirement,” says Starr. “Now that I’m retired, I only direct the Civil Rights Restoration Clinic, which runs both semesters, and usually in the summer as well,” says Andy, who also teaches immigration law during the spring semester.

During the 1980s, Starr and Andy were co-presidents of Congregation Chaverim. During those years, they both slept outside of the Federal Building in downtown Tucson to protest homelessness. Andy was arrested, but after one night Starr returned home.

The couple had two young children at the time, and she preferred to work behind the scenes on events and fundraising, although, she says, “I was a rabble rouser at faculty meetings.”

Starting her professional life as an accountant, Starr was offered a job upon their arrival in Tucson. When she was told, “we don’t pay women the same as men,” Starr took a job at the UA, and enrolled in courses in the College of Education. She ended up loving it and taught 17 subjects – from English to economics – during her career at Pueblo and Tucson High Schools. Currently, Starr writes “cause-driven novels,” and has published two.

Andy has always had “a passion for poor people in the criminal justice system. I never set a goal in my life. I try not to stress out. I think I work hard,” he says. As a third-year law student, he helped start the Post-Conviction Legal Assistance Clinic, the first program in Arizona representing state prison inmates.

“He’s never charged a penny to any clients since he became a lawyer in 1969,” adds Starr.

The impact of the couple’s activism has been major, says Jeannette Maré, executive director of the Ben’s Bells Project, “Starr and Andy serve as a continuous source of inspiration for me. At Ben’s Bells, we help people understand what kindness means, how it is different than being ‘nice.’” Ben’s Bells (named after Jeannette’s son Ben who died in 2002 at the age of 2) are hung randomly throughout the community, in public spaces, for people to find and take home as a reminder to practice intentional kindness. Continues Jeannette, “Starr and Andy’s social justice work is a perfect example of how powerful and courageous kindness is. ‘Nice’ wants to be comfortable, but ‘kind’ is willing to be uncomfortable to serve the greater good. Kindness is love in action. Starr and Andy have been putting their love into action for a long, long time. We are so lucky to have them in our community!”

Currently, when students ask Andy, “how can I change the world?” “I feel so frustrated,” he replies, “Only a few people, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Lincoln have. Try to make a difference in your corner of the world. You can’t give up. Maintain a positive attitude.”

At the end of each class, Andy raises his hand and says, “Power.”

“I never think of giving up, and I absolutely feel the same way as they do. You have to give back,” he notes. “Starr and I are lucky people. We had supportive parents, good childhoods. Giving back, because of our good fortune, is the least we can do.”

“Try to make a difference in your corner of the world. You can’t give up. Maintain a positive attitude.”
—Andy Silverman


Sheila Wilensky is a writer, editor and educator living in Tucson.

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