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Mountain States Spotlight with Tony Ledesma

  • July 10, 2017


A member of ADL’s Jewish-Catholic Dialogue for twenty years, Tony (Antonio Francisco) Ledesma, a Catholic, reflects on his connection personally and professionally with the Jewish community and the Anti-Defamation League.


How did you first become involved in ADL?

My affiliation with ADL has been through my membership in the Jewish-Catholic dialogue since 1996. Jeff Haber, my colleague at Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) and a Dialogue member, nominated me. His rationale, I believe, stemmed from our many conversations about the multicultural course I teach which focuses on the historical oppression and the resulting trauma of so-called “different” people in United States. Jeff asked if that had included Jews; I responded that I had from the beginning of the course’s design noted the subjugation of Jews and Judaism. These talks with Jeff and other members of the group have continued over the course of my participation in the Dialogue.

What do you do in your professional life?

I serve on the faculty of MSU Denver in the department of Human Services. I teach in the Mental Health Counseling concentration.  This coming 2018 academic year marks my thirtieth year in higher education. Six years of this time I taught at the University of Denver in the Graduate School for Social Work (1994-2000). For 18 years I also co-facilitated a men’s support group focused on Men’s Relational Journey with the women and children in their lives.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I had many ideas: lawyer, journalist, business, and even police officer, but what predominated was becoming a psychotherapist and eventually teaching psychotherapy on the college level. In order to accomplish this goal, I wound up in college for seventeen out of a twenty year period in my life and earned not only an undergraduate degree in English in 1972 (Metropolitan State College) but three graduate degrees: Counseling Psychology in 1974 (University of Northern Colorado), Human Communication in 1987 (University of Denver), and Clinical Social Work in 1988 (Smith College School for Social Work). I have applied my knowledge and applications skills in non-profit social service agencies and in higher education over the last forty-seven years.

Where were you born? From where do your ancestors hail?

Have you ever looked up what happen the year you were born? Well for me, it was 1947, the year Jackie Roosevelt Robinson walked onto the baseball field in a borough of New York City to play first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in professional sports.

My father, Francisco Ledesma born in 1903, migrated to the United States in 1921 from his birthplace: Sombrita (Little Shadow) Zacatecas, Mexico. My mother, Augustina Espinosa Ledesma, was born in 1915 in Thurber, Texas, 75 miles west of Fort Worth. I was born on September 27, 1947 in Trinidad, Colorado located in Southern part of the state. I was my parents’ only child; my Dad was 44 and my Mom was 33. My father was a coal miner in the coal mining community of Delagua, Colorado, near Trinidad. In 1959 he was injured. A smaller scale electric locomotive complete with cargo cars hauled the day’s load out of the mine. My father was asked to help because the regular guy was out that day. He was directed to throw a rail switch as the cars moved along.  In doing that, he slipped from the side of a cargo car and landing with both feet between the car’s wheels.  He pulled his right leg away; however, his left foot was severed. Our family moved to Denver so that he could receive better medical care. Eight amputations followed to stop infection. They stopped cutting four inches below his knee. My dad wore a prostheses the rest of his life, but he never stopped working to support his family. Because of my parents’ manual labor, as well as the move to Denver, I benefitted from a grade and high school Catholic education that launched my higher education pursuits.

What’s your favorite holiday?

Christmas and Passover are most meaningful and precious to me. Other sacred times revolve around family meals in the past with my parents and currently with Jewish families and friends at Passover, Shabbat, and Thanksgiving.

What’s your favorite food?

Mexican food made by my Mother ranks highest followed by the food that is served when I am with friends and family; obviously relationships matter most.

What are you reading?

Most memorable: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and the Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. Currently, I am reading a novel: The Letter Writer by Dan Fesperman. The rest are non-fiction: Do I Make Myself Clear? by Harold Evans; Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Next up in the queue: Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari; and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi.

What’s a special place you have visited?

There are two. I have visited Israel four times and walked the paths of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, Tel Aviv, Galilee, the Dead Sea, to the top of Masada, Ramallah, and the Gaza Strip. And in Assisi, Italy, I visited the home of my patron saint, Santo Francesco, and my other namesake, Santo Antonio, of Italy and Spain.

What’s one thing every person should know or experience?

The birth and the death of a human being, the pain and anguish of absolute heartbreak, the awakening rebirth from these heartfelt experiences and most of all experiencing the forgiveness of one you have harmed.

What teacher or class stands out to you the most in your education and why?

Dr. Al Goldberg and Dr. Carl Larson were my doctoral professors, and they taught me the joy of learning and along with the accompanying discovery of insight and awareness of the phenomenon of human interpersonal communication. This is especially meaningful in teacher-student interactions, therapist-client dialogue and, frankly, in everyday conversations.

What are you passionate about personally? What can’t you stop talking about?

My passion revolves around the spiritual human experience.  I talk with myself about the spiritual human experience throughout the day.  And when circumstances permit, I talk with students about the interconnected/ interdependent awareness during instances in the classroom when the therapist-client attunement dialogue demonstrates how alike we all are.

Where can we find you when you’re not working?

Watching the latest movie at a theater, a classic movie on TV, a Blue Bloods CBS episode, reading, praying, playing pool which I wish I could do more of, walking around Washington Park, more recently watching TV news, and ideally getting to sleep before one a.m.

What would be impossible for you to give up?

The essence of my soul: A sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, and an ability to contribute to others.

If you had to teach something, what would you teach?

I would teach those plagued by self-doubt ruminations to counter them and to eradicate or at least decrease their self-questioning concerns about life’s meaning and purpose.

Tell me a story that immediately pops into your mind that was a defining or significant moment for you.

Four years ago I lost an emotionally intimate relationship that devastated me; I didn’t want to go on, because I could not reconcile the loss.  I surrendered and literally gave up saying to God “I can’t do this.” “I give this to you.” I felt so alone. I didn’t know how to go on. Sometime after surrendering to God (Abba / Father), I slowly found my way, nothing profound or out of the ordinary, just a day-by-day discovery that I could go on. And I have. My sense is everyone has or will experience one of these times.  My outcome is that there is nothing that matches the realization that life is a gift and not a right. Humility over arrogance prevails and we come home to know we are not alone.

Has your involvement in the Dialogue led to other opportunities?

My experience in the Dialogue led to my becoming involved with Melody Feldman’s Seeking Common Ground – Building Bridges for Peace program, a summer peacemaking camp with Jewish and Palestinian youth from the Middle East.  Israeli and Palestinian young women came to Denver for three weeks to participate in the program that included a few women from the United States. I worked with the program from 1995–2000 and in the beginning we were hosted by Temple Emanuel and Rabbi Foster. I introduced a speaker-listener dialogue process to the participants. The interaction involved the Israeli and Palestinian young women (ages 14-17) sitting opposite one another and relating their thoughts and emotions about the conflict they had been born into. Their “talking to one another” stands out for me as the single most profound human-to-human experience of my life. The process involved facilitating dialogues between these women who in most instances had never spoken to someone from the “other side.” Through this engagement they were able to reach a point where they came to embrace one another as an outcome of their emotional interaction in recognizing their shared humanity. This experience remains the highlight of my professional and, frankly, my personal life. The resulting feeling of hope is to this day an integral part of my way of viewing human engagement, because these young women exemplify what is possible for all of humanity.

How do you view your experience as a member of the Jewish/Catholic dialogue?

Through my interactions over the last twenty years with the Dialogue members, I have learned about Jewish beliefs, rituals, and customs with people I have come to cherish as my friends.  With them I have internalized the essence of kinship, a realization that has materialized through recognizing and accepting each other’s viewpoints as the foundation of a collaborative spirituality.

Complete this sentence: For me, the ADL is …  learned

For me, Antonio F. Ledesma, the Anti-Defamation League stands for safeguarding and ensuring the right of human expression and existence in the face of inhumanity enacted on those who have been deemed unacceptable. Peace Be with You.

Are you or someone you know interested in joining the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue? The Dialogue is accepting applications for new members for the 2017-2018 program year. Call 303-830-7177 or download the nomination form!