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Olmos remembers his friend Jaime Escalante

Hollywood Wrap with George Pennacchio
March 31, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Actor Edward James Olmos is speaking out about a man who changed so many lives. Jaime Escalante helped East L.A. students master the world of advanced math. His story became the movie, "Stand and Deliver," with Olmos in the lead role. Escalante died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 79."Jaime Escalante will forever be the most well known teacher in America and the world," said Olmos.

In his day, Jaime Escalante helped transform East L.A.'s Garfield High by motivating inner-city students there, and teaching them that passing an advanced calculus test was possible.

The 1987 movie, "Stand and Deliver," helped illustrate that and much more about an unorthodox teacher who made a difference in his students' lives.

The man who played Escalante understands the importance of his legacy.

"Giving more than he received, educating people into becoming the best that they could be, allowing them to understand their full potential," said Olmos.

Escalante left Garfield High in 1991 to teach in Sacramento. He told his friend, Edward James Olmos, something about that decision just a few days before he died.

"The last thing he said to me that I could actually understand was that he felt bad. His big mistake in life, the number one biggest mistake he ever did, was leave East Los Angeles and leave the school," said Olmos.

At the school, as the movie shows, Escalante could be tough when necessary.

"You spend your whole life making sure the disenfranchised, the people who really don't have a voice, are allowed to speak clearly through you and help others," said Olmos. "That's exactly what Jaime Escalante did."

Olmos, who was nominated for an Oscar for playing Escalante, had a 24-year friendship with the man he brought to life on screen.

"I think the thing I'll cherish the most of our relationship is the love that he gave to everybody," said Olmos.

President Obama released a statement Wednesday afternoon about Escalante:

"Throughout his career, Jaime opened the doors of success and higher education for his students one by one and proved that where a person came from did not have to determine how far they could go. He instilled knowledge in his students, but more importantly, he helped them find the passion and the will to fulfill their potential."