Monday, April 12, 2010

Griselda - 1, Racism 0

This weekend I had the distinct privilege (hmm, there’s that word) of accompanying Griselda, our brilliant and courageous young woman up to San Francisco State University for an orientation to her chosen college. I couldn’t help but reflect upon the first time I met this determined, yet angry and brooding young lady in our mentoring program at Rhino Entertainment. Over the past few years I have been given many opportunities to marvel at her resilience as her story unfolded.  This is a remarkably conscientous, thoughtful and intelligent young woman.  But like many of our young people she grew up in a household rife with the struggles of poverty and alcoholism and a neighborhood with gangs, drugs and other forms of violence. She battled and defeated these challenges, as well as a school system that crowds too many kids in classes that are too short of the proper resources.

I permitted myself to be present in the joy of the moment, to feel the pride I imagine a father feels and the excitement as his daughter transitions into a new phase of life. Plus, I always love the feel of a college campus and the exhilaration of young minds in pursuit of knowledge (and all the other trappings of the college experience).

But now my mood changes to one of righteous anger as I think about how relatively few young people from the inner city of Los Angeles will accomplish what Griselda has, not because they don’t have the inherent ability, but because they have not been able to summon up the heroic qualities that she has found. It shouldn’t take that. We as a society have failed them, and the vast majority of ‘them’ are “black” or “brown” students. If you are buying the myth that we are gradually desegregating and bringing equal opportunities to all, return that purchase to the counter for your money back. We have resegregated big time. The schools we work with at Urban Oasis YMC are well over 90% African American and Latino and the conditions for learning are deplorable. The evidence is in. This is a national phenomenon.

We have replaced legally enforced segregation of the 50’s with economic and social apartheid today, replete with a quality gap in education reminiscent of Jim Crow days. Despite the fact that desegregation efforts were working (graduation rates increased amongst African American and Latino students and test score gaps narrowed substantially) the dismantling of these efforts starting with Reagan and resurfacing with zeal under Bush (and the failed policy cynically titled “no child left behind”) have reversed the gains. Is this racially motivated? Hard to say. Is this nonetheless a form of racism? You’re damn right it is. Is it wrong, duplicitous and self-defeating to the concept of democracy?

Jonathan Kozol writes in his book “The Shame of the Nation”:

“There is something deeply hypocritical in a society that holds an inner city child (only eight years old) accountable for performance on a high stakes standardized exam, but does not hold the high officials of our government accountable for robbing her of what they gave their own kids 6 or 7 years ago.”

This must change. Charter or magnet schools are not the answer. We don’t need magnets to draw the best and brightest out of our public schools, leaving behind those children who are too wounded to know how to motivate themselves. ALL children in a humane society should be entitled to an equal quality education, regardless of their place of birth. We need to fix the public schools if we are ever to have a true democracy where those less advantaged get a fair shot at a better future.
In the meantime those of us in the trenches will continue to try to inspire heroic efforts on the parts of young minority students to overcome the disadvantages of this culture. Our bright and beautiful Griselda will be a shining example to them and a source of pride and inspiration to those of us who love her.


Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis

Boarding House Mentors

1 comment:

Beth said...

Way to go, Griselda!