Black and Brown Unity and the Poor People’s Campaign that never was.

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It's safe to say Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was stolen from us much too soon. I have listened to his final speech more times than I can count. His words in Montgomery the night before his murder were too specific and pointed to be a coincidence. I often wonder what he knew or what he thought after he left the pulpit that night. Mostly, I wonder what was next.

One of the misnomers about Dr. King is that he only cared about causes that affected black people, but he lived by his words, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Dr. King reached out to Latino leaders in 1968, hoping to unite low-income communities across the US as he planned "The Poor People’s March."

Dr. King took an intersectional approach to fighting for justice and helped mobilize Latinos of all racial backgrounds. With the Poor People's March and campaign, Dr. King planned to join forces with leaders of minority communities in hopes of bringing justice to poor communities; thus continuing his work across racial lines during a time when he was considered racist for being pro-black.

In 1963, Dr. King pushed for a strong Latino presence at The March on Washington, asking Gilberto Valentin, President of the Puerto Rican Day Parade to bring his supporters and deliver remarks in Spanish at the rally.

In 1968 King, in support of Cesar Chavez during a hunger strike, sent a telegraph that read:

"The plight of your people and ours is so grave that we all desperately need the inspiring example and effective leadership you have given."

While visiting Puerto Rico, he said, "Over and over again it has been proven that individuals of minority groups can, even in the midst of their oppression, rise up and make creative contributions which reveal that there is no truth in the idea of inferiority."

Dr. King stood in solidarity with all marginalized people. What would have happened if he were alive today or if he had lived long enough to see us move closer to realizing his dream? What causes would he have supported and where would his prominence and influence have taken him? What we know for sure is he would have been working to promote the cause of justice and peace for all. He knew there was power in strength in uniting minority communities. More so, he knew that our history and futures were inextricably tied together and he would fight against injustice no matter where it took him.

 

Happy Birthday Frederick Douglass

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Valentine's Day takes on a different meaning for each of us. Whether you are celebrating your loved ones, an anniversary, "galentines," "palentines," or Single Awareness Day, or just going to work because today is Wednesday, February 14th is a day that is ripe with meaning that allows all of us to find a reason to celebrate. One such reason, Frederick Douglass' 200th birthday.

Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass did not know his actual birthday. So, he chose February 14 because his mother called him "Little Valentine" when he was a child. His given name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; when he escaped slavery, he changed his name to Frederick Douglass, taking his last name from Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem, Lady of the Lake.

With the help of white children in the neighborhood and scraps of books he found, Douglass taught himself to read as a child. In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he wrote, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Reading and writing sparked his desire to escape slavery to the North.

After escaping to the North, Frederick Douglass became a preacher and used his pulpit and platform to promote the cause of human rights and abolishment of slavery. As he traveled to England speaking on this issue, the risk of his capture and return to slavery became greater. Because of this, two of his English friends raised $710.96 to buy his freedom.

Douglass would go on to advise presidents, including Abraham Lincoln during the civil war. He fought for women's suffrage and eventually nominated for Vice President of the United States. Although he would decline this nomination, refusing to campaign, he became the first African-American listed on a presidential ballot as well as the first African-American nominated to be a presidential candidate for a major political party. These accolades were due, in large part, to Douglass' great influence and leadership ability.

Frederick Douglass would be 200 years old today; his words and influence live on through all of us. The best way to honor the lives our ancestors is to continue their traditions and embody their best traits. In this spirit, the whatever reason you find to celebrate today, we should all do something to commemorate the life of Frederick Douglass. In this political climate, it is all the more vital to ensure we follow the example of leaders like Douglass, who put the cause of human rights above his well-being. Many of our leaders could learn a great deal from his life an example.

Happy Birthday Frederick Douglass

 

Black Women- Backbone, Heart and Soul

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Black women didn't just start coming to the rescue in 2017, saving US Senate races. They have a long-standing history of being the backbone, heart, and soul of movements, revolutions, and shaping history. The cliché, "Behind every successful man is a strong woman," could not be more accurate for black women.

We don't have to travel far through history to find examples of this. Michelle Obama was the most decorated first lady in our nation's history. She was Ivy-League educated, championed girls' education, nutrition and served as a shining example of grace, poise, and elegance as she served alongside the first black President of the United States. But for every Michelle Obama, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, or Harriet Tubman, whose platform allowed them to break barriers, 100 black women worked behind the scenes to support movements, sacrificed, marched, boycotted and cooked while they played integral roles in shaping history. We must make sure we tell their stories. I recently learned about a black woman, an unsung hero of the civil right movement, who was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Zephyr Wright was the personal chef of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his family for over 27 years. During her time at the White House, she was dubbed "queen of the kitchen on the second floor" and was known to have learned the family's tastes so well she rarely had to ask Mrs. Johnson what she should cook. "I have yet to find a great chef whose desserts I like as well as Zephyr's," remarked First Lady Johnson.

Wright was hired by Lady Bird Johnson in 1942 as she majored in home economics at the historic black college, Wiley College. She would make meals for family dinners and when the Johnson's entertained guests. When the family moved to the white house, Wright and her husband followed. She, as the personal chef. Her husband as a messenger. While at the White House, Zephyr worked to ensure President Johnson was fit and healthy, often consulting with white house physician, Rear Admiral George Burkley to craft meals that were both appetizing and low in calories. Though she controlled the calories, she had trouble controlling the portions President Johnson requested. She once sent him a note that read, "Eat what I put in front of you and don't ask for more and don't complain!"

The relationship Wright had with President Johnson afforded her the ability to speak openly and honestly and offer her perspective on vital issues. One such issue, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Lady Bird Johnson asked Zephyr to drive one of the family dogs back to Texas. Wright declined, explaining that black people had a hard-enough time finding a place that will accommodate them and it would be doubly hard to do so with a pet. Wright's sharing this perspective with the Johnsons is said to be the reason a public accommodation section preventing segregation was in the bill. In lobbying Congress for this specific provision, President Johnson often used Zephyr's experiences as evidence. When President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he saved one is his pens for Mrs. Wright.

Though men often get all or most of the glory, women have had just as much if not more influence on shaping the past and the present. They will undoubtedly shape the future as they take their rightful places, taking on prominent roles in government, industries that have been dominated by men and shattering every glass ceiling in the way of reaching their goals. This Black History Month, it's important to make sure we tell the stories of the many women who, like Zephyr Wright, served as the backbone, heart, and soul, but rarely have their stories told.

 

Los Angeles mourns education and parent advocate, Shirley Ford

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 Founder of Parent Revolution, Shirley Ford passed away this week after battling cancer. She leaves behind a legacy of parent and education advocacy in Los Angeles, but her impact is felt across California. She was instrumental in passing "parent trigger" legislation and fought to bring quality school options to underserved communities. Her work led to the passage of a bill that gave parents the power to force change at failing schools.

Ford believed that a student's zip code should not limit their access to quality education. Searching for good schools for her two boys, she began the fight for educational justice for all parents. She garnered the support she needed to be the co-founder of Parent Revolution after she enrolled her boys at Animo Inglewood High School, within in the Green Dot Public Schools Network.

Ford said, "Like so many young African-American boys, they were quickly labeled with learning disabilities when they started committing normal, minor infractions in class. At a young age, they started to become disengaged and apathetic towards school. I quickly started to become desperate. I knew that my sons needed a great education if they were going to be successful, and I realized it was my job to make that happen -- nobody else was going to do it for me."

Though she started early, she was not able to find the best options for her boys until high school when she noticed a flyer one day on her doorstep.

"I tried everything I could to get them into a better public school. When that didn't work, I applied for financial aid at a local private school but was denied," she wrote. Her boys were falling further behind by middle school and the only option afforded to her by her zip code was Inglewood High School, where 1 in 10 students was at grade level. When a flyer for a charter school showed up on her doorstep, she decided to give it a try. "I had no idea what a charter school was, but I was out of good options, so I decided to get check out their upcoming meeting."

This meeting secured a quality school for her boys and launched her career as a parent advocate. After founding Parent Revolution, she served as director of community partnerships. The role of Parent Revolution was vital in underserved communities. As it launched its Choice4LA campaign, Parent Revolution trained parents and equipped them with resources and knowledge that allowed them to navigate the school choice process by understanding their options, application processes and how to evaluate school quality.

Recently, due in part to her efforts, 20th Street Elementary School boasted the highest gains in math scores compared to any traditional school in LAUSD.

Her oldest son, Robert, graduated from Animo Inglewood, then college and became a teacher.

"Shirley is survived by thousands of children who will never know her name but whose lives will forever be transformed because of her courage, passion, and love."

 

-Ben Austin, Co-founder, Parent Revolution

#Blacktrospect at the Winter Olympics

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By Reginald Barbour

The first Olympics I can remember watching was in 1984 when Carl Lewis won four gold medals, Michael Jordan was part of the USA Men’s Basketball team and Cheryl Miller was on the USA Women’s Basketball team. They all came home with gold medals. As a young student athlete, I remember thinking the Olympics have to be the greatest of all achievements. Watching the games made me want to be there because I knew that was where the best in the world came to compete. Watching them get their medals was a moment of triumph for me.

I recently shared that story with my 75-year old father as we talked about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Seoul, Korea. His memories were vastly different from mine. He distinctly remembered Muhammad Ali being mistreated in this country after winning the gold in boxing in the 1960 Olympics.

“As a Black man,” he said. “Watching us win at the Olympics was triumphant for the moment. However, the reality was this country didn’t treat winning athletes or veterans who survived the war like heroes. We were constantly told through actions, words, and laws that we were less than. Ali’s win was great while it lasted.”   It was reported that Muhammad Ali threw his gold medal over a bridge into a river after he was denied service at a restaurant in Ohio.

“However,” he said. “Ali stood up for all of us.”

I understood where he was coming from. One of my favorite pictures is that of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in the traditional Black Power salute in the 1968 Olympics. What I’ve learned over the years is there was more symbolism on that podium than just their fists.

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The two Black athletes received the medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride and Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with the blue-collar workers in the US and wore a necklace of beads which he described “were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats of the Middle Passage. Wikipedia

Tommie Smith also said, “We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.” And years later he said, “We were concerned about the lack of black assistant coaches. About how Muhammad Ali got stripped of his title. About the lack of access to good housing and our kids not being able to attend the top colleges.”

I’m still concerned too Tommie.

So as the opening day of the Winter Olympics is upon us, I will watch and cheer on the athletes representing our country, because I know how hard they’ve worked to get there. I know about the countless hours of practice and training it has taken for them to get this moment in their lives. Unfortunately, while I am cheering, I, like my father, am reminded that Black people are still fighting injustices at the world games. Associated Press reporter Errin Haines Whack headlined in her recent article “Coin Toss mirrors black experience beyond Olympics.” She told the story of Shani Davis who made history as the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal at a Winter Olympics in 2006 and the winningest man in American speed skating. However, due to a coin toss Davis was not chosen to represent Team USA as its flag bearer in tonight’s opening ceremonies.

Whack said Davis’s outrage “resonated with African-Americans far beyond sports. For them, it was a familiar scenario: Despite being exception in a field dominated by whites, he was bypassed for a job he deserved. What’s more, when he pointed that out, he was shouted down as an ungrateful distraction.”

Black athletes at the Winter Olympics are treated as an anomaly, Whack said. The movie “Bobsled” about Jamaica’s first bobsled team was filled with an unspoken message: “The Winter Olympics, like certain schools, neighborhoods or jobs, is not a place where black people are supposed to be.”

Heavy sigh. I don’t know what it’s going to take for equality to truly happen and racial prejudices are put away. What I do know is despite the disrespect, they can’t take our moments of triumph away from us. Competition reveals the truth. It doesn’t have anything to do with status, money, or race. It’s plainly survival of the fittest.

 

From Foster Youth to Olympian

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Of the 400,000 foster youth in the United States, only 3% of them earn a bachelor's degree; this is alarming when compared to the general population of youth among whom 30% earn bachelor's degrees. So few go on to obtain degrees because they lack one key ingredient, the opportunity to do so as this usually derives from family support.

Olympic Gold medalist and gymnast, Simone Biles was thrust into foster care when she was three years old. Her mother was raising Simone and her siblings alone while struggling with drug addiction. The future four-time gold medal Olympian and her siblings bounced around several foster homes for years until their grandparents agreed to adopt them. Biles recalls what it felt like to be a foster child.

She says, "Although I was young when the ordeal began, I remember how it felt to be passed off and over-looked. Like nobody knew me or wanted me. Like my talents didn't count, and my voice didn't matter."

But, being adopted by her grandparents opened up a world of opportunity and possibility. She now had a place where she belonged and the things she was passionate about, loved to do and excelled at mattered. These supports allowed her to work hard and earn a chance at representing her country at the Olympics. Biles believes the difference in her success was being given the opportunity to pursue her goals and dreams -- her grandparents supported her in this pursuit. She credits them for allowing her to combine talent, hard work and seizing the opportunity at the right time because they gave her a chance to do so.

"I was blessed with both a gift and the chance to develop it. But many people aren't so lucky," says Simone.

Biles calls for a revolution in education where all kids have the same opportunity to succeed and reach their goals and dreams regardless of their background. She is especially advocating for foster youth as she works to make this a reality.

Right now, 52% of foster youth attend some of the lowest-performing schools. Further exacerbating this issue, almost 25% of foster youth struggle with a learning disability. When you add in the trauma that stems from poverty and problems that resulted from and leads to these youths being in foster care, the challenges of attempting to excel in school and sports pile up.

Biles goes on to stay, "If we invest in foster children, they too can have the opportunity to succeed - - which in turn strengthens our communities. And one area of investment that I'm particularly concerned with is college."

Though she had planned to attend UCLA, Simone ended up beginning training for the Olympics. Later, she studied at University of the People, a non-profit, tuition-free online university, where she has set up a scholarship fund for foster kids. The fund will cover the costs of schooling, including fees related to assessments and applying.

"Our circumstances shouldn't define us or keep us from our goals, especially if that goal is higher education. I hope that I can help other foster care children realize that goal in the months and years ahead."

We have to do more to support foster youth in our schools and when they graduate. In many ways, educators take on the role of family for these youths. Future success, obtaining degrees, reaching goals should not be reserved for the kids who have a traditional family. The promise of academic excellence and passion pursuit should extend to all youth, especially the most vulnerable, our foster children.

 

The City of Brotherly has its Trophy, but Sabrina Fulton Won't Hug Her Baby Tonight

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I'm sitting here watching the news following this year’s Super Bowl where the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in a close and exciting game. And while I didn’t think the game left anything to be desired and I was happy to see the underdog win. It gave many much to celebrate. It was complete bliss for the city of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia finally had the prize it’s been waiting for.

What I cannot reconcile is what took place after the game in Philly. Eagles fans went in the street to celebrate their win. In doing so, they destroyed property, set fires, climbed poles, and knocked over street signs. I watched these fans ruin their city after winning their first Super Bowl, and yet, I did not see any newscasters call them thugs, looters, blame Chicago or Obama. No one blamed the type of music they listened to, how the assume rap music is coded to provoke violence. No one accused their presumed absent fathers or their genes for them being prone to violence. Instead, these folks were just written off as being rowdy or too excited.

However, I still remember the coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests that took place across the country. Where black people, their allies, and supporters, were called terrorists and unpatriotic racists who should just go back to where they came from if they had a problem with how things are in America. When they were peaceful, they were met with militarized police in riot gear, hurling tear gas as if the mere presence of the social justice protesters meant impending doom.

The cause and occasion matter to the context of the event. On one side, you have people who won something getting out of control. On the other, people who feel like they lose a little more of themselves each day they are denied justice marching in the street for change. Though both occasions ended in violence, who are the real thugs? I don't know what it’s like to have the urge to set a car on fire because my team won. But I remember too well the rage I felt hearing George Zimmerman's guilty verdict and the anger I feel now knowing Sabrina Fulton won't get to hug her baby, Trayvon Martin, on his 23rd birthday this week.

While I vehemently denounce violence in all forms, looting, and destruction of public property, I find that Dr. King's words ring true during this Black History month: "Rioting is the language of the unheard." This quote was not an endorsement, but an explanation and warning. When you take away people's ability to speak up for themselves, speak out against justice, obtain the change and justice they demand what ensues is not pretty.

Knowing this, the difference in the way the media has reported celebrations vs. protests, I believe, is one of many moral indictments of our country and media. When rowdy fans get a pass for getting a little too excited in celebrating a win, but people marching in the streets for justice are called thugs and met with violence speaks volumes about what matters to this country. America has always been complimentary of black folks using their bodies to entertain and for sport, but never to use our minds, or voices to call out injustice or kneel in peaceful protest.

For the Least of These

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By Tanzi Barbour

Black History Month is more than just a reason for us to pause and celebrate those that have come before us. I believe it’s also a time for us to do a pulse check so we can understand where we are in the world, how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.

And if we’re taking the pulse right now, I’d say the patient isn’t all that healthy.

It baffles me how some companies, okay a lot of companies, and organizations can still have very little diversity with their staffing. I’m bothered mostly by those groups who claim to work on issues of diversity and yet, that same diversity is not shown on the staffing page of their website. It baffles me how they think this lack is okay and they don’t see where this is offensive.

It infuriates me when I participate in “working groups” specifically around people of color and I am the only “of color” in the room. Sidebar - I’m also irritated that someone thought it was okay to call us colored people again. I sit in a lot of working groups, but I don’t see a lot of groups working to actually be more diverse.

I’m irritated that there isn’t a national outrage about how little our Black and brown children are learning in school systems. I’m even more irritated that issues have come to my native city of Washington, D.C. and no one really seems to give a damn. Where are the protests around students receiving unearned diplomas? Where is the movement to ensure that students from marginalized communities are put in successful situations to excel in school? Right now, less than 30% of all Black children who attend public schools in D.C. are proficient in math and reading according to a recent equity report. How is that okay?

I love the motto of Wayfinder – “For the Least of These.” I find myself using it all the time. I notice it in those same working group rooms when the least aren’t present. I see it when I work in low-income areas and the least somehow become the most - the most hoping for a new tomorrow, the most who are trying to do better, the most who are activists in their communities because they know this shit just ain’t right.

There was a time when white people refused to come to certain areas of any urban city and now they are coming in droves because someone told them that’s the “it” thing to do now. Someone told them that it’s completely fine to move out the most of those who owned the homes in these communities for years, and not bat an eye. They actually think they are doing the community a favor by moving themselves in and the others out. Talk about privilege.

I hate that I even have to explain this.

I know this piece may come across as me being angry and that’s okay because I am. My neighborhood has become gentrified. My community that once boasted residents of homes that have been in their families for generations have been sold, gutted, and removed of all traces of history...because gentrification is en-vogue now. Stealing history from the least of these seems to be the thing to do.

We recognize it in music where our culture is often robbed and raped for the sake of sampling a beat. We see it in copied hairstyles (Kim Kardashian was channeling Bo Derek and not the beautiful African queens where braids originated. Really Kim?). While our people are being sent home, shut out, fired, expelled, and ridiculed for wearing the tresses of our history. We see the robbery in justice when Black people are killed and yet their murderers aren’t held accountable. No justice. No peace. We recognize it in literally every area of our Black lives.

The Wayfinder Foundation exists for the least of these. We believe in investing in women activists who are doing the work in their communities to uplift and move them towards freedoms they have yet to experience. I have no doubt that our ability to do this work will prevail. I think Tupac Shakur may have summed it up best in his biopic movie “All Eyez on Me” when he said “You got to enter in somebody’s world in order to lead them out.” It can’t only be done from a board room or a working group. Sometimes you have to go out and be among the people.

And if you’re wondering what my definition of “for the least of these” is, it is being mindful of the decisions we make and how they will ultimately affect those with the least power.

So, for this Black History Month make it your appointed duty to do more than sharing a meme or creating a campaign that shows you’re “down”. To my activists in our communities, I know you’re tired but our work is not yet done. Dig in deeper and fight for our children and for our mothers. Activate those in your community who can help you galvanize those who are the recipients of the wrongdoings. Become their advocate while teaching them to advocate for themselves.

And for our friends - change your board rooms, your leadership teams, your staff members. Don’t just talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Equalize your power structure so that it includes more diverse people (and no, having a group of people of the same race and/or gender who have different ideologies is not the type of diversity I’m talking about here.) Get some Black and brown folks in your place of business so you can at least have one authentic voice of the people you seek to help.

My frustration may be my own. Standing on the Island of Personal Opinion is not a new trip for me. However, I do have to say this: I wouldn’t be so irritated if I could see the mentality that comes with working on behalf of the least of these in your actions.

 

“No history, no self; know history, know self.”

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Every year, as Black History Month approaches, I think about how far we've come and how far we've yet to go. I think about the sacrifices and experiences of my ancestors, and I am thankful for those shoulders on which I stand. I know I am only where I am because of the work of those who survived the middle passage, the cruelty of slavery, and Jim Crow. Those whose work I continue as I pick up the baton where they laid it down; some of them reluctantly as their lives taken from us in their primes. I am blessed to be able to use their experiences as the light to the path ahead.

So much of what I know about my heritage, I did not learn in school. I learned through my elders who kept alive a tradition that predates writing. It is a tradition that has saved lives and also preserved essential accounts of events inextricably tied to who we, black people, are. That culture of oral history is how the heritage of black people sold into slavery has survived. This practice was crucial in a time where reading and writing for blacks was punishable by death and still is as stories our ancestors preserved make their way down to future generations.

The problem is the oral history of black people in America does not agree with the history our children learn about in books. Our children learn accounts of events that conflict with who they are. Our children grow up writing book reports revering the men who enslaved their ancestors (and would not have even considered them human enough to be in a school setting). Black History Month is micro-messaged in a way that tells them the shortest month of the year can contain all of black history; come March 1st its back to business as usual.

I came across a post on Instagram last week that made me think twice about the history we share with our kids, especially students of color. A young black boy, appropriately named King, took an issue with an account of Christopher Columbus he learned in school that was the opposite of what he had learned through the oral history his mother shared with him. He expressed himself in his journal entry to which his teacher expressed her disappointment. The post went viral and is almost comical until you stop and think about what it meant. A teacher was disappointed in her student knowing the most accurate account of the history and the effect it had on his ancestors.  She was disappointed with his honesty when she should have praised King for his work.

A keen sense of self is key to educational excellence. Black kids shouldn't only learn about their heritage in February; black history is happening daily. In fact, black kids are the living dreams of our ancestors. When they can think critically enough to disagree with what is presented to them compared to what they know to be true, we should applaud them. Moreso, people of color, should do everything we can to ensure our history does lives through the tradition of both written and oral history.

 

Vision to Learn Partnership

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One in four adolescents in the U.S. suffers from common vision ailments that can be corrected with glasses. Studies show students who are provided with proper eyeglasses participate more in class, demonstrate better behavior and dramatically improve their self-confidence.

Abbott Elementary fourth-grader Gael Niebla adjusted his new eyeglasses on his face then slowly removed them, marveling at how much better they let him see.

Gael was pleased with his custom blue-and-black rims and the clearer outlook they produced.

“When I take them off, things are so small and fuzzy, then I put them on again, and everything looks perfect,” Gael said. “I’m really happy to have these; it will make everything easier.”

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Gael was one of 77 Abbott students who received the new glasses on Jan. 19, a service provided by Vision To Learn, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating vision issues as a barrier to education.

After receiving free screenings in fall 2017, students who required further treatment were greeted by VTL staff and Lynwood Rotary Club members, who delivered the glasses on campus. Principal Adolfo Herrera also attended to help children through the process.

Students with new glasses were directed to Vision To Learn opticians, who made adjustments as needed. The glasses come with a one-year warranty.

Lynwood Unified will enjoy several eye screenings for elementary school students this year through its partnership with VTL.

 

MLK Leadership Conference

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A group of Lynwood Unified students pose during the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Conference on Jan. 19. Nearly 200 students received mentorship from professionals during the event.

Lynwood High School senior Alexis Harris aspires to become a physical therapist and one day open her own clinic, but she knows that without a plan of action it’s nothing more than a dream.  Her dream became more of a reality when she was mentored by successful professionals and mapped a path to success during the inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Conference on Jan. 19 at Firebaugh High School.

“I learned how important it is to network and surround yourself with people who can help you achieve your goals,” Harris said. “I now know which colleges will be best for my career and the next steps I should take in order to become a physical therapist.”  

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Alexis was one of the nearly 200 Lynwood Unified African American students who sought to refine their paths at the conference where Young Black Achievers Student Union members from Firebaugh, Lynwood and Vista high schools joined professionals who served as panelists to help students explore ways to reach success and make a positive impact. The theme of the conference was “Against All Odds,” a mantra woven into the speeches of 13 guest panelists who shared personal stories of overcoming obstacles to reach success. Panelists included representatives from Elevate Your G.A.M.E., a mentorship program for students, as well as Lynwood Unified Instructional Services Coordinator William Gideon.

Lynwood Unified High School Equity Coordinator Larry Reed shared his challenges of encountering early parenthood as an 18-year-old. His son, Phil, 21, served as a panelist and discussed choosing academics over athletics as a senior at California State University, San Bernardino.

“You have to be confident in listening to your own voice no matter what is going on around you,” Phil Reed told the audience. “The moment I stopped playing college basketball, everything in my life has been so much better.”

After the panelists addressed students, the conference attendees enjoyed an interpretive dance performance from Lynwood High student Semaj Williams. Following lunch, male and female students separated for breakout groups in which they devised individual goals and pathways to success.  “We wanted to make sure students left the conference not only feeling empowered, but also supported by the District as they aspire to their goals,” Lynwood Unified Director of Equity Dr. Patricia Brent-Sanco said. “We’re here to help young people find their path and we’re willing to walk it alongside them.”

“The conference was an opportunity for our students to hear directly from our staff and to be empowered,” LUSD Superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite said. “We are here to support them, and to inspire them to be their best.”

 

Elementary School PE Teacher Strips Naked, Chases Students Around Playground

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An elementary school physical education teacher was taken into custody after allegedly pulling down his pants and chasing 2nd and 5th grade students around a school playground in Los Angeles. 

Furious parents were apparently alerted by a robocall and letter from the school that “An individual began behaving in an unusual way, prompting us to contact law enforcement”. The elementary school campus was also placed in lock-down.

A bystander captured part of the act on camera, catching the teacher pulling his pants back up after chasing the young students.

“All of the kids saw his private parts. Very embarrassing, very upset,” said one parent.

CBSLA initially reported the incident, and noted that LAUSD alerted them that the man was a contracted employee who works for the district’s Star Education Program.

Read the full story here.

Unlikely Duo Brings Silicon Valley to South L.A., Part 2

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Margeaux Randolph and Qiana Patterson, both former teachers who found success in the tech industry, plan to blend their roots in education and technology by creating an innovative charter school that forges a pathway for public school students to enter into careers in science and technology.

The school, named the L.A. School for Creativity and Technology (C-Tech), will teach students a curriculum focused on building their skills in computer science, design thinking, creative problem solving, business leadership and entrepreneurship.

This dynamic duo wants to teach students not only how to navigate a smart device, but also know how to design the code on which that device runs. C-Tech students will not only be able to play phone apps, but they will also know how to raise the investment capital needed to build and sell one.

The irony of Randolph and Patterson’s vision to start a tech-focused school in South L.A. is not lost on either of the education pioneers. It is rare that two African American women, who are, by nature of their gender and ethnicity, unlikely occupiers of the tech space, would be the very ones to bring change within it. But both women are well-suited for the task ahead.

They understand that the socio-economic realities that exist in South L.A. will make their job more difficult. But they welcome the challenge.

In fact, they want to locate C-Tech in an underserved neighborhood. These young professionals have leveraged hi-tech geographic information systems to pinpoint exact areas of South L.A. that are in the direst need for quality school options and economic revitalization. They call these areas charter zones which describe places where there are no good educational choices among local traditional, charter, and magnet schools. In these zones, all neighboring schools are chronically underperforming.

For Randolph especially, the move to launch a new charter school is just a natural progression of her current work as the VP of Leadership at charter school incubator, ReFrame Labs. At ReFrame, Margeaux has helped other education entrepreneurs to start cutting-edge schools. Now, it is her turn to create a school that will serve as a vehicle for social change.

I recently sat down with Margeaux to discuss her views on Los Angeles’ education system and how ReFrame Labs and schools like C-Tech can radically change education by integrating science and technology.

With so many other charter schools in existence, what makes ReFrame schools stand out from the crowd?

We design innovative schools that partner with the community. And we’re rethinking the whole term “school” to include learning environments that are highly adaptable like mobile schools and future tech schools that focus on intelligence systems, on social justice and activism, and on creating the next generation of leaders. We see schools as ecosystems for the community to bring people together and to bring opportunity and innovation.  

It’s true that in Los Angeles charters are oversaturated but there is still a high demand for quality.

Some charter critics say that charters don’t really serve black and brown kids. How would you respond?

First, charter schools are public schools. They’re open to everyone. So anyone can enroll in a charter school. And if you look at the data, particularly the data from California Charter Schools Association, which does really good data analysis, they specifically did a study on subgroups and one on African American populations.

And it turns out that there are substantial numbers of African American kids in charter schools. And in those schools, particularly the high schools, about 70% of African American kids in charter high schools meet the college A-G requirement.  This is compared to the district which is around 18%. That is a huge difference. So when black kids are in charter schools, they get one more month of learning than they would in the district. When they are in charter schools they are being served adequately.

But one problem, both in charter and in districts, is the suspension rates for black kids. They are still high across the board and are still an area that we at ReFrame are really thinking about.

What are you most hopeful and most worried about regarding the state of education in Los Angeles today?

Well, I’m most hopeful about the new [LAUSD] board and the possibilities for collaboration. And I am hopeful about the ventures around parent engagement that Parent Revolution and Kids First are doing.

What I’m still nervous about is that there are still parts of deep-south L.A., like Watts and Westmont, where all of the schools are struggling – district, charter and magnet.

And I think there needs to be a call to the district for a deeper, deeper, deeper focus because these are areas with high poverty, low unemployment, and low economic opportunity. And all of the schools there are struggling. And I also think it requires a deep focus on black and brown tensions because they are real and not working for the good of kids. So, there needs to be more focus on how to move the entire community forward.




 

Unlikely Duo Brings Silicon Valley to South L.A., Part 1

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Silicon Valley has long been the nation’s hub of technological innovation. It is home to tech giants like Apple, Facebook, and Google.

This Palo Alto tech base attracts ambitious entrepreneurs each year with dreams of bringing their new business ideas to the market and enjoying a slice of what has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

Smaller-scale industrial centers have also blossomed around the U.S. to compete in the tech arena as well.

Consider Silicon Valley’s southern neighbor, Silicon Beach, located along the western corridor of Los Angeles, which has gained momentum over the past few years and houses social media ventures like YouTube and SnapChat.

Over the past decade, the industry has seen remarkable growth. If the industry’s stock market performance is any indication, investors can expect that it will continue to bring in chart-topping billion-dollar growth for years to come.

Unfortunately, less than half the country shares in the economic opportunity that this industry holds.

Women who make up 50 percent of the U.S. population only comprise 25 percent of the workforce in STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and math) according to a 2013 American Community Survey report by the US Census Bureau.

A similar picture unfolds when considering racial minorities. African Americans and Latinos each represent only 6.5 percent of the tech workforce.

The tech industry’s diversity dilemma is not a secret. But is also a hairy problem to fix.

Non-profits have sprouted up to try to remedy the problem. Corporations, too, have thrown their hat into the game by creating social initiatives to diversify the tech space.

But despite the momentum behind efforts within the non-profit and corporate world to turn around this goliath issue, the problem persists.

On a national scale, the disproportionate demographic makeup of the tech sector may take years, if not decades, of concerted effort between the public, private and civil sectors to resolve.

But on a local scale, there may be hope for more immediate change.

Consider Los Angeles, which has some of the largest school districts in the country, and the efforts of two unlikely techies to change the face of the industry.

Their work begins just miles from Silicon Beach and they are making plans to bring a slice of Silicon Valley to South L.A.

 

Bold Faith: Lessons on Faith and Activism during National School Choice Week

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A day before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famed Mountain Top speech at Mason Temple in Memphis, TN.

Although King was known as a skilled orator who often wrote his speeches with vivid language and imagery, he outdid even himself on this day. He used one litany of five simple words that would later become iconic: “I’m glad I didn’t sneeze.”

King was referring to a prior life-threatening event that he experienced in 1958, when a deranged woman stabbed him so close to his heart’s aorta that his doctors said if he sneezed, he would have faced certain death.

King took off with this litany saying that he was glad he did not sneeze or he would have missed seeing the victories that the Civil Rights Movement won against racial segregation in Selma or Montgomery. He would have missed witnessing Brown vs. Board of Education ruling to dismantle school segregation.

Today, King is nationally recognized by millions of Americans as a prolific, unifying force who became the face of the Civil Rights Movement, but King started first from Christian roots. Before he was an acclaimed Civil Rights activist, he was first a theologian and pastor.

Although beloved today, King was a controversial figure of his time. Not only did he routinely receive criticism from Americans who supported legalized segregation, but also from peers within his own race and faith. Some African-American preachers felt that King’s vision was too radical and his tactics too aggressive.But he pushed on, and remained true to his convictions, even when his unwavering views on non-violence and expanding focus on economic justice became increasingly unpopular.

In a 1967 speech, he declared, “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscious asks the question is it right? And there comes a time when a man must take the position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because it is right.”

King passed away 50 years ago, but his teachings and ideals still live on. Just as he is glad that he did not sneeze, I am glad that he did not stay silent. If he would have stayed silent, we would not have had such a galvanizing figure who could bring people from all races, classes, creeds, and backgrounds together toward the pursuit of justice.

What can contemporary faith leaders learn from King’s legacy? What duties does the church – or any religious body – have to speak out against social injustice?  Well for one, religious leaders can learn that silence, although an easier road than social involvement, does not move the needle on human progress. In fact, it puts a rubber stamp of approval on the status quo.

Historically, churches have helped the poor, downtrodden, and sick. They have created food banks to feed the hungry, hospitals for the sick, or shelters to house the poor.  These works have long been accepted forms of faith-based charity.  But in the 21st century, as social issues grow more complex, churches that view their social role only in terms of food, clothing, and shelter – or do not see themselves involved in society at all – would miss an important opportunity to leverage their position as a beacon of light in their communities to improve the lives of their congregants and communities.

Wherever injustice exists, faith leaders have an opportunity to take a stand. Like King, ministers can do just as much, if not more, if they move beyond the pulpit and hit the pavement to bring about social change. If they move beyond lip service towards life service.

Activism in Education

As this week, January 21-27, is School Choice Week, let’s consider the issue of education – which in urban areas across the U.S., has remained a core issue in the frontier for civil rights.

Much like in King’s era, neighborhoods that are largely populated by African Americans and other racial minorities, have a larger concentration of failing schools. Failing schools means the students attending those schools will be unprepared for life and the workforce. They will lack the basic skills they need to become financially and professionally successful.  Just as important as feeding the hungry, or clothing the poor, is giving children access to an education from which they can find gainful employment and financial success.

In the U.S. economy, where most jobs require a minimum of a high school diploma but increasingly a college degree, quality educational opportunities have become the pathway for success for our country’s youth. The debate over school choice has become political. But beyond the politics, churches can survey their congregation and community to determine which forms of schooling fit the needs of their communities.

Whether they support forms of school choice like laws that allow for the opening of new, responsible charter schools, or the provision of school vouchers to help parents pay to send their children to private schools, or busing programs, or whether they are staunch advocates of only traditional public schools, churches can still play a role in making the educational experience of every child better.

Center of Hope Men’s ministry greets the students at Inglewood High School with a smile every Monday morning. They help improve student’s experience in the public-school system as it is now.

West Angeles Church sponsors a school fair that helps connect parents with the school outreach staff of public, private, and charter schools to help parents decide which options are best for their kids. They also host an annual backpack drive to get children ready to return to school each Fall.

In whatever way, get involved in improving the realities that youth face and giving them the hope for a bright future.

In their own way, as God leads them, churches as a collective, and church members individually, can promote social causes that improve the quality of life for youth and families in their neighborhoods.


 

If you want change, you have to persist and wait for it

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Last week, I spent my morning with a group of mothers who meet each week with their digital learning coach. The goal of these meetings is to teach parents how to advocate for their children's needs. As I was sharing my five steps for advocating for children's needs, it hit me. For many parents, navigating a school system is like learning a new language. To advocate for their children's needs, they would first need to have someone decode the system. The task of decoding education for parents is not an easy one, but it is necessary.

In the Bible, the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel all night long reminds me of one action parents can take to advocate for their children.  As dawn was breaking, the angel cried out saying, "Let me go, dawn is breaking." To that Jacob replied, "I won't let go until you bless me."

This story makes me think of parents who, for all intent and purposes, are at their wit's end. I've seen these parents at board meetings or sitting in the lobby at schools or in the district office. The looks on their faces match the frustration of bouncing around from office to office, making phone call after phone call, having meetings and conferences and still not being able to find a resolution. They've gone to a school to ask for assistance, information, support, guidance or just to be heard.  They are so adamant they will sit in the office until they get what they'd come to do.

They might have run into admin and teachers who care but were putting out other fires. They might have been told to come back later to make an appointment. They may have been told there was nothing that could be done about their situation. But their instincts as a parent tells them to sit and wait until they get resolution and take no thought for who might be too busy or not available. I admire those parents and all parents who fiercely advocate for what is best and what is needed for their child even if that requires sitting outside someone's office for hours until they can be seen.

So to parents, this is not an invitation to cause a scene or be disruptive. But I wholeheartedly implore you to do whatever you need to do to ensure the needs of your children are met. In addition to the five steps I shared with the parents, not leaving until you get what you need is a way you can activate all five steps at once. Schools and school districts are not always welcoming to meeting the individual needs of all kids and parents. But that should not deter you from advocating for what is best for yours. So, be visible, be vocal, be inquisitive, be engaged, advocate and if you need to, sit there and don't let go until they bless you.

 

National School Choice Week: A Perspective for Church Folk

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What is National School Choice Week anyway?

National School Choice Week begins today. This celebration has grown tremendously, almost doubling year after year, over the past seven years since it began in 2011.

This week aims to recognize and support the creation of all forms of school options for parents from traditional public and public magnet to charter schools, online academies and homeschooling.

The idea that drives this weeklong celebration is parents know the needs of their children best and should have more than one kind of option of K-12 education that can uniquely fits their children’s needs.

The thought behind this week sounds noble. Of course, parents should have the right to choose which type of learning environment will help their kids succeed most, right?

But the idea of educational freedom for parents is not without controversy.

Case in point, just consider the kinds of political leaders who threw their support behind this week’s school choice events, and those who did not.

22 governors signed favorable proclamations declaring January 21-27 as National School Choice Week in their state. They include the governors of Utah, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Wyoming, Indiana, Wisconsin, Vermont, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio, New Mexico, Kentucky, Illinois, Idaho, Florida, Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, North Dakota, Maine, Iowa, and Colorado.

But of the 22 heads of state, only one was Democratic: Governor Hickenlooper from Colorado.

Where were the declarations from governors from other blue states like New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Montana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and California?

Now, mind you, one reason that explains why governors did not publicly recognize this week may have had little to do with political ideology and more to do with logistics and timing. Maybe for these states, focusing on school choice was just not a high priority on the docket of the many other legislative duties that required their attention. Even a few Republican governors decided not to acknowledge National School Choice Week.

But, generally, school choice is endorsed much more fervently by conservatives than by liberals.

Much of the divide between the two camps rests not in the believe that all children should receive an adequate education – most agree on this – but rather, in the details of how to translate that shared vision into a reality. The rift is fueled by fundamental disagreements over who to trust to deliver education to kids – the government or private entities – and over how taxpayer dollars should be spent within the education system.

Unfortunately, the bickering, name-calling, and villanization that often occurs between both sides only serves to hurt the very group that they seek to help: the almost 74 million school children in this nation whose lives are affected by decision makers within their educational and political institutions.

Many politically-active bodies have weighed in on the issue of school choice.

For example, in California, teachers’ unions are staunchly opposed to educational choice options outside of the traditional public-school system and fights vehemently with their main educational nemesis: public charters. They also oppose other forms of school choice such as school vouchers and tax-credits to create scholarship funds.

Similarly, charter schools, represented by bodies like the California Charter Schools Association, have become equally involved in their own political battles to fight issues related to more funding and access to learning facilities.

More and more, even parents are throwing their hat into the politics game. They are creating their own unions to demand that the failing schools where their students attend do more to improve student achievement.

The Role of Churches and Church Folk

So which line do faith leaders fall under in the school choice debate?

Some faith leaders will feel compelled to do more than preach from the pulpit. They are closer in style to famous minister and social activist – Martin Luther King, who will be commemorated on the 50th anniversary of his passing this year.

But other Christian ministers feel that God has not called them to weigh in on social issues beyond giving its members Christian principles for living that will help them face those issues when they are confronted by them outside of the church’s four walls.

No, all churches cannot and will not take sides on complex social issues like education justice. They do not have to quibble over the politics, but they can and should acknowledge and uplift the people in their congregation and community who are on the frontline to improve school choices for parents – everyone from teachers in every type of school, to principals, to school janitors and maintenance staff.

They can also help make those choices better for families – regardless of the menu of options that currently exists in their neighborhoods.

Being a blessing to others is the call of the church. How far, faith organizations want to take their efforts, is of course, the decision of its leaders. But every church should see a responsibility to do something to improve the lives of the congregants and community.