By Saa’un Bell
One hundred students and parents from Fresno and across the state marched on the state capitol urging lawmakers to make good on the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, on the 64th anniversary of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision that mandated the desegregation of schools.
The march and rally in Sacramento on May 17 was organized by Californians for Justice with Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) to call on Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators to pass a suite of bills to achieve true racial equity in schools. One of the bills, Assembly Bill 2820, will provide resources to schools to regularly survey how students feel about their safety and school relationships while increasing parent and community engagement in schools.
“Linda Brown, the young black woman who sparked the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, passed away just this last March,” said Mitchell. “She did not fight this battle alone, but she died believing what happens in our schools is a ‘microcosm of everything that is happening everywhere else.’ She and others lived for the dream of racially just schools where all children thrive. Together, we must work to make that dream come true. She deserves nothing less.”
Student and parent leaders shared letters about racism in schools during the event, recognizing that statewide policies do not reflect a deep understanding of how to address racial inequality in schools.
“I am here today to tell you that racism in our schools is real,” said Te’Ausha Garcia, a student at Fresno City College and former student leader with CFJ. “I see it in my life every day. From the way people look at me, to how they interact with me or expect me to behave….when I walk into the classroom and I look around I can’t see anyone else who looks like me. All I see is white people, white walls, [white] professors who feel like they have all the power, and I am the only black person in the classroom because for too long we have been pushed out, told we can’t do it, suspended, and sent to the prison system.”
Mitchell was joined by fellow elected officials including Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), as well as representatives from the California Department of Education, standing in solidarity with student and parent leaders as they asked elected officials to address systemic racism in California schools.
“Over six decades have passed since this landmark case, and there is still much work to be done to help every student reach their full potential,” said Kalra. “State leaders must lead together with our young people, parents, schools and teachers to make a stand against racial inequality in our schools, and help build the California we all aspire to live in.”
CFJ released a new report Race and Relationships in the Fight for Public Education at the event, providing a framework for relationship-centered schools that address racial inequity and value student voice, invest in staff and create spaces for relationship building.
In the report, CFJ finds one in five Latino students do not graduate with their class while black children are least likely to graduate high school in four years or complete a college degree. The new report highlights an opportunity gap for young people of color, resulting in schools that predominantly serve African American students to be twice as likely to have inexperienced teachers than schools that serve predominantly white students in the same district.
Organized by CFJ, the event was supported and attended by students, parents and advocates representing community groups throughout California, including Faith in Merced, Orange County Congregation Community Organization, Coleman Advocates, Families in Schools, Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network, Inner City Struggle, Sacramento ACT, Chinese Progressive Association, California Youth Connection, Learning Policy Institute, Advancement Project and the Evergreen Teacher Association.
Saa’un Bell is a Strategy Director at Californians for Justice, and a Narrative Strategist for racial justice movements.