Story and photo by John Oliver Santiago
On October 29, 2011, Californians for Justice held their first Racial Justice Luncheon at St. Mary’s Medical Center. In conjunction with CREED (Coalition for Racial, Educational, and Environmental Diversity), the luncheon brought people from different organizations and members of the community together to talk about racial injustices in the educational system.
Jenifer Harris, lead organizer of the event and a member of Californians for Justice, saw the event as a way to open discussion on the racial disparities in education. Another aim of the event was to help boost CREED membership. Fermin Vasquez of Californians for Justice said, “There are all of these individual organizations who are all actively working to solve the same issues. What’s missing is a coalition.” CREED is loose coalition of many organizations. Its purpose is to help focus the efforts of these separate groups and put together a united front in order to bring about solutions.
This is the first luncheon for the organization, focusing on school tracking systems and hierarchal systems in education. Some of the conversations concerned ideas of assimilation and racial whitewashing. Early on, the conversations focused more on these ideas as a way to set an underlying tone for the rest of the afternoon. Following discussions revolved around systematic racism which, as argued by attendees, is so prevalent in the educational system. A major consensus amongst them was that our educational system stands flawed.
One of their major concerns was the school tracking system. This is when a student is, arguably, tracked into a certain path different from other students. Many factors such access to education, family support, and socioeconomic status determines a one-way track to either success or failure. The attendees pointed to Magnet programs such as Long Beach Polytechnic High School’s PACE as an example of this. An infamous term, the prison pipeline system, refers to the unfortunate statistic of Black and Latino children who are tracked into being dropouts and push-outs—translating to incarceration later on in their lives.
According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 1 in 3 Black and 1 in 6 Latino students who were born after 2001 are headed to jail. The arguable reason for this is their socioeconomic status. Proponents of the issue claim that the problems start at day cares. Where students are more likely to succeed if they go through day cares, these students don’t have the money and capabilities to do so. Proponents then argue that they inadvertently receive lower grades in elementary, disqualifying them from middle school magnet programs. Furthermore, their low socioeconomic status exposes them to crime and an unhealthy environment to grow into. This translates to dropout issues as early on as middle school. Couple that with statistically lower grades, they are unable to get into high school magnet programs and they’re tracked in remedial classes.
With the obsession for higher test grades and core class improvements, these students do not receive any chance to learn subjects that they feel relevant to themselves—trade, creative pursuits, culture, and college readiness. With a growing history of bad behavior, harsh no-tolerance policies in schools push them out and drive them to the brink of expulsion and dropping out. If schools are out there persecuting troubled kids, they lack engagement and support.
This creates a pathway starting from early childhood that ends with incarceration. Compare that to the tracking of students from higher socioeconomic statuses, predominantly White and Asian. Attendees believed that these groups are pushed up and held up, tracked onto high academic programs and therefor a successful path in life. The Racial Justice Luncheon discussions skirted around this topic but addressed the multiple and separate components of the prison pipeline system.
Jenifer Harris aims to open more discussion and create a plan of action. But one of the attendees, Annette LaBarca found a problem with the attendance. Being the CEO of Sisco Business Inc., a small business along Alamitos Ave., Ms. LaBarca found problems with the prevalence of community organizers in the luncheon and the lack of community members. “What they should do is reach out better to community members, just people from the community. People keep asking me what organization I’m from and I say I’m just a community member.” Jenifer Harris said that her future goal for the luncheons is to create some sense of frequency for these events.