“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”
– Michael Jordan
There is so much to bemoan about the real-life circumstances of 2020 and how the impact of COVID-19 has changed how we move and exist in the world.
Yet, amid the challenges of this year, there are beacons of hope lighting a way to a better tomorrow.
During this year’s legislative session, while the California Legislative Black Caucus, under the stewardship of Dr. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), worked diligently to ensure Black communities were not abandoned during this public health crisis; while raising awareness of the disproportionate impact COVID-19 continues to have on Black communities; while leveraging for resources to address not only health related issues but the debilitating impacts of racial injustice at the hands of police, the housing crisis, evictions, and the unprecedented loss of jobs and income in this moment, the CLBC continued to also focus like a laser on the future of Black Californians.
One of those focus areas included the decades long struggle to repeal Proposition 209, passed by California voters in 1996, which continues to have a debilitating impact on access to the state’s institutions of higher learning for youth of color, and access to public contracts for minority- and women- owned businesses.
The language of Proposition 209 was a virtual slap in the face to Black people in how it was positioned. It misappropriated language from the 1964 Civil Rights Act and leveraged it against minority communities when it declared in essence—the state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.
The hypocrisy of Proposition 209 remains as stunning today as it was when passed in 1996. You can begin by considering the Black and Brown students denied admission to UCs so the system could accept more foreign students (who pay higher tuition rates) to fill its coffers in the wake of the great recession. The state did not think twice about further cutting admissions to our children to make room for more foreign students, many with lower grades, grade point averages and lower SAT scores.
Black families whose children were denied admission during this same period were aghast when they learned of the scheme. It was a blatant example of institutional racism in selected admissions and omissions. I say this because it was only the Black and Brown students whose admissions were curtailed to make room for more foreign students—White youth continued to be admitted at the usual rate.
Long before and since this revelation there is the issue of legacy and donor admissions. Research has shown wealthy students whose parents make generous donations to colleges and universities have a real advantage and are granted near open-door admission to the colleges and universities of their choice.
This year we learned there was also a scheme of back-door criminal admissions’ access to some of the state’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning for the children of wealthy parents who had enough money to just buy their children’s college access without legacy and, far too often, without qualifications to meet the terms under which they were admitted. The 2019 Varsity Blues report by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (AICU) exposed this criminality and, though we should never assume, it is probable this scheme has existed for generations to varying degrees.
The investigation further revealed most of the four-year colleges investigated “do not have a hard floor of academic requirements beyond the basics,” the AICU said. This, of course, certainly sits in opposition to the reasons they normally give for excluding Black and Brown students.
The arguments in support of such admissions’ behaviors are often opined over how the donations of such benefactors enable the educational institutions to offer more generous financial aid packages to those in need. I might argue this generosity is probably more a function of these institutions admitting so few minorities they can easily afford to be generous with the limited number who are admitted and may require more financial assistance.
There is another perspective on access to higher education rarely connected to this discussion, yet it has impacted Black and Brown students (and veterans) disproportionately since the great recession. Many who sought college educations were lured into fly-by-night colleges and universities like Devry Institute and others that over promised, under delivered, and left students with thousands of dollars in debt, no degree, no competitive employment options to earn enough income to pay the debt, and a federal government that did too little, too late to protect and/or unburden them financially.
The egregious example of the failures of these private schools offered a glimpse into a separate reality faced by Black and Brown parents whose children are denied access to the state’s public colleges and universities—the issue of cost. Blacks often end up paying much higher rates for their education because, when denied access to public colleges and universities, many have sought educational opportunities at smaller private schools. It is no secret that tuition at private institutions of higher learning can be more expensive than public institutions, often by thousands of dollars, especially when you are a state resident.
Those who supported Proposition 209 in 1996, and now oppose Proposition 16, often sat silent as the events in recent years described above came under the spotlight for public scrutiny. Many of them now argue Proposition 209 is not the problem but poor schools in Black and Brown communities are really at issue. Both are true and the CLBC continues to fight on both fronts.
For this discussion, however, Proposition 16 is the focus and equitable access to the state’s publicly funded colleges and universities is the issue.
In 2018, a study by the U.S. Education Department National Center for Education Statistics showed children whose parents attended college are much more likely to attend a college or university and graduate themselves. Not only did their college attendance increase, it increased exponentially.
This year when you mark your ballot, I encourage a Yes vote on Proposition 16—we must open the doors of the state’s universities to all our children. We work here, pay taxes in support of these institutions, and we must demand access for our children, for all children—education is the bridge to a better tomorrow for Black people. Remember, denying slaves of the ability to read and write was a successful tool used by slave owners to control their chattel—understand this and you understand the herculean efforts to deny Blacks access to colleges and universities—it is merely the continuation of a White Supremacist mindset. To change this paradigm in California, I once again call upon everyone to vote early and to vote YES on Proposition 16.
“There is never a time in the future when we work out our salvation,” James Baldwin wrote. “The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.”
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.
S.E. Williams is Editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.