Black community calls for action after controversial death

imageTwenty years ago, one man sparked the uprising of an entire community. The mention of his name held tension, outrage, and passion. That man was Rodney King. Today, the name of another man, ten years younger, is sparking another movement.

That young man’s name is Trayvon Martin. On Saturday morning, in a meeting called, ‘Black Men Stand Their Ground: Justice for Trayvon Martin,’ over 200 Los Angeles community members gathered in an Inglewood church to discuss race relations and the profiling of black men.

The first hour of the meeting hosted by radio station KJLH was spent reviewing details of Martin’s case. The second part of the meeting called for attendees to participate and voice their solutions for race relations relating to the black community.

Minister Tony Muhammad, organizer of the Nation of Islam, Reverend Lewis Logan, co-founder of Ruach Christian Community Fellowship, Cedric Watkins, partner at Watkins Group & Associates and YoYo, a rap artist, led a panel discussion.

Lines of people quickly filled the church’s three aisles, as community members voiced their concerns and offered solutions over a period of two hours. Given the number of people, not everyone got a chance to speak.

The solutions offered were varied – from increased education to matters of dress code. Some argued that attendees should wear hoodies to protest against the profiling of black men in hoodies as a threat. Others suggested the opposite path, saying they should wear suits to guard against wrong perceptions.

The one thing that people agreed on was that there is still a need for a movement creating intentional change in widespread perceptions of the black community.

imageReverend Logan called for action saying, “Not only are we standing our ground, but it’s time for a movement,” making reference to the meeting’s title, “Black Men Stand Your Ground.”’

Organizers of this meeting hope it won’t be an isolated event. The panel has planned more “movement meetings” as an action step to progress in the improvement of race relations and equality in the public perception of the black community.

“We didn’t come just to talk. We came to reflect and then we came to project,” said Logan. “You can only keep what you are organized to take. And if you are not organized, you will not take anything.”

Those in attendance also voiced concern that the black community is not organized, because they have stopped behaving like a community, neglecting to live life with one another and speak with each other.

Though outraged by the shooting of Trayvon Martin, some expressed hope that this event would achieve this goal of bringing together their community.

“It’s unfortunate that this young man has to be the catalyst for this to happen but sometimes God has a reason for things,” said Donna Armbrister, a teacher from Watts who attended the meeting. “His death is not going to be in vain. As long as I have breath in my body, it’s not going to be in vain.”

This “catalyst” has provoked a national uproar at what many feel was the senseless killing of a young black man, not unlike the uprising against what many felt was the senseless beating of Rodney King.

Twenty years after the LA uprising of 1992, community members have mixed feelings on whether or not race relations have changed in the United States.

Armbrister said that race relations have definitely improved, but qualified her statement by saying, “A black man is still perceived as evil and until that changes we need to be vigilant as a race and as people to make sure that our children are not forgotten and are not seen as a threat.”

Robbie Davis, a 20-year resident of Los Angeles, disagreed with Armbrister, but agreed that the perception of the black community is the main contributor to racial inequality.

“Relations have not changed until all communities are seen as equal,” said Davis. “If you perceive a certain community in the manner that you can treat them differently from another community then things have not changed.”

Derik Cross, 48, born and raised in Los Angeles, cited the lack of discussion and movement as a reason for little change in race relations, saying, “The problem is we never talk about race. We talk about race in a vacuum for a moment and then there’s no follow up on this. It’s embarrassing.”

Many community members agreed saying simply showing up and talking about issues is the first step to change.

“Whenever you have an opportunity to hear the community speak, then you show up, said Davis. “In terms of immediacy, that doesn’t happen; but I will show up as long as it takes.”

The first follow-up to Saturday’s meeting will be held on April 11th at 6:30pm at Bethel AME Church.

South LA protest over early education cuts

A group of over 50 parents, teachers, and young students marched in front of the Roberti Early Education Center on Vernon and Central Avenues on Monday to protest proposed LAUSD budget cuts.

In an effort to balance the district’s budget, the LA Unified School District proposed eliminating the $45 million School Readiness Language Development Program, in which 13,000 four-year-olds are enrolled in half-day sessions aimed at helping them help improve their English skills. It would also cut $18 million from early education programs next school year. This is 93% of the amount they currently receive. A large majority of the 107 early education facilities in Los Angeles will be forced to shut down.

The David Roberti Early Education Center is one of the centers that would have to close down next school year. The Roberti Center, alone, educates about 100 children a year, and still has a waiting list of families trying to get in.

Martha Bayer, a chairperson for United Teachers Los Angeles, estimates that 34,000 children will no longer have a place to attend school.

Early education centers educate children throughout the day, and give them the foundation they need to succeed once they enter elementary school. Advocates say the centers are vital for the children and for their families.

Many of the families at David Roberti Early Education Center are low-income families with two working parents. When these centers close, working parents will no longer have a place for their children to go during the day. image

“I think my wife is going to have to stop working now if they close the center. I don’t know if we could find a babysitter, besides the pay is high,” said Lester Granados, a parent of a child at Roberti.

Granados feels that not only is childcare vital to the community, but also the education the students receive at the centers. Speaking of hiring a babysitter, he said, “ They’re never going to teach them, it’s not the same.”

Preschool education is vital to many of these children’s success. Bayer said that a child entering kindergarten without a preschool education is already 18 months behind students who did receive early education. She said that many students never catch up completely; citing studies that say by the age of 30, those with a preschool education have higher degrees and higher income than those without the same education.

Sarah Knopp, a teacher at Central Region High School in LA, regularly sees the long-term effects of early education on her high school students. She attended the rally on Monday to stand in solidarity with those fighting for early education.

“That [cutting early education] is going to eventually affect me, just like it’s going to eventually affect everyone, because elementary education gives such a good foundation for kids, and by the time, they reach me, 12 years from now, they’re not going to have that education,” said Knopp.

The proposed budget cuts will affect families and whole communities during the 2012- 2013 school year. Supporters and parents of early education students, who are fighting these cuts, recognize that they are not only fighting for a block of education, but for an entire foundation and a future.

“I think it’s something the government, the state is robbing from us,” said Granados. “It’s something that’s really going to kill our community, and the aspirations that kids can have in the future to become and be someone—even one of the members of the board or governors.”

Editor’s note: On Tuesday afternoon, the LAUSD Board of Education voted to delay a decision on these cuts. The Board instructed LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy to negotiate with school labor unions measures that could cut costs with an eye toward reducing the scope of the cuts to early childhood education and adult education programs. The Board also authorized Deasy to prepare a parcel tax to put before voters in an effort to reduce the district’s estimated $557 million deficit in 2012-13.