Archived: Garfield High School Townhall: Thoughts From a Veteran of the Educational Justice Movement


I’m getting a little too old to be getting up on a soapbox, my rodillas (knees) hurt from all that up and down. So I’ll just share some palabras (words) with you and try to get stuff off my chest that is making it “hard to breathe!”

This was a tough week for me, gente (people).  And believe me I’ve had plenty of tough weeks in my 59 years.  But this one was really affecting me and people have noticed. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve; I guess that’s what Cancers do.

There is pressure at work, disappointment, financial worries and trying hard to be a good father and husband. And then there was the Town Hall at Garfield High on July 30.

Thank God I have a strong circle of friends and a very supportive and forgiving family to deal with the latter issues. But the magic, the spirit and the energy of my work since the ’68 Walkouts were hard to summon that afternoon. I felt like the legacy of what thousands of students, parents and teachers fought and sacrificed for 40 years ago did not matter.

Tolerance, cooperation and respect were noticeably missing from that meeting. And what was really unfortunate was that, although there was plenty of shouting and arguing, the real enemy wasn’t even confronted.  That enemy is a school system that has failed to meet the needs of thousands of our children for years and continues to do so.

On one side of the cafeteria you had the Town Hall organizers prepared to make their case for a plan to deal with problems they identified, on the other side a group of teachers, parents and students who were determined to make their point that these changes were not necessary and not welcomed from these ‘outsiders.’ In the futile attempt to present their statistics and proposed plans to address issues they identified, the organizers were repeatedly shouted down and were asked to show some positive statistics about the progress made at Garfield.

I truly believe that everyone in attendance that afternoon had the same desire and wish:  Social and economic justice for students, teachers and community!

As a community member who, admittedly, doesn’t have children attending the Eastside school and is not even an alumnus, I refuse to be labeled as an ‘outsider.’ This is all too reminiscent of what I experienced as a young 17-year-old student at Lincoln High School during the 1968 Walkouts. Fearful teachers and police tried to blame our efforts for change on ‘Outside agitators.’ Teachers were defensive and very upset that a small group of activists would even question their ability to teach and worse, insinuate that those schools were not doing their job. I may be mistaken but my limited understanding is that a large percentage of students who enter many Eastside High Schools, including Garfield, will not graduate.

I was at that meeting because I am concerned about what our children are experiencing in the schools forty years after I took an unpopular stand against a system and people who said they were doing a good job and yet I was weeks away from being “dropped out!’  I too would like to see this ‘progress’ that was demanded to be presented at the Town Hall. I am concerned because although none of the students are my blood or relatives, all are my mijos and mijas (sons and daughters).

For years many of them have come to my agency and program down the street for help and guidance. I have helped them understand what giving your word, Palabra, means in their relationships with their parents, siblings and their community. I have helped many of Garfield’s teen mothers and fathers learn to be loving, nurturing and responsible parents. I have dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts of many teens. And I am still here, an insider.

Please do not take offense to what I am saying. I am an old man now and sometimes I get cranky and ornery. Elders are supposed to be patient and wise and I’m still trying to learn how to do and be that. Our ancestors left us with teachings such as ‘Cara y Corazon’ to guide our actions and behavior. I teach, and I believe, that all relationships need ‘Los cuatro valores (4 virtues) to experience harmony and balance in them. There must be dignidad y respeto (Cara) and there must be cariño y confianza (Corazon) in our lives and how we relate to others. I pray that our next meeting, and there will be many ‘next’ meetings, will include these gifts.

Bobby Verdugo works for the Bienvenidos Community Center

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  1. with all due respect to you sir I would like to ask what tolerance, cooperation and respect were missing from the town hall on the evening of July 30th? The Garfield parents were formally informed on July 28th when they were given a flyer by Hector Flores in the early afternoon. July 8th, Inner City Struggle had a meeting in MH1 with several teachers regarding the town hall for Garfield, the parents could’ve been informed at on the 8th. A phone master went out 1 night before. The cooperation and respect you are referring to must be redirected at the group you so fervently defend. The shouting and arguing you mention was coming from the side of the cafeteria that was brought in vans (that were parked in front of Griffith Middle School). Those were NOT Garfield parents sir! The utter disrespect the Garfield parents have been subjected to is unexcusable, unethical and is far removed from exuding any signs of social justice! Teachers were not defensive they were very aware of the ‘movidas’ that are being pulled. As someone who has been actively present in a movimiento for social justice in the ’68 walkouts, remember how important it was for YOUR voice to be heard. The school system does need to improve we agree on that. Those Garfield parents deserve an apology.

  2. I am a Garfield Alumni. I managed to graduate after being told I had a G.P.A of 1.7 the quarter before last quarter of senior year. Apparently it was procedural for the college center to sit down with each senior to figure out what college they were eligible for. When told what my G.P.A. was, I asked, “what is a G.P.A.?” Yes, my parents, also once students of Garfield, where not involved in my education, nor had anyone else throughout my high school experience bothered to explain to me what this meant, and why it was important until this point. Immediatly after I asked to meet with my academic counselor, whom I already had a relationship with, thanks to his repeatedly signing me passes allowing me back into class, as I constantly skipped classes. I asked him what did I have to do to graduate, he said it was too late, that I hadn’t a chance at this point, he said I was a looser and he and the deans had been trying to figure out how to kick me out of school. I was behind 25 units, and had to pass all my classes the next semester. Regardless of this news, I signed up for evening and nights classes to begin to make up the credits, upon completion of this, I was still behind 5 credits, and an additional 5, that where missed initialy by his miscalculations. By this point, through my preserverance despite odds, he helped me sign into a continuation school, to make up the credits. I completed that multiple choice packets, and walked, graduating June 93. The next five years, I had to learn how to be a student, how to write papers, and everything else I hadn’t learned in H.S. I am proud to be a graduate of Garfield H.S. it’s a major part of my family history (aunt’s, uncles, cousins) being rooted from ELA. The most important thing I can say about my experience there, was that I could walk away with respect for the faculty and staff, and believe I was able to gain their respect by the time I left Garfield. Growing up in East Los Angeles, respect is vital, and our students, families, communities, will not be able to move forward without it. I can write this because I have dignity, and from reading my story I let you be the judge as to whether I have heart. I am happy to hear such townhall meetings are taking place, first things first, good luck organizing as a community. I know it can be done.

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