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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