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COMMENTARY: The Fight to Save Affirmative Action for All of Us

These are the folks within our community who have been used by a white anti-civil rights activist named Ed Blum in an attempt to topple this thing in society that has allowed previous generations of not just Asian Americans, but all people of color, and women, and anyone else who has been qualified, to break through the color barriers in life. They just needed that benevolent boost we’ve known as “affirmative action.”

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Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. His web show is on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a webshow on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

Don’t think for a second that Asian Americans are rooting to end affirmative action.

You might get that impression as the Supreme Court heard two cases concerning the use of race in college admissions at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

The Harvard case in particular has Asian American plaintiffs represented by a group called Students for Fair Admissions, or SFFA.

Don’t be misled. The group isn’t representative of Asian Americans at all. They’re a minority within a minority. National polling data of Asian American voters show that nearly two-thirds actually support affirmative action.

What you’re witnessing is a classic “divide and conquer” strategy, where some Asian Americans are being used by a white anti-civil rights activist named Ed Blum, who has dedicated his life to upending diversity and race equity in society from voting rights to higher ed.

And now it looks like his time has come.

Remember, conservatives aren’t automatically against affirmative action. The late Justice Sandra Day O’Conner wasn’t—totally. To the court’s credit, it’s always allowed for race to be addressed within reason. No quotas, of course. But race has always been allowed as a factor.

Then came 2012, the Fisher v. Texas case, where Blum hand-held a white female plaintiff in an attempt to destroy the use of race in admissions at the University of Texas. It didn’t work, but Blum learned a lesson.

He realized he didn’t have a perfect victim. That was clear when even Antonin Scalia wondered aloud what the damage was to the white Fisher when she was not able to gain admission in a process where she had to compete fairly against people of color.

Indeed, what was the harm? The cost of the application fee?

So, this time, Blum found aggrieved rejections from Harvard and UNC on the internet. And he found a large group of plaintiffs among a new generation of Asian Americans immigrants from the 1990s and after, or rather their sons and daughters.

They were the ones who never quite understood why their little darlings with the straight A’s and perfect scores would be rejected from Harvard.

They have enabled Blum’s yellow-faced attack against affirmative action.

It’s created a civil war between Asian Americans, only the Mason/Dixon line is the year of your family’s immigration.  1980s? ’90s? 2000s?

These are the folks within our community who have been used by Blum in an attempt to topple this thing in society that has allowed previous generations of not just Asian Americans, but all people of color, and women, and anyone else who has been qualified, to break through the color barriers in life.

They just needed that benevolent boost we’ve known as “affirmative action.”

It’s impossible to say exactly how the court will come down on the Harvard and UNC cases. You can’t really tell by the questions asked by the justices.

Clarence Thomas took a swing at UNC by questioning the educational value of diversity.

“I didn’t go to racially diverse schools, but there were educational benefits,” he said. “And I’d like you to tell me expressly when a parent sends a kid to college, that they don’t necessarily send them there to have fun or feel good or anything like that; they send them there to learn physics or chemistry or whatever their study. So, tell me what the educational benefits are.”

North Carolina Solicitor General Ryan Park, arguing for UNC, spoke of the benefits of racial diverse environments, but not to Thomas’ satisfaction. “Well, I guess I don’t put much stock in that because I’ve heard similar arguments in favor of segregation, too.”

Thomas would be indicative of the hardline conservative attitude.

But the court’s first African American female was there, too. Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson questioned the SFFA attorney about the harm the race conscious approach had in admissions. The SFFA attorney couldn’t speak to any significant harm and admitted that even whites benefitted from the system now in place.

So, why even bother with the plaintiff’s SCOTUS appeal if the lower courts have already decided Harvard and UNC’s programs weren’t discriminatory?

Well, the only thing that’s changed is the six solid, unyielding conservative justices in the high court.

You saw what they did to abortion. Would they do the same thing to affirmative action?

In a heartbeat.

That’s what worries people. A decision is expected in 2023. I’m being optimistic while I still can. Affirmative action has been a considerable tool to fight racism. Without it there’d be no BIPOC middle class.

So, what’s the ultimate way to beat a court hell-bent on playing politics?

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a webshow on www.amok.com

Activism

Calif. Leaders Discuss Foster Care Reform Strategies for Black and Brown Youth

Before becoming a nationally recognized social justice leader and a member of California’s Mandated Reporting Taskforce, Shane Harris spent 13 years as a foster care youth after he lost both of his parents. As President of the national civil rights organization, People’s Association of Justice Advocates (PAJA), he’s aiming to solve some of the toughest challenges Black and Brown children in the foster care system face.

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Shane Harris, PAJA President and member of the California Mandated Reporting Taskforce (center) with Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor on Homelessness to Governor Gavin Newsom and Dr. Janet Kelly, Founder & Director of Sanctuary of Hope LA (far right) (Lila Brown CBM)
Shane Harris, PAJA President and member of the California Mandated Reporting Taskforce (center) with Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor on Homelessness to Governor Gavin Newsom and Dr. Janet Kelly, Founder & Director of Sanctuary of Hope LA (far right) (Lila Brown CBM)

By Lila Brown, California Black Media  

 Before becoming a nationally recognized social justice leader and a member of California’s Mandated Reporting Taskforce, Shane Harris spent 13 years as a foster care youth after he lost both of his parents. As President of the national civil rights organization, People’s Association of Justice Advocates (PAJA), he’s aiming to solve some of the toughest challenges Black and Brown children in the foster care system face.

During National Foster Care Month in May, Harris visited the Sanctuary of Hope in Los Angeles to host a roundtable meeting with current and former foster youth, many of whom, like Harris, have beat the odds and become successful professionals.

According to the federal government’s Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, there are nearly 370,000 American children and youth in foster care.

Nationally, Black children are overrepresented in foster care. According to datacenter.kidscount.org, Black children represented 14% of the total child population in the United States. However, they represented 23% of all children in foster care. Harris pointed out that one out of every four foster youth go homeless upon exiting foster care in California. Across the state, there are nearly 65,000 children in foster care, he added. Of the 65,000 children in foster care across California, 14,000 of them are Black American.

Harris also announced a new effort already underway to push for the removal of the term “case” in L.A. County when referring to foster youth during the roundtable which featured Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Janet Kelly, the Founder and Director of Sanctuary of Hope. The session focused on solving problems foster youth face.

Sharing personal stories, insights, and various visions for policy changes, the participants discussed numerous solutions and addressed specific concerns about ongoing challenges with the foster care system.

One top priority was how to close the foster care to homelessness pipeline for the disproportionate number of Black and Brown children in LA County’s and the state’s foster care system.

“When you see the direct connection between the disproportionate rates of Black children in foster care and the disproportionate rates of Black people in the general homeless population, there is a very clear connection there in which our foster youth are coming out of care,” stated Harris during opening remarks.

Kaka said the governor has been intentional about making sure that foster children are homeless prioritized as the state addresses homelessness.

“This is a critical moment for foster care,” said Kaka. “The systems that are working together are looking at leveraging federal, state and local funds.”

Harris said he has already begun efforts in San Diego County to drop the word “case” when referring to homeless youth.

“We are asking for a 90-day public input period, in which the county CEO and leadership can facilitate discussions with the community on replacement terminology. There’s plenty of ideas,” Harris elaborated.

Kelly said a majority of the youth who go through the Sanctuary of Hope program are young people who have experienced some form of housing instability or housing crisis.

“The goal of the work that we do is really centered around helping young people leave here with leadership skills and other forms of what we call protective factors in order for them to continue on with their stabilization journey and become loving, caring and active citizens in this world,” Kelly said.

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Activism

U.S. Rep. Kamlager-Dove Leads Discussion on Improving Black Student Learning, Test Scores

Kamlager-Dove, who represents a district that covers parts of Los Angeles County, hopes that ideas shared at the event can be incorporated into models that can impact other regions across California, where Black students continue to fall behind their peers of other races and ethnicities.

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Congresswoman Kamlager-Dove (CA-37) moderates a panel including Dr. Kortne Edogun-Ticey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education during Roundtable on Equity in Education for Los Angeles Unified School District (R to L) beside Kamlager-Dove Dr. Robert Whitman, Educational Transformation Officer, Los Angeles USD; Dr. Kortne Edogun-Ticey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education; Keith Linton, Founder, Boys to Gentlemen, Dr. Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Southern California Rossier School of Education and LAUSD student Jonathan McGee. Photo by Lila Brown (CBM).
Congresswoman Kamlager-Dove (CA-37) moderates a panel including Dr. Kortne Edogun-Ticey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education during Roundtable on Equity in Education for Los Angeles Unified School District (R to L) beside Kamlager-Dove Dr. Robert Whitman, Educational Transformation Officer, Los Angeles USD; Dr. Kortne Edogun-Ticey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education; Keith Linton, Founder, Boys to Gentlemen, Dr. Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Southern California Rossier School of Education and LAUSD student Jonathan McGee. Photo by Lila Brown (CBM).

By Lila Brown, California Black Media

On April 8, U.S. Congressmember Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA-37) moderated a roundtable focused on Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) strategies to improve Black student performance in classrooms.

Kamlager-Dove, who represents a district that covers parts of Los Angeles County, hopes that ideas shared at the event can be incorporated into models that can impact other regions across California, where Black students continue to fall behind their peers of other races and ethnicities.

Discussions at the event centered on LAUSD’s Black Student Achievement Plan (BSAP) and other educational initiatives aimed at enhancing learning and boosting test scores.

“The Black Student Achievement Plan is unique in that it takes a community-centered approach to uplifting Black students,” said Kamlager-Dove during the event held at John Muir Middle School in Los Angeles.

“We must implement culturally responsive education in the classroom to challenge our students academically while giving them a sense of purpose,” she continued.

In 2023, nearly 70% of Black children in California fell below a passing mark on the state standardized English Language Arts exam, and only about 20% of those students were performing at grade level based on their scores on the math assessment test.

A variety of public education experts joined Kamlager on the panel, including Dr. Kortne Edogun-Ticey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education; Dr. Robert Whitman, Educational Transformation Officer at LAUSD; Dr. Pedro Noguera, Professor and Dean at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education; and Keith Linton, founder of the non-profit Boys to Gentlemen. 

Jonathan McGee, a student who sits on the BSAP Student Advisory Council, also spoke during the panel.

The BSAP was approved by the LAUSD Board of Education in February of the 2020-21 school year. Funds have been earmarked to address the longstanding disparities in educational outcomes between Black students and their non-Black peers. Dating back to the landmark case, Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional, positive outcomes for Black students continue to lag behind district and national averages for their non-Black counterparts.

Edogun-Ticey spoke about broader investments the federal government is making in education that directly impact Black students through The White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.

‘This administration did not shy away from the idea that we need resources for support which means billions of dollars in investment for HBCUs,” she explained.

BSAP strategies include partnering with Black families and local community; supporting the implementation of culturally and linguistically responsive and anti-racist practices; offering wrap-around support structures; and highlighting experiences that uplift the contributions of the Black community as motivation and models to develop positive Black student identity. Additionally, the BSAP provides increased staffing to support Black students’ academic and social-emotional needs.

“School districts across the country must push back against attacks on marginalized students by implementing programs like the BSAP, which should serve as a model for future initiatives,” Kamlager said.

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Activism

Legislature Advances, Renumbers, Sen. Bradford’s Reparation Freedmen’s Agency Bill

The bill, formerly entitled SB 490, moves on to the Committee on Governmental Organization.  SB 1403 would create a new state agency responsible for the administration and oversight of reparations as determined by the Legislature and Governor. 

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Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) and Los Angeles-based attorney Kamilah Moore (right), the chairperson of the task force during its two-year study.
Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) and Los Angeles-based attorney Kamilah Moore (right), the chairperson of the task force during its two-year study.

By California Black Media

On April 9, the California Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 to advance Sen. Steven Bradford’s reparation legislation, Senate Bill (SB) 1403, or the “California American Freedman Affairs Agency” bill.

The bill, formerly entitled SB 490, moves on to the Committee on Governmental Organization.  SB 1403 would create a new state agency responsible for the administration and oversight of reparations as determined by the Legislature and Governor.

Creation of the agency is one of more than 115  recommendations the nine-member California reparations task force included in its final report. The bill would require the agency to determine how an individual’s status as a descendant of an enslaved person in the United States would be confirmed.

SB 1403 would require proof of an “individual’s descendant status” to be a qualifying criterion for benefits authorized by the state for descendants, as stated in the bill’s language. To reach these goals, SB 1403 would mandate the agency to be comprised of a Genealogy Office and an Office of Legal Affairs.

In 2020, California established the first-in-the-nation task force to study reparations for African Americans.

Los Angeles-based attorney Kamilah Moore, the chairperson of the task force during its two-year study, was at the State Capitol to address the members of the Judiciary Committee as an expert witness. The attorney and scholar said the bill aims to serve individuals based on lineage rather than race.

“Today, I advocate with a sense of urgency and purpose for the passage of SB 1403, a groundbreaking bill poised to establish the California American Freedmen’s Agency,” Moore told the panel. “This agency symbolizes a crucial stride towards reparative justice, particularly for those whose lineages trace back to enslaved ancestors.”

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