New center will offer scholarship and forums on racial justice. LACC president seeks campus space and $10 million endowment.
By James Duffy V
Georgetown University sociology professor and New York Times contributing opinion writer Michael Eric Dyson compared contemporary U.S. politics to the civil rights era of the 1960s at LACC’s fall convocation on Aug. 27.
He told his online audience the topic of his speech is the “United States of Amnesia,” borrowed from author Gore Vidal.
“We are living in an epic and an era when the echoes of history resonate and rebound in our own day,” Dyson said. “Emmett Till, meet George Floyd.”
Dyson came at the invitation of organizers of the college’s new Race, Equity and Social Justice Center. He called the center “extremely important.”
Center organizers hosted a Black Lives Matter Summer Town Hall speaker series, which culminated with the attorney for the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Ben Crump.
Crump asked organizers of LACC’s Black Lives Matter Townhall to pause their meeting when former Vice President Joe Biden’s office texted him on Aug. 31.
Both Biden and President Donald Trump called Crump the next day about his latest client, Jacob Blake, an unarmed African American man shot seven times in the back by police. The 29-year-old father’s three children were in his backseat when he was getting into his minivan.
“You can only imagine what kind of psychological problems these babies are going to have for the rest of their lives,” Crump said to his LACC Zoom audience.
The shooting stoked a national furor already raging for months over police killings of Black Americans.
The day before, Crump warned the meeting organizer, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Thelma James Day, that Biden would be calling.
“He could’ve called me that morning and told me, ‘I’ve got too much going on,’ but that’s not who Ben Crump is,” Day said. “He is a man of his word.”
The college announced the launch of the Race, Equity and Social Justice Center in June. The center’s launch in June, when center organizers arranged for Dyson to speak at convocation. That same day, the college selected members or the center’s steering committee.
LACC President Mary Gallagher initiated the conversations to found a center at the end of May, following the national protests against police brutality.
“I start listening and reading and learning,” Gallagher said. “Mostly, I was listening. We decided to look for an equity group together. We’d already been working on some things; it just hadn’t been happening fast.”
Day says Gallagher was instrumental in putting the center together.
“After Mr. Floyd’s death, the president made a bold statement and commitment,” Day said. “She joined with forces around the world and said we must address race equity and social justice, starting right here at Los Angeles City College.”
Gallagher says to endow the center and “make it meaningful” the college will probably need $10 million. Much of the funding will come from the college’s nonprofit, the LACC Foundation.
The center has a list of goals to improve equitable treatment of all groups at the college.
“As our faculty members pointed out diversity does not mean equity,” Gallagher said. “Doing something about it is my job.”
Center organizers plan to hire more African American counselors and faculty at LACC. Day says the center would fund student and faculty research and compose a reading list on issues of race and social justice.
“These great conversations shape future leaders,” Crump said in the Zoom meeting.
Like Dyson, Crump said the protests against police brutality that persisted through the summer are the result of centuries of oppression.
“While most Americans are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Americans are dealing with the COVID 1619 pandemic,” Crump said in reference to the arrival of slaves in the American colonies that year.
One of the obstacles Crump noted to a more equitable society, is rooted in historical discrimination and enshrined in U.S. law.
“In law school they indoctrinate you with precedence: ‘precedence precedence precedence,’” Crump said. “… I think about how we could overcome slavery, overcome the Dred Scott decision, overcome separate but equal, Plessy v. Ferguson, overcome Jim Crow. No matter what they throw at us today, we’re going to be able to overcome.”
Gallagher said she hopes the social justice center will make the college known for its welcoming environment. Her office is looking for place on campus to permanently house the center.
“What I fundamentally want to do is make sure our students, faculty and staff feel they belong,” Gallagher said. “Our community belongs at our college. I want them to feel they belong. And if they don’t feel they belong, I believe we have failed.”
The center will offer course work in social justice, ethnic studies, as well as internships at organizations that support social justice.
“I’m not going to talk about this anymore,” Gallagher said. “I am going to take decisive action.”
Crump noted that as education transitions online, young people of color and those from impoverished backgrounds face stark challenges to their education.
“A lot of schools didn’t have laptops for children,” Crump said. “That digital divide and economic divide is getting bigger than ever.”
The attorney said ongoing protests are the most effective steps young people can take to prevent racial inequity.
“Refuse to remain silent, and don’t ever become a well-behaved victim,” Crump said.