Young, Gifted and Bringing the Fire!

By Tammy Johnson May 16, 2008

"We brought the fire!" quipped Kenneth Baker, a surprisingly bright-eyed high schooler from the LBC (that’s Long Beach California for those of you not in the know). I had to marvel at Kenneth’s enthusiasm for the legislative visits that he participated in. But, he and nearly 400 other Southern California students had driven seven hours through the night to the state capitol because they had something important, "Our schools need more funding, not cuts. Invest in us now!" And Kenneth wasn’t the only one bringing the fire. Nearly three thousand mostly students from Oakland, Fresno, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and even the bastion of Californian conservatism, Orange County, joined him in this battle cry. Like many states across the country, California is facing an enormous budget deficit. And like his peers across the nation, Governor Schwarzenegger’s solution is to lay the cost of the $15.2 billion problem at the feet of people of color. It is these communities that will suffer disproportionately from sever cuts to health and human services, and the eliminating of cost of living increases to public school programs. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger hosts a yacht party at the San Francisco marina today, punctuating the fact that he refuses to tax such luxuries, passing up an additional $55 million in new revenue. That said, I have to admit that despite my own skepticism about the inertia of policymakers, the students gave me hope that change is possible. These young people represented! These Black, Latino and Asian young leaders stood up for their communities. They went into legislative offices and gave stone cold stares to policymakers who made excuses about budget cuts. They talked about overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks, and how their schools have been short-changed for too long. And they demanded answers from legislators. "What are you going to do about it?" That is the question that we all must never stop asking. What are we going to do about the continuous disinvestment from our communities? I think that Kenneth gave us a clue to the answer. Bring the fire!