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Black Representation Matters: How a Rigged System Eliminated the Only Black Seat on the Los Angeles Community College Board
By Melina Abdullah
Published June 18, 2018

Dr. Melina Abdullah (File Photo)

On Friday, June 8, the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) Board of Trustees chose to pay lip service to “diversity and inclusion” while eliminating all Black representation from the Board of seven representatives for the next two-and-a-half years and quieting women’s voices, by leaving only one woman on a Board of seven. A fourth Latino male, David Vela, was appointed to the seat previously held by Sydney Kamlager-Dove, a Black woman who left the post when she was elected to the California State Assembly. The Board chose to replace Kamlager-Dove with Vela by appointment rather than having a special election, purportedly to save taxpayer dollars. The Board composition, once Vela is sworn in on July 11th, will be 4 Latino males, one Asian male, one White male, and one White female.

I was considered for the appointment, along with several other well-qualified Black candidates, including veteran appointed official, Valerie Shaw, with whom I am very close and was in constant communication throughout this process. Community leaders filled the room and spoke powerfully for me. There was also tremendous support for Valerie from Black political leadership. No one could assail either of our qualifications, endorsements, or community support. We decided that it was best to both stay in consideration because of the process which would allow Board members to choose from among the candidates without the “divided vote” phenomenon that can happen in an election. Our effort was to ensure that someone Black, and especially a Black woman, succeeded Kamlager-Dove as Trustee. In addition to the two of us, there were at least three other Black candidates that were far more qualified than the person selected by the Board.

This was clearly a predetermined game wherein the will of the community (who refused to elect Vela twice in his previous election bids and came out strongly for me), the endorsements of Black elected officials (like Assemblymember Kamlager-Dove and Senator Mitchell who endorsed Ms. Shaw and Councilmember Harris-Dawson who endorsed me), the support of students, faculty, and staff (who all participated in an interview process and unanimously supported Valerie and me), and the qualifications of candidates did not matter. Instead, the seven-member Board, which already had three Latino males, appointed a fourth…who has no background in public higher education or any experience related to the post. He was nominated by a right-wing Trump supporter (Ernie Moreno) and the rest of the Board voted unanimously in his favor.

Vela previously ran for LACCD Board, which is normally an elected post, and lost twice. He also ran and lost for California State Assembly and was recently voted off the Montebello School Board.

I want to be clear that I did not apply for the position out of personal ambition. When I was approached about my willingness to serve, I carefully weighed it and agreed out of commitment to Black students. Black students comprise 12% of the LACCD student body, the largest number of Black students in any system of higher education in the State. I have spent my entire professional career in commitment to Black students and this offered a clear way for me to serve and, hopefully, usher in new policy-level work that would contribute to Black student success. I know that this is also what was driving Ms. Shaw’s application.

What occurred was an affront to solidarity politics and must challenge us to deepen our commitments to one another. The apparent racial divide among people of color is disheartening. Many Latin sisters and brothers, some of whom I know and respect, are saying that the appointment of a fourth Latino male to a seven-person Board which results in no Black representation is not a problem and offers an opportunity to build Latino power because they “have crossed the magical number” and are now the majority.

Several years ago, there was no Latin representation on the Board, the Latin community was unified in its outrage. Black folks joined in solidarity and rallied for Latin representation and won several seats through elections.

It is troubling that we are not banding together now, that some would rather join Ernie Moreno, the right-wing Trump supporter who “happens to be Latino” who nominated David Vela ahead of any of the well-qualified Black candidates, than work in solidarity with Black folks who share commitments to racial, economic, and social justice and worker, student, and community empowerment.

We must stand for what we say we believe in. Vela gave an entire speech on diversity and inclusion, then accepted an appointment that moved aside the only opportunity for Black representation in the next two-and-a-half years. Individual advancement and a nationalist leaning that is not rooted in shared commitment to liberation should take a back seat to building a solidarity coalition that genuinely empowers us. Embodied, authentic representation is hugely important in this.

What is most saddening is the thinly-veiled anti-Blackness in many of the comments made by some in the Latin community. I am hopeful that Latin comrades who understand the danger of such rhetoric and behavior lead internal dialogues and critical cross-racial conversations about how such approaches are really extensions of White supremacy and harm all of our progress. Solidarity is key to toppling the systems of oppression and to building the kind of world in which we want to live.

What occurred was a slap in the face to the whole of the Black community: establishment, community, faculty, staff, and students alike. The question becomes what will we do. There is still one long-shot…David Vela is not on the Board until he is sworn in. We could pressure him to step aside. That’s what I told him when he attempted to greet me after. He gave his speech on “diversity and inclusion,” but didn’t act accordingly. Regardless, Black folks and folks who care about Black folks must have long memories. We must remember what each of the Board members did as they attempt to climb political ladders and we must participate in LACCD business as a community voice since there is no representation from the Board.

Categories: Op-Ed | Opinion
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