The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) Board of Trustees is an enigmatic local political animal. As quiet as it is kept, this board plays a vital role in the economic safety and development of our community. LACCD is the largest community college district in the nation. It oversees nine colleges across the county, educates over 200,000 students, employs over ten thousand women and men and controls a $6 billion taxpayer-approved budget. It is a quiet, but effective little economic engine that supports student transfers into four-year institutions, vocational training programs that lead directly to employment opportunities and thousands of jobs through its bond construction program. As of last Friday, the LACCD Board has absolutely no African-American representation on the Board of Trustees.
Think about that previous sentence for a second, because its import is stunning. In LACCD’s history, African American higher education policymakers from Dr. Marguerite Archie-Hudson to attorney Angela Reddock have made their presence felt as elected Trustees on behalf of the African American community’s incoming high school graduates, university bound transfer students, adult students and those enrolled in certificate programs for career workplace positions. During my tenure as a Trustee, I carried forward that same commitment to maintaining LACCD’s gateway to higher education for our community’s college student achievers and career aspirants.
I served on the Board until April 3rd, when I was elected to the State Assembly to represent the 54th State Assembly District. I was the only African American serving and only the second African American woman to serve as its Board president in its 77 year history. Last week, the Board appointed a Latino male, David Vela, (who is a friend of mine), rendering a Board composition that has 4 Latino males, one woman and completely ignoring African American and additional female representation. Twenty seven candidates applied for the appointment. Many were viable and qualified, including 4 African American women, one of who currently serves on the State Board of Governors for the California Community Colleges. With a district that is seeing an erasure of African Americans in leadership (there are no African American men or women in Executive leadership at the District), there is an acute sense that the Chancellor, the Board, and the District do not value African Americans, that is until February rolls around.
I stand with the intelligent, capable and community-connected Black female candidates — Valerie Shaw (whom I endorsed), Melina Abdullah, Dallas Fowler and Christine Burke Adams — to demand an explanation, a response and a plan for the how the district is going to recommit itself to the African American community.
What should not be lost by the LACCD’s Board of Trustees is the fact that an African American serving as a Trustee exerts a positive influence on district policies supporting the district’s African American administrators and faculty and can strongly encourage the recruitment and hiring of additional African American administrators, faculty members and staff members. An African American LACCD Trustee plays a key role in providing ongoing policy support for the district’s African American Outreach Initiative, a collaborative effort to improve community college access for Black students and broaden the transfer and two-year graduation success rates of Black students attending the district’s nine campuses.
I wondered if I was too much for the District – too outspoken, too truthful about the overt and covert racism imbedded in its systems and structures. But, I pressed on, because so many students, faculty and administrators said it had been too long since they had heard their truth from the dais. But, like Obama, there seems to be an adverse reaction to Black skin in places where it is not welcomed or accustomed. I am saddened, angered, but even worse, not surprised. Courage seems to be fleeting in this town when it comes to standing up for Black people.
We must stand up for ourselves. Start attending the District Board meetings (the first Wednesday of each month at one of the colleges or at the District office) and demand accountability. Use our wallets, enrollment applications and pulpits to remind everyone else that we are a constituency with power. And lastly, African American voters must pay attention when we have our next opportunity to go to the polls to elect the next LACCD Trustee. These positions of leadership are critical to our community. LACCD contracts available to minority-owned and women-owned businesses are awarded by the Trustees. When an African American elected official sits on the Board of Trustees, the African American community has a seat at the table and a voice in policy deliberations on community college district business affairs and higher education matters. Voters in our community can do what the current Trustees declined to do: Vote for a talented and capable African American woman or man to serve on the LACCD Board of Trustees. If we stay silenced, we will yield our power and place. And then it will not be on them, it will be on us.
Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove was recently elected to the California State Assembly. She was the previous Board President for the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD).