Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Education

50 Years Today

50 Years Today, it’s February 24th. I’m in juvenile hall. For at least the 3rd time. 50 years ago today I was a foster kid with no where to go. So, they put me in juvenile hall. And 50 years today, my foster Mom, Alice Aaron, decided to open her heart and her home to take a chance on me. Known affectionately as “GinaMama”, she was every kid’s dream grandmother – she loved all of us unconditionally.

Still, it’s 1970. This is not a good year for me. Or our country. The country is at war – both externally and internally. As US troops fought a losing battle in Vietnam, the US government fought a winning battle against the people. I jumped feet-first into the fray at the young age of 13, not realizing the danger or the full scope of the battle.

You see, at age 11, I was overwhelmed with grief by the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On December 4, 1969, I am energized by anger when Chicago police assassinate Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. And the fight was on. I help organize a sit-in to protest those awful murders at my high school and I am promptly expelled. By January 1970, I am a ward of the court and on track to become a regular at juvenile hall.

A Lost Kid

Before February 24th, I’m shuffled between foster homes, group homes and juvenile hall. Things fell apart pretty quickly in my life. Placements were a blur but always challenging. And I did not hesitate to run away when I felt uncomfortable or threatened. That kept me going back to juvenile hall until the social worker could find another place. And then GinaMama stepped up and said she would take me. Her unconditional love would protect, inspire and renew my spirit.

In 1970, Angela Davis was on the run and Black activists were feeling the impact of Cointelpro. The government had declared war on Black activists and no one was safe. In March 1970 I am arrested in a Black Power demonstration. My friends had sense enough to run. I “stood my ground” and ended up in the middle of the brawl with the police. That did not look good for GinaMama – made her “a bad” foster parent. And so by July 1970, I had a new “placement” – one with bars and bed chains.

50 Years Today

50 Years Today: Civil rights attorney Pamela Y. Price (1974 & 2016)
Civil Rights Attorney Pamela Y. Price (1974 & 2016)

Fast forward 50 years. I am a survivor of the foster care and juvenile justice systems. I dropped out of high school and then graduated, by the grace of God. By grace, I get accepted to Yale and graduate with a degree in Political Science. Move to California to go to Berkeley Law School, graduate and pass the bar (the first time)! Again, totally by the grace of God. In 2002, I achieve every lawyer’s dream – I argue a case in the United States Supreme Court.

Everything that I am started with a decision by a grandmother who had a lot of responsibilities and few material possessions. She was the matriarch of her family and already had 3 daughters and 7 grandchildren. They all depended on her. Yet, she made room in her home and her heart for a rebellious “mouthy” 13-year-old. She did it unconditionally even when I disappointed and embarrassed her. And she did it multiple times, allowing me to come back when the authorities finally released me a year later.

Foster Kids Need A Heart

Did you know that:

  • There are over 500,000 children in the United States Foster Care System.
  • 1 out of every 5 lives in California.
  • 3 out of every 10 of our Nation’s homeless are former foster youth.
  • 70% of foster youth dream of going to college. Only 3% actually make it.
  • 83% of children in foster care are held back in school by 3rd grade and 75% are working below grade level.
  • 35% of foster youth have experienced four or more school changes and each school move results in a six month loss of educational progress.
  • 51% are unemployed at age 22.

These statistics tell the story of too many lost kids. 50 years ago today, I was a lost kid. The lesson is that we cannot give up on our kids. You never know how far a kid will go. We must address the crisis of our lost kids with programs like Soar For Youth and CASA.

CASA - Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Children

We must also remember that the universal healer of all trauma is unconditional love. And we need a “GinaMama” for every kid. If that’s you, God Bless you.

Today, I honor Alice Aaron, Amy Jenkins and Lorena O’Donnell. They never gave up on me. 50 years later, I can begin to tell the story.

Why Her? Why Now?

As we enter Women’s History Month 2017, we are in the midst of seeing history made. Delaine Eastin is running for California Governor. She is only the fourth woman in the history of California to run for Governor. Delaine is the only woman in the 2018 Governor’s race.

Delaine is a former California State Assemblymember (1986-1994), State Superintendent of Public Instruction (1995-2003), professor, and businesswoman.

She is the first and to date, the only woman ever elected as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Education In Crisis

For almost 40 years now, California’s entire education system has been in crisis. It continues to be in crisis. In 2004, a UCLA study of conditions 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education found that California has a HUGEracial opportunity gap” in our primary school system. 50 years after Brown, our schools were deeply segregated. More than 63% of white students attended a majority-white school, while most Black and Latino students attended either a Black-majority school (78%) or a Latino-majority school (81%).

The factors that hinder education most profoundly for Black, brown and low income students are:

  • overcrowded facilities in disrepair
  • inadequate and insufficient textbooks
  • shortage of qualified teachers
  • unstable teaching staff

Education in Transition

In 2004, the Legislature enacted a series of bills to address these problems in response to the Williams v. California lawsuit. Williams was filed on behalf of public school students denied equal educational opportunity based on the 4 factors above. A post-Williams report concluded in 2013 that “Williams is working.” The study found significant progress in most areas with the exception of the physical conditions of the schools.  75% of schools still had an issue that prevented it from being deemed completely clean, safe and functional. Moreover, the State consistently failed to fund the Williams’ Emergency Repair Program for conditions considered urgent threats to health and safety.

In 2014, however, California’s per pupil spending had dropped to 39th in the nation. Asian and white students continue to have much higher graduation rates than Black and Latino students. Our 4th and 8th grade students are in the bottom 10 states both in math and reading. Even with the Local Control Funding Formulas adopted in 2013, the amount of resources dedicated to and actually spent on students falls short of the mark. The racial opportunity gap persists today.  California educates almost 1/8 of American students, so our failure is very much a national failure.

Why Her? Why Now?

Delaine Eastin faces an uphill battle for California Governor. She is the only woman in the race in a State that has never elected a woman Governor. She’s the oldest person in the race and she needs money. A lot of it. Frontrunner Gavin Newsom, the playboy kid of California politics has $11 million in his war chest. Money is “the mother’s milk of politics.”  I call it “the microphone” for the message. You must have a microphone to get your message heard.

Some chide Delaine Eastin because education is her strong suit. I think the fact that education is her “signature issue” makes the case for her election now more compelling than less. Delaine led the successful 2016 campaign to pass Propositions 51, 55 and 58. These measures are critical to funding education in California.

Gavin Newsom’s signature issue appears to be ending gun violence. This is an issue near and dear to my heart. Every time someone is killed with a gun in Oakland, my heart burns, especially for a youngster who never saw it coming. The devastation to our community from gun violence cannot be overstated. But for every kid in California and America, education is a “game-changer.” I know that but for my education, I would not be here today.  Education creates a pathway for anyone who dares to walk on it. With an education, you can get out of a neighborhood where guns rule the day. An education allows you to create economic opportunities to walk away from careers that ultimately depend on violence. An education helps you to open doors for others to follow.

I’m With Her

So, I am helping to raise money for Delaine Eastin.  I agreed to co-host a fundraiser and to raise my voice to support her. If you can attend her event in Oakland on March 8th, International Women’s Day, please rsvp here. If you are not able to attend, please make a financial donation to her campaign. It’s going to be a long and expensive race to win. But there is a vintage joke that I love. It goes like this:

Whatever a woman does, she must do twice as well as a man to be considered half as good.  Luckily, this is not difficult!

It’s a joke! It will be difficult. But I’m also told that every time Delaine Eastin ran for office, most people counted her out. And then she won.

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