Thursday, March 16, 2006

SF School of the Arts Student Assembly on ending racism

JOIN US! MARCH 18, 2006 - 10AM SF's Powell & Market area [look for the red flags]
STRENTH IN UNITY CONTINGENT FOR Global Day of Action to Stop the War and End Racism

One of the best things about being a San Francisco school board member is participating with teachers and students in days of reflection and action like today's School of the Arts Assembly on ending racism.

My friend Lani Silver, the head of the James Byrd Anti-Racism Oral History Project [Byrd was the African American man brutally killed in Texas in 1998], invited me and Public Defender Jeff Adachi to speak to the assemblies of hundreds of SOTA and SOTA Academy students.
Many students spoke, including my colleague on the SF Board of Education, student delegate and SOTA student Jason Wong, on their experiences with racism and how it has impacted their lives. The amazing SOTA orchestra and concert band performed Chick Corea's Spain and a version of Rodrigo's beautiful Concerto De Aranuez. The jazz ensemble directed by Melecio Magdaluyo also performed a Stevie Wonder tune Too High. I told the students that they made me feel so 'at home' with their comments and their amazing performances.

Below are some excerpts from my remarks -

Thank you to my friend Lani Silver and Principal Donn Harris and all of you for inviting me this morning!

I have one thing to confess first – When I was your age [30 years ago] at McClatchy High School in Sacramento [that’s where tomorrow’s speaker Jeff Adachi also went to school] – I wanted to be the next Miles Davis – I was a trumpet player – I did all the school musicals, and my life was music. Some of my heroes today are your teachers like Melecio and others who are trying to encourage and nurture the artists and leaders like you for our future.
Some of miles davis’ bands and ones that were inspired by him were great examples of multiracial unity AND creativity.

Racism and me – Growing up in Sacramento racism and my family’s internalized racism impacted me – part of the racism was the overt racism. Growing up in Sacramento in the 60’s and 70’s – very segregated; lots of racial violence towards Asians, Latinos and African Americans as I was growing up. But there was also the racism from school and the music industry that was not accepting of Asian American jazz musicians, or artists at the time.
Also our urban school districts did not have the resources that other wealthier communities had as well – I call that institutionalized racism in the defunding/underfunding of our schools and public education in general.
And lastly, there was the internalized racism in my family where family members refused to accept that I wanted to be - a jazz musician, not an engineer or a scientist - and that it was ok for young people like me to follow my dreams and to pursue what profession or career that would eventually make me happy.

You and Activism – As you discuss how racism or other forms of oppression have impacted you personally I want you also to think about how you can become [more] active to address the inequalities that surround us as well.

I didn’t really understand racism or racial oppression until I became a student activist in the 1980’s.

College at uc davis and later at sf state helped me understand that racism is institutionalized and pervasive and imbedded in our US culture and it will take every one of us to identify, address and dismantle and change the institutions that perpetuate it.

Drawing from one of my mentors Glenn Omatsu who teaches at CAL State Northridge, I always try to encourage students to learn about their history and to become involved in student and community organizations and movements.

Learning the history of how students have been the main voices for social justice in America and throughout the world is key. If we have any hope of ending racism and building strong anti-racist movements for the future – you folks will have to take the responsibility to lead those new movements.

Students like yourselves have always been the main proponents of social change in America - whether it was students in East LA high schools in the late 60’s fighting against racism, police brutality and racist conditions in the schools [check out HBO’s walkout [Edward James Olmos] later this week], or African American students challenging school racism and segregation throughout this country and in the Feb 1960 student sit-in movement and the Freedom Rides of the 60’s [Lani’s generation], or the 1968/69 Third World student strikes at SF State and UC Berkeley that opened the doors of higher education to me and millions of working class and students of color to learn about our true history and to use our education to serve our communities.

You stand in the shoes of those students that came before you and have a responsibility to carry on in that tradition.

I also brought up some quotes from one of our Asian American elders Yuri Kochiyama, a friend of Malcolm X, to encourage the students to learn from the rich history of multiracial justice movements and to realize their important role in changing history and serving their communities. And, as I usually do, I encouraged them to join me and many of my SF State Students in the Strength in Unity contingent for the upcoming

March 18th Global Day of Action to Stop the War on Iraq! Bring the Troops Home Now! End Colonial Occupation from Iraq to Palestine to Haiti… From Iraq to New Orleans, Fund People’s Needs Not the War Machine!

and to support local struggles like the African American community's efforts to resist the new gentrification and redevelopment of the Bay View Hunters Point neighborhoods, the efforts of some of my SF State students to prevent the 'sale of Japantown' to corporations and the destruction of that commuity, and lastly the work of a number of local SF immigrant rights organizations who are holding a hunger strike for immigrant rights at the Federal Building in SF from 3/21-27.

The students and teachers are amazing at SOTA, but also at all of our high schools throughout the district. They are the leaders for our future.

For more info on Lani Silver and the James Byrd Jr. Racism Oral History Project, or to request a brochure, please write to P.O. Box 27333; San Francisco, CA 94127 or call (415) 415-485-4208. The oral history project can be reached at If you would like to reach the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing write to: 12180 Greenpoint Drive, PMB #244, Houston Texas 77060. You can e-mail the Foundation at or call (888) 856-6414.

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