UCLA admissions crisis brings black leaders together

first_imgThe news last summer rippled out of Westwood and shook L.A.’s African-American community into action. The University of California, Los Angeles – the public university that educated Los Angeles’ first black mayor, pro baseball’s first black player and the Nobel Prize’s first black recipient – had an incoming freshman class of just 96 African-Americans. The city’s black leaders pounced. Three months later, UCLA Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams introduced a new admissions policy, a “holistic approach” that would consider applications in their entirety rather than as separate sections. He said that would benefit black applicants without violating the 9-year-old state law that prohibits universities from considering an applicant’s race. More notable than the victory, though, was the way it was achieved. With phone calls and outrage buzzing through the black community, response was immediate and unified. The Alliance for Equal Opportunity in Education – activists, politicians, ministers and UCLA students and alumni – got the university’s attention, and then that of the Board of Regents and the University of California president. The victory was a catalyst for a new coalition of leaders who had replaced veterans of the civil-rights movement and were willing to set aside individual success to achieve it quicker collectively. “Without egos, without who is going to get credit, it is about doing the work,” said Charisse Bremond Weaver, president and CEO of Brotherhood Crusade. “That is the paradigm for this new leadership.” The alliance, which has met weekly since June, has since expanded its focus to problems in K-12 education that make black college applicants less competitive. But not everyone is sold on the impact of these new leaders and its relevance to L.A.’s shrinking black community. “When you talk about the changing of the guard in African-American leadership, it’s hard because most blacks in L.A. will say they don’t see any leaders,” said Cherice R. Calhoun, founder and publisher of the magazine BlackNLA. “A lot of these organizations have been around for a long time, and people don’t see them as being a current organization for whatever their issues and problems may be.” This disconnect is particularly noticeable in the San Fernando Valley, local leaders said, where the black community, dispersed among a population of nearly 2 million, lacks an epicenter. “That hill makes a big difference. It’s a little hill, but it makes a big difference,” said the Rev. Zedar Broadous, former president of the NAACP’s Valley chapter. “Many of the leaders tend not to be educated about making a good connection with the San Fernando Valley African-American community.” When asked what issues are important to black Valley residents, though, Broadous named those identified by black leaders over that hill: economics, education and employment – “What I call the three Es.” Four decades ago, the leaders who emerged from the civil-rights movement were for years successful at combatting joblessness and directing resources to African-Americans because the political climate was concerned about urban issues, said Laura Pulido, a University of Southern California associate professor of geography and American studies and ethnicity and author of “Black, Brown, Yellow & Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles.” But by 1980, politics had shifted. Resources for urban improvement dwindled, Pulido said, and L.A.’s black leaders became less effective. “I don’t think any group of leaders representing low-income or working-class people have been able to recover from that,” she said. “How could you?” Problems persist. Among all ethnic groups, African-Americans routinely fare worst in education and economic situation. The State of Black L.A. report published two years ago by the United Way and Los Angeles Urban League was grim: Nearly half of black high school students fail to graduate in four years, and only 18 percent complete a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the report. Blacks constitute about 30 percent of the county’s homeless, have nearly double the mortality rate of Latinos and have a median household income of $31,905, less than any other group. “What we have to deal with is bigger than any organization,” said the Rev. Eric P. Lee Sr., executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles. “Unless we do something to affect change, our presence here in Southern California is going to be even more marginalized than it is now. “These are urgent times.” Bonding has been easy for Lee and his counterparts at the Los Angeles Urban League and Brotherhood Crusade. Together, these organizations account for three of L.A.’s four most established black community organizations. (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, headed by Geraldine Washington for the past 15 years, is the other.) Close in age and each married, these key leaders have taken to socializing as friends. And they’ve united around a focal issue – education. Responding to the UCLA admissions numbers – the alma mater of Tom Bradley, Jackie Robinson and Ralph J. Bunche – was a no-brainer. “Lack of access to the premier university in Southern California was like a bucket of cold water in everybody’s face,” said Blair H. Taylor, Urban League president and CEO, who received his MBA at UCLA. “Without that, there is no access to solving economic issues.” But questions remain: How will these organizations move forward? How will they make an impact in L.A.’s schools? And how will they work together when visions diverge? That is generally where community coalitions break down, said UCLA history professor Berky Nelson, who has written two books about black leadership. “Usually if there is a problem, you can agree on the end,” Nelson said. “But how you get there, that is where the dissension arises.” [email protected] (818) 713-3634160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more