by Jeremy Deaton, photos courtesy of Kika Miraz/Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES)
“We have to be a social justice union,” said Kim Anderson, NEA’s Senior Director of Advocacy and Outreach. Speaking before an audience of community organizers, Anderson highlighted NEA’s mission to work with communities of color to protect civil rights and advance equal opportunity. Each of the dedicated men and women in attendance had received a grant from the Office of Minority Community Organizing and Partnerships (MCOP).
Arlene Inouye, Treasurer for United Teachers Los Angeles, is using her MCOP grant to reach undocumented immigrants and help put them on the path to citizenship. President Obama, she explained, has instituted policies that allow qualifying individuals to obtain work permits and avoid deportation (DACA and DAPA), but these programs are under attack from Republicans. It’s possible they will be discontinued under the next administration. Said Inouye, “We’re doing everything we can to let students know and let families know that they’re able to do this right now.”
UTLA is partnering with human rights organizations in Los Angeles that help undocumented immigrants navigate DACA and DAPA. “I met this student from El Salvador named Henry,” said Inouye. She described Henry’s journey to America, how the 10-year-old was separated from his family, how his brothers were assaulted and robbed, how they were held in a border detention center for months before finally reaching Los Angeles. After Henry arrived, teachers worked hard to provide him with Spanish language support, to help him grow and succeed. Henry, who is now a student health leader at the UMMA Community Clinic, says he wants to give back to others. As Inouye explained, it’s students like Henry who motivate her work on immigration.
In Wisconsin, Kika Meraz of Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES) is partnering with the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association to organize around education. Meraz and her colleagues run the YES Freedom School, a summer workshop for Wisconsin students modeled after the Freedom Schools of the Civil Rights Movement. Through the workshop students learn about social justice and community organizing, and at the end of the summer, they pick a topic to organize around for the school year. Last year students lobbied for in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. This year, they will protest excessive standardized testing. Thanks to a grant from MCOP, YES can fund trips to Madison to rally against Scott Walker and his allies in the statehouse. Explained Meraz, “Youth organizing in the schools has grown significantly since we’ve been able to have this funding.”
Despite the hard work of Kika Meraz, Arlene Inouye and others like them, too many minority students still find themselves on the wrong side of the achievement gap. That’s why MCOP has continued to fight for equitable funding, lower class sizes and greater teacher diversity, and against any and all efforts to privatize public education.