Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, held a community forum on racial justice Saturday at which she — along with Berkeley City Council members, campus activists and the Berkeley NAACP branch president — discussed issues faced by underrepresented minorities nationally and locally.
The panel addressed a range of problems, including education disparity, police misconduct, homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.
“There are some people here who want to turn the clocks back to the days of Jim Crow, but we’re not going to let that happen,” Lee said.
Lee originally organized the event to screen Barack Obama’s eulogy for the victims of the Charleston Church shooting in June and create a discussion around it. In light of the emergence of a racially charged, hostile image on a computer at Berkeley High School on Wednesday, however, members of the panel noted that the forum was particularly timely.
“As life will have it, things have happened since this forum was convened that illustrate why we have to have these conversations,” said Mansour Id-Deen, president of the NAACP’s Berkeley chapter. “We need to figure out how to make black lives matter not only on conversation days but every day.”
UC Berkeley senior and panelist Jessica Iniguez, who was raised in a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles, noted that education is key in the struggle for racial equality.
“When I went to Berkeley, I was full of hope and aspirations and enlightenment, and when I got here, I realized I was individually very behind educationally and in almost every aspect of my life — economically, politically, socially,” Iniguez said.
She added that before underrepresented-minority students can succeed within the educational system, curricula need to move away from what she thinks are Eurocentric standards and include more material that addresses the experiences of underrepresented groups.
On a local level, Councilmembers Max Anderson and Darryl Moore, who both sat on the panel, stressed the importance of affordable housing in empowering the black community in Berkeley.
“This wave of gentrification is distorting the whole social fabric of this city,” Anderson said. “This gentrification is aided and abetted by a council majority that favors developments over affordable housing.”
Anderson noted that just recently, City Council did not apply for a $28 million grant that could have been put toward creating affordable housing. He added that the black population of Berkeley has dropped significantly in the past 30 years.
“That’s no accident,” Anderson said. “It’s happening in a systematic way.”
The panel concluded by urging the Berkeley community to drive the fight toward racial equality.
“We’re not immune here in Berkeley to racism, to inequality, to injustice,” Moore said. “But I believe that we can be a light to the world on how to do things right.”