The Cesar Chavez Legacy

0000_cesar-chavez

On Friday, President Obama released a proclamation that read in part,

“I, Barrack Obama, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2014, as Cesar Chavez Day.”

In commemoration of Cesar Chavez Day, I share one of his most important speeches, “1984 Address to the Commonwealth Club.” In that speech, Cesar describes how the farmworker movement gave hope to a Latino community seeking fairness, justice, and true equality.

With one powerful quote, he lays out the future of Latinos in the United States:

“Like the other immigrant groups, the day will come when we win the economic and political rewards which are in keeping with our numbers in society. The day will come when the politicians do the right thing by our people out of political necessity and not out of charity or idealism.”

I hope you take a minute to read the entire speech by clicking on the following link:

http://www.chavezfoundation.org/_cms.php?mode=view&b_code=001008000000000&b_no=16&field=&key=&n=8

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Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #15)

The Peralta Family with Nana Encarnación, ca. 1980 (Peralta Family Photo)
The Peralta Family and Nana Encarnación,          circa 1980
(Peralta Family Photo)

Sandra’s oldest sister Valerie was born in Fresno, California, in 1961, just before Fausto and Connie moved to San Jose.  She was an only child for five years and thrived under the attention paid to her by her parents.  She grew to be a strong-willed girl who did well in school and participated in the cheerleading squad in high school and graduated from college with a degree in computer science.  She is a loyal sister who is always available to lend moral support.

The birth of Kimberley, the third Peralta daughter, came three years after Sandra in 1969.  Like her older sisters, Kimberley did well in the classroom and participated in after-school activities such as the marching band.  Kimberley has a nurturing and faithful character who seeks compromise and accommodation whenever possible.  She completed her college studies in business administration partly to help her father achieve the dream of having a businesswoman in the family.

The youngest of the Peralta clan from Silver Creek High School is Shelley, born exactly ten years after Valerie on December 28, 1971.  Shelley, who earned her college degree in social work, is unassumingly intelligent, yet boisterous and independent with a fiery spirit that can be witty in one instance and cynical the next.  All four sisters have one trait in common: they are intensely loyal to their own individual families, and to each other, their parents, and extended family and friends.

Once Sandra and I started dating on a regular basis, I realized that acceptance to the family required developing a relationship with each sister on a one-on-one basis in addition to building trust with Sandra’s parents.  Although this was a tall order for a young man mired in his failures and ambiguous future, my upbringing centered on respect and integrity and my accommodating personality, not to mention my absolute adoration of Sandra, set the foundation for my relationship with the Peralta family.

My relationship with Mr. Peralta seemed to begin almost instantaneously one Sunday over a beer when I told him that my grandmother Joaquina was born in Sahuaripa, a village just over the mountains from his hometown; seventy kilometers as the bird flies, but an eight-hour drive through the rugged mountains of Sonora, Mexico.  Although my Spanish is about as good as his English, we hit it off right away.  Sandra had to drive me home that day because I drank a few too many beers and participated in my fair share of storytelling.

With Mrs. Peralta, I learned quickly that I would earn trust and acceptance by respecting her home and her daughters, which, with the exception of one early verbal scrap with Shelley, I was able to accomplish soon after I started to frequently visit Santiago Avenue.  Valerie had been married for several months before Sandra made that birthday cake for me, so she wasn’t living at the house on Santiago Avenue when I started to see Sandra regularly. My relationship with Valerie has always been one based on respect, understanding, and acceptance of one another.

Kimberley and Shelley are my de facto little sisters, I served as an open ear to listen to their adolescent problems when they were younger and still provide counsel to them as adults.  Due to our similar accommodating personalities, Kimberley and I always got along just fine, and although Shelley and I had that early altercation, we grew to admire and care for each other as siblings sharing the qualities of a quick wit and a sarcastic tongue.

Over the years, I also developed deep and strong relationships with the Peralta girls’ husbands.  Valerie’s husband Eddie Velez and I became close as we were the “big brothers” who sometimes worked with Mr. Peralta on side jobs to make extra money and helped each other with household projects.  He’s the handyman of the group, so he’s always available to help with a bad electrical fuse, cable TV connection, or nagging computer problem.  Both of us are loyal San Francisco Giants and 49ers fans, so baseball and football seasons always prove to be fun.

When Kimberley and her husband Miguel Rocha were dating in college, she turned to me often for advice, and once I got to know Miguel, we soon learned that we both shared the same intense ambition of achieving success at the highest level possible, he as a businessman and I in politics.  I love picking his brain and sharing ideas on how we could come up with a successful business plan or two.  We’re both natural salesmen (some would say bullshitters) and I’m sure it’s hilarious watching us trying to sell each other on an idea.

Shelley’s husband, Pancho Leyva, and I have a passion for sports, and in our younger days, we were a mischievous team when the beer started flowing.  Perhaps our best time together was when he and I sat a few rows behind home plate at AT&T Park the night San Francisco Giants home run king Barry Bonds hit his 500th homerun against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  I’ll never forget watching Pancho, the die-hard, blue-bleeding Dodger faithful, high-fiving Giants fans and enthusiastically waving an orange towel in recognition of Bonds’ historic achievement.

I have a true affection for each of them, and together we are about as close as any four brothers could be.  Sandra’s parents, her three sisters, and my three compadres would play a major role in the events that unfolded in the summer of 2010.

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Next Week: My relationship with Sandra continues to grow and I find the courage to ask her to get married.

Let’s Start a “Courageous Conversation”

Book cover for "Courageous Conversations About Race" (courtesy of Google Books)
Book cover for “Courageous Conversations About Race”
(courtesy of Google Books)

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a kindergarten classroom at a school on the east side. I was able to see an excellent teacher at work. Just holding the attention of energetic five-year-olds seemed like a tall order. The teacher was engaging and positive as she led the students through a math exercise. Some kids were attentive, others were restless, and most were somewhere in between. What impressed me most was that the teacher worked hard to involve each student.

I witnessed the teacher practicing what educational equity experts call “meeting students where they are.” In other words, the teacher didn’t expect every student to be the same and she made adjustments for each student’s strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, as an education blogger and former school trustee, I’ve heard many other teachers express frustration that students don’t come to school ready to learn.

So what does “ready to learn” mean? Essentially, it describes the model student: conscientious, organized, and prepared to learn every day. This must start at home, the argument goes. With that reasoning, some educators believe that high academic achievement could become a reality because the school system would be able to do what it is designed to do: teach.

Unfortunately, that’s just not real life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone was conscientious, organized, and prepared? That would eliminate most of the world’s problems for sure. The reality is that students, like all people, come in all colors, cultures, sizes, intellectual abilities, and social classes. Despite this diversity, every student can succeed if school systems truly understood and accepted that everyone is different.

In their insightful book about equity in education, Courageous Conversations About Race, Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton use meticulous research to demonstrate that society, school systems, education leaders, and classroom teachers more times than not prejudge students based on race, cultural background, and socio-economic status. This results in practices that marginalize students of color and sets them on a course that discourages a future college education.

All too often the school system and educators dismiss kids of color with the cop-out that “college isn’t for everyone.” In response to my post last week, several readers shared with me their own experiences with this discouraging phrase (click on https://esereport.com/2014/03/17/college-can-change-your-life/ to read last week’s blog). One reader recounted how her son’s high school counselor encouraged him to be a truck driver because he could make good money without a college education.

In his 2009 report on closing the achievement gap, former California State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell recognized this problem and recommended culturally relevant professional development as a solution (click on http://svefoundation.org/svefoundation/files/p16_ctag_report.pdf to read Superintendent O’Connell’s report). Unfortunately, few school districts have attempted to develop a comprehensive and systematic approach to implement this recommendation.

Why is this? To even start thinking about implementing a culturally relevant professional development program, school systems must first acknowledge that racial and cultural bias actually exists.  Singleton and Linton write that talking about these biases is “a difficult conversation, one that clearly troubles educators and can make everyone downright uncomfortable.” It’s hard for good people to believe that they hold such biases.

One would think that in a place as diverse as Silicon Valley, having this conversation would be easy. But it’s not. I’ve discussed this issue with several superintendents who have implemented equity and culturally relevant professional development programs in their districts. In those initiatives, teachers, staff, and the school communities were skeptical and resistant to even begin the conversation. Although long-term relationships were tested and challenged, the end results for students were good.

School leaders may be reluctant to venture into the wilderness of starting that difficult conversation.  It will take conviction, courage, and commitment. Nevertheless, we need to have these discussions as a community for us to ensure that all students have an opportunity to achieve and succeed.

So, I suggest that we support our education leaders and start a “courageous conversation” right here on East Side Eddie Report.com. I want to hear about your experiences with racial and cultural bias as a student, parent, teacher, school administrator and how it impacted your decision to continue (or not continue) a higher education? If you don’t feel comfortable posting publicly, but want to share your story, please feel free to e-mail me confidentially at eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net.

Let’s be bold and start talking!

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Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #14)

Written on the back of the photo is, "Sandy 5th Grade" (Peralta Family Photo)
Written on the back of this photo is, “Sandy 5th Grade”
(Peralta Family Photo)

It was during those long phone calls between our first and second date that I got to know Sandra very well.  She was born Sandra Faustina Peralta on September 30, 1966, at Doctors Hospital just west of downtown San Jose, the second of four daughters born to Fausto and Connie Peralta, a construction worker and cannery worker.  She was a cute baby with big brown eyes, chubby cheeks, and puffy arms and legs that looked like they were tapered at the joints with rubber bands like a cute Michelin Man from the tire company’s commercials.

As she grew up, Sandra was obedient, studious, and cheerful.  In elementary school, she helped in the school library, cafeteria, and could always be found at recess time helping a teacher with some odd job in the classroom. Beneath the exterior of the model student and obedient daughter was a girl who had tremendous strength of character and unflinching determination.  According to her mom, even as a toddler, “Sandra knew what she wanted to do and was confident she could do it.”

The family next door had a daughter the same age that constantly competed with Sandra in the classroom and with extracurricular activities.  Only once did Sandra let the pressure of that competition get the best of her when in a fit of anger she called the other little girl a bitch, and abruptly went home to confess to her mom, express remorse, and return to apologize.  This incident accurately describes Sandra’s dual qualities of toughness and compassion.

Sandra went on to excel in school earning good grades, playing clarinet in the award winning high school marching band, participating in after school activities, and eventually getting elected student body president her senior year at Silver Creek High School in east San Jose.  After two years of community college she enrolled at San Jose State University to begin a journey that would lead to her career as an educational administrator.

Sandra’s success can be attributed to her spirit, personality, and the unconditional support from her family.  Her parents, Fausto and Connie Peralta, are the personification of the American Dream.  Born in the village of Cumpas, Sonora, Mexico in 1938, Fausto was raised by aunts and uncles because his father Mariano died as a young man; and his mother Concepción left him, and his sister and brothers in the care of relatives to go to the United States in search of work and a chance to send for her children so they could have a better life than the one they had in Mexico.

He came to the United States at the age of sixteen and settled with his mother in the small California farming town of Mendota; his brothers followed later.  In Mendota, Fausto quickly established himself as a hard working young man who provided much value to the farmers who employed him in the cotton fields of central California.  When not doing the back-breaking work required in the hot and dusty fields, he could be seen around town neatly dressed in clean and pressed clothes, polished shoes, and hair combed just right.

Sandra’s mom, Connie Rosales, was born in 1941 just a few miles up the road from Mendota on the Hotchkiss Ranch just outside of Firebaugh, California, the ninth child of Jesus and Encarnación Rosales.  Like Fausto, she was raised by a single mother as her father passed away when she was just three years old.  Connie, a strong-willed, hard-working, and compassionate woman, grew up dreaming of one day living in a nice house and raising a successful family just like the Americanas who lived in town.

Connie and Fausto met in 1958 when Connie’s presumably match-making aunt invited Fausto to a New Year’s Eve party at the home of Connie’s sister.  Two years later they were married, then moved to San Jose looking for work where Fausto made his way as a cement mason and Connie supplemented their income working in the canneries of Santa Clara Valley, and where they built a family with their four daughters: Valerie, Sandra, Kimberley, and Shelley.  They worked hard and did whatever it took to ensure that their daughters had a chance to succeed.

Raising four daughters was a challenge for Fausto and Connie as each woman has her own distinct personality.  Collectively, the Peralta girls made an impression at Silver Creek High School and proudly call San Jose State University their alma mater.  A large photo of the sisters standing together resplendent in college cap and gown under the shadow of the university’s ivy-covered Tower Hall hangs in the entryway of the Peralta house.

College Can Change Your Life

Tower Hall, San Jose State University (SJSU file photo)
Tower Hall, San Jose State University (SJSU file photo)

“College isn’t for everybody.” The first time I heard this was from my high school counselor who discouraged me from applying to San Jose State University. I heard it over and over again from teachers and other school leaders when, as president of the school board, I proposed making high school graduation requirements the same as college eligibility requirements.

That statement has some truth to it, but you have to make that determination on your own. Teachers, counselors, the school system, parents, family, friends, and society don’t have any business telling you if college is the right path for you. Unless your heart is set on a career that requires no education, I highly recommend that you give college a try.

Let’s get a couple of things straight first. College isn’t easy. It’s an exercise in determination, discipline, and hard work. It doesn’t guarantee a job and a high-paying career after graduation. That’s up to you.  What college does is open your mind and opens the door to limitless opportunities. During the past few months, I’ve had the privilege to speak to high school and college students about the value of my college education in a talk I call, “How College Changed My Life.”

I failed at my first try at college, so I went out into the world and tried to make a living without an education. I drove a forklift at a sheet metal company and worked in construction to quickly learn that I was miserable. I tried selling shoes, toys, and sporting goods to find out that the fastest path to management was a college degree. I coached middle and high school kids, but that didn’t provide a living.

So, in my mid-20s, I went back to college. This time I put my heart and soul into it. My goal was to be a high school history teacher and basketball coach. A funny thing happened on the way to that goal: I never got there. Studying history at San Jose State University blew my mind wide open. I became fascinated about how business, politics, education, and ideas changed the course of history. This fascination led to a career that has been a wild, but fulfilling, ride.

When I walked into Spartan Stadium on graduation day, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do anymore. I loved kids and coaching basketball, but the college experience taught me that there was so much more out there than I could even imagine. I took a position as legislative assistant to a city councilwoman, not knowing what that meant. The research, writing, and public-speaking skills I learned in college were a perfect fit for the job.

My fondest memory of that first job as a college graduate was when the councilwoman led the effort to rename the central city park in honor of Latino icon César Chávez. I suggested that the organizing committee, which included Chávez family members, honor César by engraving his name on the face of the park’s marble stage. They agreed. I got goose bumps the day that city leaders and the Chávez family unveiled the engraving. I still get goose bumps every time I see it.

Since that experience, I’ve worked in business, served on the school board, and returned to local government. Instead of teaching history, I’ve been a witness to history. I was in Denver’s Mile High Stadium as a corporate executive when President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president in2008. As a school board member, I saw parents and students save high school sports and win the fight for graduation requirements to mirror college eligibility standards.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “No one can ever take away your education.” A few years ago, I had a massive heart attack that nearly took my life. With a damaged heart, my ability to work 18 hours a day, play basketball, and ride roller coasters has been taken away. But, I can still read, write, research, speak, and share stories with anyone who’s willing to listen. I couldn’t do any of that without my San Jose State University education.

I understand that college might not be for everyone. Our world depends on people who work in the trades, drive goods to market, and provide services. These are honorable professions that deserve our appreciation. My parents worked hard without a college education, raised a family, and encouraged their children to reach for the stars. Even though they didn’t have a university degree, they knew we needed one to achieve our dreams.

Cultural and socio-economic conditions seven decades ago made it difficult for my parents to get a higher education. We live in a different age today. There are so many more opportunities than a generation ago, especially for Latinos. Society may be telling you that you’re destined to be a truck driver, receptionist, construction worker, or landscaper. That may be true. That may be your destiny.  But you ought to give college a try first. You never know what could happen.

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Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #13)

Image courtesy of junbelen.com
Chocolate cake just like the cakes my mom would bring home for my birthday from Peter’s Bakery in east San Jose. (Image courtesy of junbelen.com)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 3nd excerpt from Chapter 2: “Sandra Peralta.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.  To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”

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Although I called Sandra a few times each month, we didn’t go out on another date for over a year.  After dropping her off at home on that first date, I went right back to the carousing lifestyle I had been living for a couple of years, and later that summer I started dating someone else on a regular basis.  The cycle was back in full swing: working at a dead end job, drinking and playing softball with the boys, hanging out with the girl I was dating, and feeling sorry for myself for the seemingly useless life I was leading.  I was miserable.

I would call Sandra and we would talk on the phone for hours, I would ask her out, and she would politely, but assuredly, decline, telling me that she would never date someone who was dating someone else.  During these calls, I learned so much about Sandra; she was smart, focused, honest, ambitious, and she came from a good family. And, she got to know that beneath the surface, I wasn’t a hard-partying, thoughtless bad boy who had no dreams and aspirations.

I told her about my passions for reading history, biography, and coaching basketball, and my dreams of becoming a teacher.  Sandra was studying to be a nurse at San Jose State University, a vocation that seemed to fit her perfectly because she had both strength and compassion as the foundations of her character; then changed her mind and decided on education as a career.  The more I got to know her, the more I began to fall in love with her, and the more I wanted to distance myself to keep from hurting her due to my wayward ways.  But, I couldn’t stay away.

Finally, after about a year, at a party we both attended, we agreed to meet the next day for a milkshake at the Dairy Belle, another east side institution.  Sipping a milkshake at a table outside of the Dairy Belle, I told her that I cared about her, I thought about her all the time, and I would get out of my relationship in an instant if she wanted me to.  Her answer was encouraging, but ultimately the same: she too had strong feelings for me, but it wasn’t her place to tell me how to live my life and manage my relationships, and she would never consider dating someone who was in one.  So it was back to the cycle for me.

That summer, Rudy, Will, some friends, and I assembled a softball team, aptly named the “Brew Crew,” that played one night a week at a city park.  Sometimes Sandra would go to the games with Juanita to watch Will play while the woman I was seeing sat just a few feet away on the bleachers.  The unspoken nervous romantic tension between Sandra and me was obvious to anyone who paid attention, but I couldn’t get myself to walk away from a safe relationship for the uncertainty of a new relationship with a smart, talented, beautiful, and centered woman, even though that’s what my heart was telling me to do.

Then later that fall, on my 23rd birthday, Sandra called me and asked if I could pay her a visit because she had bought a birthday card and wanted to give it to me in person.  When I got to her house across the street from home plate at Welch Park and walked up the front door for the first time in almost a year and a half, I was excited, anxious, and hesitant all at the same time.  She invited me into the living room where her mom walked by, smiled, said hello, and walked off into the kitchen as Sandra followed behind.

Sandra returned alone holding a greeting card sized envelope in one hand and carrying a cake in the other.  She had baked a birthday cake for me.  It was a small round cake with white bread and chocolate frosting, my favorite. During our many phone conversations, I told Sandra how I used to get so excited when  my mom would bring home a chocolate cake from Peter’s Bakery on my birthday.

I was stunned, my heart jumped, and I stood in the living room speechless for what seemed like hours when finally Sandra broke the silence by asking, “what’s wrong, don’t you like the cake?”  Her big brown eyes and confident smile brought me back to earth.  We sat on the sofa and talked for about an hour without mentioning our feelings for each other, my current relationship, or my standard appeal to have dinner with me.  That weekend, I took a leap of faith and told my girlfriend that I didn’t want to see her anymore.  Two weeks later, after a year and a half, Sandra and I went out on our second date.

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Next Wednesday: The Peralta family

Leadership Lessons from a Hall of Fame Coach

carrphoto
Coach Percy Carr (right) on the night of his 800th victory at San Jose City College.
(photo courtesy of City College Times)

When walking into the basketball gym at San Jose City College, the first impression is that the place is literally spotless. If you show up around 3:00 PM, you’ll likely see Coach Percy Carr sweeping the floor, as he has for the past 38 years. It doesn’t matter that custodians probably just swept it; Coach Carr wants to make sure that the floor is in perfect condition for practice.

In 38 years at SJCC, Coach Carr has won over 800 games, the most in California history, and led his Jaguars to 34 playoff appearances, 12 conference championships, and 8 state championship games. Despite this success, there are no banners hanging in the gym trumpeting his accomplishments.  That’s just Coach’s style.

In addition to his success on the floor, Coach Carr founded the Creative Athlete Retention Response (CARR) program at San Jose City College. The CARR Program offers athletic and academic advice to all SJCC athletes. Ninety-seven percent of SJCC basketball players go on to a four-year university. In 1998, Coach Carr was inducted into the California Community College Basketball Hall of Fame. I was fortunate to sweep the floor right next to him as one of his assistant coaches from 1989-1991

Throughout my career, I’ve been around some amazing leaders, and Coach Carr tops that list.  Working for Coach was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. The lessons I learned from him have helped form the core of my own leadership journey. This season, Coach welcomed me back to the Jaguar family as the public address announcer for home games. Watching him working up close again has reminded me of those lessons.  I call them the “Four Be’s of Leadership.”

  1. Be Excellent

Many of the players that come to play for Coach Carr are from inner-city neighborhoods with few positive role models. Coach provides these young men with the highest quality of equipment and facilities. The locker room resembles a facility usually seen only at top-notch Division I universities. He’s a stickler about personal grooming, good manners, and study habits. He gives and expects excellence from his players outside and inside the gym, 24/7.

  1. Be Prepared

Early one Sunday morning, Coach called me from the airport after visiting legendary UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian and watching his team play. Coach Carr learned a new technique to help players on defense stay a step ahead against speedy opponents. He asked me to meet him at the gym when he arrived in San Jose to demonstrate the move and prepare for the next day’s practice. Monday’s practice was seamless, and the Jags defense led the team to 28 victories that year.

  1. Be a Teacher

When young men first arrive on campus at SJCC, they have little experience managing life on their own. During my two years there, I watched Coach teach them how to navigate the financial aid bureaucracy, shop for groceries, and conduct themselves in public as respectable young men. He taught them how work effectively in a team environment.  And for a couple of hours a day, he taught them how to play basketball.

  1. Be a Winner

This year’s team is a classic SJCC Jaguar squad. They’re big, fast, and very talented. The team is also young, which resulted in a rocky start to the season. The team would take early leads in many games only to succumb at the end. They couldn’t find a way to win. Coach didn’t give up. He made adjustments, tried different line-ups, and convinced the young players that they could win. The Jags started to play like a well-oiled machine and sent Coach to the playoffs for the 34th time in his career.

Although it hasn’t helped my March Madness brackets, I learned a whole lot about coaching basketball from Coach Carr. Like his players, I spent only two years at SJCC, but left with a lifetime of leadership lessons. Working to be excellent, preparing for each assignment and project, being a teacher to those under my care, and striving to be a winner have guided me as a father, husband, community leader, and executive.

At the end of the day, Coach Carr’s leadership isn’t about basketball; it’s about inspiring young men and giving them the tools to be successful. His former players are now lawyers, doctors, teachers, coaches, and businessmen.  I’m sure this year has been an incredible experience for the players and the young coaching staff. They went to the playoffs, Coach is a step closer to 900 wins, and most important, the young men he leads are headed for a successful life.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #12)

The original Mark's Hot Dogs stand on Alum Rock Avenue in east San Jose (photo by www.roadfood.com)
The original Mark’s Hot Dogs stand on Alum Rock Avenue in east San Jose
(photo by http://www.roadfood.com)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 2nd excerpt from Chapter 2: “Sandra Peralta.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.  To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”

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A couple of months after the garage encounter, I was hitting the town with a couple of old high school friends barhopping when I suggested we stop at the wedding of my friend Will Medina’s sister.  Will and I knew each other from the Kinney Shoe store where he worked in the stock room.  Like me, he grew up in east San Jose, but in a different neighborhood.  He was, and still is, always well-dressed with neatly pressed clothes and perfectly combed hair, and he’s honest and hardworking.  If dictionaries had the phrase “a good man” in their pages, there is no doubt in my mind that Will Medina’s photo would sit right next to the definition.

Will and I got to know each other better after I left my job at Kinney Shoes, and became fast friends playing recreational league basketball and softball together, and carousing around town.  On that summer night in 1985, his girlfriend and future wife, Juanita Navarro, was with him at his sister’s wedding.  Juanita is an intelligent, caring, and faithful woman who has shared her life with Will and their two children.  She also happened to be, and still is, Sandra’s best friend.

When I walked into the reception hall wearing a dark suit and tie, looking for Will and acting like I owned the place, I instantly saw Sandra sitting with Juanita and her family.  She was radiant wearing a navy blue pencil skirt and starched white blouse, and she smiled demurely when our eyes made contact.  Up to this point, Sandra and I agree on how the events unfolded, it’s the next few minutes where we have vastly different perspectives.

I remember walking to Sandra and respectfully asking her to dance; she insists that I waved from across the room and pointed to the dance floor as to say, “Meet me there.”  We are the only witnesses to the disputed incident so I’m sure the whole episode will go with us to our respective graves.  Nevertheless, we danced.   As I escorted her back to her chair, I reminded her that I was the guy who ran from Welch Park across the street to her house mistaking her for someone else.

When told her how I wanted to ask her for her telephone number, but I couldn’t say anything because her beauty left me speechless, she looked at me skeptically, with a slight roll of her eyes, but asked me to sit down anyway.   We danced a few more times and spent the evening chatting.  When my friends began pestering me to leave the wedding for another party, Sandra gave me her telephone number and I vanished into the night.

A week later, we were out on our first date.  I was nervous and excited as I was getting ready for the evening.  I had planned to take her to the movies and then for a quick bite at Mark’s Hot Dogs, the best place on the east side to go for a food nightcap.  When I arrived at her house, I walked into the living room so Sandra could introduce me to her parents.  Sandra looked so beautiful in pink and white striped pants and a pink blouse that I couldn’t stop looking at her; consequently I don’t remember any interaction with her parents or anyone else that may have been in the living room.

As we drove to the Century Theaters on the west side of town to see the hit movie “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Sandra and I talked and laughed, and I quickly became enchanted by this smart, funny, and attractive woman.  Other than being uncomfortable with a couple of racy scenes in the movie, our first date was going well as we arrived at Mark’s Hot Dogs.  Mark’s is an art deco hot-dog stand built in 1936 in the shape of an orange that remains an east side institution and official city landmark to this day.

When I was a kid, my parents would usually stop at Mark’s for a midnight snack after a night out and bring a few dogs home for us, boiled to crunchy perfection in a steamed bun and garnished with mustard, relish, onions, and tomatoes.  My little sister Sisi and I would tear open the plain brown paper bag that held the gastronomic wonders and crunch away with delight.  Sandra had never been to Mark’s, so I was feeling pretty good about introducing her to something new.

As we talked and laughed some more, she suddenly became quiet, then confided in me that she had dated a friend of mine in the past.  She had seen us talking and joking with each other at the wedding.  I admired her honesty, but I was in no mood to start a new relationship fraught with potential challenges.  I quickly finished my dog, drove Sandra home, and told her that I would probably not call her again.  She looked me in the eye and said a matter-of-factly, “Don’t call me then,” and casually walked into her house.  I called her the next day.

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Next Wednesday: The chase is on!

California Can Have World-Class Schools Again

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The other night I was relaxing and listening to The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour album when I heard the familiar sound of a recorder, a flute-like woodwind instrument, on the song A Fool on the Hill (hear Paul McCartney on the recorder at 1:25 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-8gd1jD0oM). The high-pitched melodic sound of the recorder brought back memories of elementary school. Readers from my generation will remember the recorder as the public school system’s introduction to music education.

Every student was issued a basic plastic recorder that taught us how to read music by belting out old standards like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Mary Had a Little Lamb. Some students were inspired to take their musical interests to the next level by joining the school band. I tried the saxophone and quickly learned that there was no way I could ever earn a living as a musician.

I was lucky to grow up during a time when California had the best public school system in the nation. With voter approval of Proposition 13 in 1978, everything changed. The anti-tax law slashed school budgets to provide only the basics. The result has been three and a half decades of limited resources and opportunities for working-class kids. With courageous local leadership, the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) could change that.

From the 1950s to the late 70s, California’s stellar public school system was a symbol of the state’s role as an economic juggernaut during our country’s longest period of prosperity. In 1968, the year The Beatles released A Fool on the Hill, 58% of the state’s funding went to education. According to the California Department of Education website, public school funding is only “40% of the state’s General Fund for 2013-14.”

So what did working-class families get for that extra 18%? In addition to the plastic recorders, there were regular field trips, art, music, and physical education. Today, music, art, and P.E. are considered “enrichment,” not basic education, and parents have to dig deeper into their pockets for fields trips and other “extras” like pencils, paper, and crayons. With the heavy emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), we’re no longer educating our kids; we’re putting them through basic job training.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially in Silicon Valley. Our tech industry badly needs a trained pool of workers, and students need job skills that help them compete in today’s economy. But let’s call it what it is, and not call it a well-rounded education. Putting all our public school resources in the STEM basket leaves few options for students from working-class families with leadership qualities and an aptitude for written and verbal communication or the humanities and arts.

State education policy analysts estimate that the LCFF will add $2,700 per student to local school district budgets for the next five years and even more in the future. At the East Side Union High School District, that means an additional $5.5 million next year. School boards should resist the temptation to use all of the new dollars on technology and STEM-related applications.

I’ve written in previous posts that education leaders need to allocate some of those extra dollars on developing systematic and comprehensive educational equity. Resources also need to be earmarked for student readiness projects and a gradual return of arts and humanities education. Unlike affluent families that are able to fund their children’s “enrichment,” the public school system is the only place that kids from working-class families can get a shot at a well-rounded education.

California schools have been in a perpetual state of budget-cutting for over 35 years. With the annual economizing, school leaders have been on an obsessive quest to run schools like a business. Treating kids like widgets in a factory has resulted in a system that prepares students to merely take standardized tests; rather than educating them.  That’s a shame.

I’m not saying that STEM and standardized tests aren’t important elements of the school system.  I’m saying that they shouldn’t be the ONLY elements of public education. As the Information Age continues to expand, we’ll need people who can read, write, and think critically; as well as people who can program a computer and write code.

During the 1950s and 1960s, California Governor Pat Brown created and funded a well-rounded, word-class public school system.  A half-century later, his son Governor Jerry Brown has developed an education funding mechanism to provide more funding than local school districts have seen in decades.  Let’s hope our local leaders use that extra funding to inspire another era of word-class education in the Golden State.