Juan M. Benitez. Photo courtesy of LBUSD.

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Juan M. Benitez, LBUSD Board of Education vice president, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

Congratulations to the Long Beach City Council for unanimously adopting the “Framework for Reconciliation in Long Beach.” Thank you to Councilman Rex Richardson for leading this effort and to Vice Mayor Dee Andrews, and councilmembers Al Austin and Jeannine Pearce for helping to advance this critical work.

I fully support the framework and I am committed to supporting our city’s efforts around the systemic issues that anchor this approach, understanding that—although it is a critical and necessary first step—it is insufficient in fully dismantling institutional racism and structural inequities across our great city and region, which have been pervasive for far too long. Nonetheless, the framework serves as a strong example of what our city and other key institutions and partners can and should do in our mutual pursuit of justice, equity and human dignity. Based on that, I propose that Long Beach Unified School District should also adopt a similar framework, building upon and aligning itself with the city’s framework in order to address the structural inequities and dismantle the institutional racism within our own district.

George Floyd’s tragic death has activated our communities to speak loud and clear… I stand with you and hear you. I will keep listening and keep advancing our social justice and equity efforts, fully aware that, as a school district, we need to get to work with a new sense of urgency, reaffirmation and stronger commitment for the issues that confront our Black communities. Together, we must also draw on the 4, key components of the Framework for Reconciliation in Long Beach:

  • Acknowledging the existence and impacts of systemic racism in our school district.
  • Conducting formal listening sessions to authentically and actively hear the accounts of students’ and community members’ experiences of racial justice, inequity or harm.
  • Establishing a multi-stakeholder task force, co-led by students, with a focus on convening students, parents, community members, labor partners and stakeholders to evaluate the feedback from the listening process and shape policy, budgetary and programmatic reform ideas alongside the city of Long Beach.
  • Catalyze action, presenting immediate, short-term, medium-term, and long-term recommendations for the Board of Education to consider.

Our school district is strong and there are examples of the progress that has been made with respect to issues of equity and opportunity gaps but we can and should do better at serving the needs of all 72,000 students… as our mantra states, All Means All. Now is the time to do right by all students but particularly Black students. Black lives matter and, at this critical juncture of our city’s, school district’s and nation’s history, now is the time that we prove it through concrete actions, policies and systems change that dismantle institutional racism and eliminate structural inequities.

Now is that time for LBUSD to pass a resolution adopting a Framework for Reconciliation for Long Beach Unified School District that serves as a catalyst for and immediately begins the process of concretely addressing and advancing the issues that Black students and communities have raised. In concert with the city of Long Beach’s Framework, and in partnership with LBCC and CSULB, this will provide another vehicle to help dismantle racism and eliminate structural inequities in LBUSD.

In March 2016, I wrote an op-ed titled, “Long Beach Schools’ ‘Miracle’ Overstated‘,” highlighting the disparate educational outcomes LBUSD had in relation to Black students and students of color. At that time, much was being written/published about the Long Beach “miracle” for students of color in schools and the Long Beach Promise. Nonetheless, it was clear then and remains clear now that Black students and students of color are not being provided the same opportunities to success and, thus, they are not performing at the same “miracle” rates as other students. Now is the time to change these structures and this narrative: We can create a real Promise for students and families that has remained elusive for so many Black students and students of color: A New 2020 Long Beach Promise for ALL.

The New Long Beach Promise for ALL should be based on the core components and intent of the Framework with the necessary and essential best practices and “first steps” that communities have advocated for and that our district should advance. By no means will this be complete or definitive but, instead, it will provide comprehensive framework in key areas for us to keep shaping, listening, moving forward concretely on and be held accountable to with the intent of dismantling racism and structural inequities in LBUSD. There are already clear, concrete, compelling and necessary policies and systems changes that LBUSD can and should consider implementing that I will be actively advocating for, and that our communities should all partake in, guide and shape.

Let’s move together, with our Black family, with a clear purpose and intent and real outcomes, a real Promise, that is driven by community and community-informed decision-making that truly reflects their interest and holds our systems and institutions accountable to dismantling racism and eliminating structural inequalities.

I urge all our students, parents, community members and partners to come together so we can begin the process of reconciliation, healing and recovery, hand-in-hand with our Black family and communities of color in LBUSD and call for LBUSD to adopt a Framework for Reconciliation in LBUSD. I invite all our community members to participate at our upcoming board meeting on Monday, June 15 at 5 p.m. and submit your public comments to [email protected].