California Students fight for college dreams

OAKLAND, Calif. – When you meet Sherita Cobb you are reminded of Lorraine Hansberry’s writings, “To be young, gifted and Black.”

Cobb, 21, is a junior at California State University-Hayward studying English, film and Black studies. But she may not be able to continue her studies much longer if California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s draconian budget cuts go through. Cobb, and thousands of others, will face “a dream deferred.”

“For Black students, and the community, education is the number one thing,” Cobb said. “[The government] is building a prison not too far from here called Delano II. It will take $100 million to run it. We know that there aren’t enough prisoners for it. If they shut down Delano II, there would be enough money to save outreach programs like the EOP.”

The EOP is “Educational Opportunity Program,” which provides support to low- and middle-income students, the majority of whom are students of color. EOP is a tool that helps students bring up test scores and prepare for college. It also helps students through the myriad of bureaucratic steps it takes to sign up for the appropriate courses, apply for financial aid, etc. With the proposed budget cuts, EOP faces extinction.

“It takes grassroots organizing to put pressure on officials. I don’t want to pay for war in Iraq,” Cobb said. “Don’t take away from my education. Don’t ask people of color to pay. We don’t need to go backwards. I am not submitting to that.”

Cobb spoke to over 100 students, staff and faculty at a Feb. 25 rally against the cuts, calling them an attack on affirmative action and students of color. The budget cuts will not only affect staffing levels and badly needed programs and classes, they will also force schools to hike tuition and fees, hitting all state school systems – the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and junior colleges.

Cobb, along with a growing number of young adults and students, is organizing Blacks United for Quality Education throughout the CSU, UC and junior college systems. The group is working in coalition with other student groups, faculty unions, churches, and community organizations to fight the cuts and hikes.

Mentored by Oakland high school teacher and community activist Cassie Lopez, the group is planning a bus trip to Sacramento March 15 to lobby their elected representatives. Lopez sees a resurgence of activism among youth. “They know something is wrong and want to do something about it,” she said. Blacks United for Quality Education meets every Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Mosswood Recreation Center in Oakland.

Cobb is passionate about fighting for education and justice, not just for herself but for the 14-, 15- and 16- year-olds, who will be locked out of college by these cuts. Cobb encourages church members, parents and community members to join the struggle for education and to save EOP. For more information, e-mail pebbles18_rita@hotmail.com.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org.