It seems that everything we hear about the state of education is dire and depressing. But two recent experiences make me smile. And hope.
First, I was taken on a tour of the new Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools which, in fact, are six autonomous entities on one 24 acre campus. This is the culmination of a heated ten year battle to use the abandoned space of the long closed Ambassador Hotel (where Robert Kennedy was assassinated) to serve a poorly-served series of neighborhoods near downtown Los Angeles. Kennedy, a great advocate of equal education for all, would surely have approved and the schools share a common theme: social justice.
I was immensely touched by, and impressed with, the facility, which is pristine and spacious and fronted by "Inspiration Park," a resting spot surrounded by quotes from Kennedy. I wondered where these 3,500 seemingly happy, almost entirely non-white children would be if not there. "They would be on buses headed out to the San Fernando Valley," explained the guide. Meaning they were of an area which previously offered them little in the way of imaginative education. And yet the city and other interests fought against spending the money on the project for years. Go figure.
Shortly after that visit, I learned that the Gabriella Charter School, also based in the Los Angeles area, received the Hart Vision Award. (Think Oscar for charters) The school was founded by Liza Bercovici, a warm and vivacious woman with a wide circle of friends -- as opposed to elite, powerfully connected types. A few years before, Liza had created Everybody Dance, a wildly successful after-school program. That program and the school (which has a heavy dance component) were started in the name of Liza's beautiful young daughter who was tragically killed while on her bicycle. "Gabry" loved to dance so her mother put aside a good career as a divorce mediator to initiate works that truly mattered.
The charter, the dance center, and the schools happened thanks to the support of many believers, of course. But mostly, they were the result of pure tenacity and passion on the part of key individuals. The RFK Schools also sprang from personal pain. Former union organizer Paul Schrade was standing close to Bobby Kennedy the night the presidential candidate was murdered, and Schrade was shot in the head himself. He is a low key man, now in his mid 80s, who saw that abandoned property on Wilshire Boulevard and -- much in the spirit of the man he so admired -- envisioned small children of every color playing and learning there.
One can't help pass the Paul Schrade Library, which is filling up with books as we speak, and feel good. One can't help watching those little kids tapping their toes and feel inspired. There are countless similar stories around the country and they remind us that it doesn't take a village to make good things happen. I cling to the belief that activism is alive and well, particularly when it comes to issues of children and, as we've seen these last few weeks, reproductive rights.
We are told that we live in clusters, from the high end to the low, from which we won't -- or can't -- escape. I highly recommend a visit outside your comfort zone to see how others live and how you might help them live better.