Abel Guillen: Reflections from Berkeley City College

18 Mar

This guest post was written by Abel Guillen who was first elected to serve on the Peralta Community College Board in 2006 and is immediate past president of the board. Guillén, who represents Oakland’s Temescal, West Oakland, Chinatown, Downtown and Adam’s Point neighborhoods, is vice president of Caldwell Flores Winters Inc., where he has helped raise more than $2 billion in bond funding for public schools and colleges throughout California over the past 10 years. The first in his family to graduate from college, he has a Masters of Public Policy from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley and a B.A. in Sociology, also from Cal.

At this evening’s Board of Trustees meeting, I heard powerful testimony from our students.

A student who grew up in East Oakland passionately described his childhood.  He told us he would wander the streets because he would fear going home.  He dropped out of school and had run-ins with the law and got caught up in some drug cases.  He tried Merritt College – “just to give a shot” – after his last arrest.  As a result of the Disabled Students Program & Services, he was tested and qualified for services.  He is now achieving in his studies, and last semester achieved 4.0 GPA.  He also proudly told us that he serves as president of Merritt College’s honor society.

A Tibetan refugee came to Berkeley City College unsure of her path.  After excelling there, she transferred to Stanford University last year.  She came to our board meeting tonight to tell us her commitment to public service was solidified through her experience at BCC.  This spring, she plans on running for student body president at Stanford, crediting our staff and faculty for giving her the foundation she needed to flourish on the farm.

Another student – who I originally thought was a professor – described his research on Parkinson’s disease.  Along with an instructor in our biotechnology program, they secured a grant through the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for their research.  His passion for science and his research will no doubt make an important contribution to ending Parkinson’s diseases.

Day of Action

In addition, this past Monday ten bus loads of students from our Peralta Colleges trekked to Sacramento along with other students from across the state to demand their right to a higher education. The pouring rains did not dampen their spirits or their voices. Our students urged legislators to let Californian voters decide on the fate of the proposed tax extensions.  If the measure gets on the ballot, 58% of Californian’s would be willing to support the extensions, according to the most recent poll.

The students that I’ve had the pleasure of working for and hearing from give me reason for optimism in an otherwise gloomy environment.  Their hopes and the democratic process should not be thwarted by a handful of Republican legislators who are jeopardizing California’s economic recovery and the future of over 400,000 college students.

Regardless of what happens with the special election proposed for June, we need a renewed effort to look at permanent funding mechanisms for higher education and vital social services, such as implementing an oil extraction tax and revisiting tax rates for the state’s wealthiest citizens.  California can again be the Golden State if we invest wisely now.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how we can get California back on the right track.

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