Last Wednesday morning was a glorious day for a morning graduation in Berkeley. The Greek Theatre on U.C. Berkeley’s campus was the setting for the Interdisciplinary major department graduation of which Maurice received a B.A. degree in American Studies with an emphasis on Race and American Popular Culture.
Of course our family was delighted and proud to have our loved one graduate from what is known as the best public university in the nation. But my joy was marred momentarily by the fact that I counted less than 20 graduates of African descent out of approximately 500 names on the program. This glaring lack of Black students at Berkeley is a bone of contention that is one of an ongoing discussion among people in my circle. It has been reported that the admission rate of Black students decreases with each incoming class. Those of us who live here in one of the most, if not most progressive, liberal areas in the country, the San Francisco Bay Area, are both appalled and flabbergasted at this atrocity.
Ironically, it was a Black man, and that term is questionable, who as a U.C. regent led the fight against racial and gender preferences in the University of California admissions policy. Proposition 209 was passed about 15 years ago and the admission rates for Blacks continually decrease while increasing for Latinos, Asians and Caucasians. Unfortunately Affirmative Action became a bad word for conservatives resulting in guidelines for admission a mangled set of ridiculous and prohibitive kangaroo court of nonsense criteria.
The Black community, especially here in this area are keenly aware and proactive seeking ways to break down those barriers. In the community college system, counselors diligently work with Black students in the application process for transfer to U.C. Berkeley and other U.C. universities; proactive Black parents strive to prepare their children to follow the U.C. track, and Berkeley Black alumni and professors work closely with Black students in recruitment and retention of our prospective students. But many bright Black students forgo applying to Berkeley, preferring to apply to private colleges or Historically Black colleges who vigorously recruit them and offer attractive packages.
But all in all, this past week was one for celebrating. Friday afternoon, the Black Graduation was held at Zellerbach Hall. There were about 100 students who attended (not all Black students elected to attend this momentous occasion). Of course we hear, why a Black graduation when our ancestors died for integration? That is a topic for another day. I wrote a blog in 2009 that gives some insight to why we have a separate celebration. Why a Black Graduation? U.C. Berkeley’s graduation was beautiful and inspiring memory. African drums, sorority and fraternity chants, and the atmosphere of solidarity made this a momentous occasion. The Black student body is a tight-knit group who support and encourage each other in the four to five years duration of study. As one student speaker said, “You have to fight to get in Berkeley and fight to get out.” So many bright, intelligent young people, who know where they are headed and are making their dreams a reality, my nephew among them. They are forging their futures in a changing world knowing they are privileged to have been admitted and survived to graduate from such a prestigious university to go forward to make their stamp on the world. Terry Bryant, Eco-chef and food justice advocate admonished the students to find a purpose in their passion while pursuing their education and goals. So, that moment of sadness and disappointment was temporary. As Pharrell says in his hit “Happy” which seems to be the theme song this year at graduations, “Ain't gonna let nothing bring me down because I’m Happy.”