One of the most diverse cities in the U.S., Long Beach has the largest Cambodian population (20,000 residents) anywhere in the world outside of Southeast Asia. The city is also home to large Black and Latinx populations, 13 and 42 percent of the total population respectively, making it a true melting pot of language and cultural experiences.
As a port city, the community has long faced health and environmental issues. Recent gentrification trends have also impacted the housing industry and schools, making this a critical time for the civic engagement and political education of students and families of color.
Considered a top-performing school district by many, Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) nonetheless struggles with racial disparities among their Black, Latinx, Pacific Islander, Native American, and Southeast Asian youth. Students of color are underrepresented in district college-prep and honors courses but overrepresented in school discipline cases. In 2016-17, 8.4% of Black students, 5.2% of Native American students, and 4.7% of Pacific Islander students in LBUSD were suspended compared to 1.7% of White students (CA Dashboard).
By lifting up and activating the voices of young people of color in Long Beach, Californians for Justice seeks to address these racial disparities and unlock the healthy, just and vibrant future the Long Beach community deserves.
“Reflecting on my experience with CFJ, as a young Black woman in a school system that so often ignores the voices of Black students, because of CFJ I’ve really begun to step out of my comfort zone and into leadership roles. By sharing my story with several students and community members, I am able to relate on a personal level to move our communities into action.”
– Karrionne Stokes, Californians for Justice alumni and Justice Fellow
Over the years Californians for Justice has helped lead real change for schools in Long Beach. Some of our top successes have been:
- Californians for Justice has trained hundreds of youth of color in Long Beach to be community leaders and organizers. CFJ youth have gone on to attend universities and to work in their communities as change makers and leaders.
- In 2008, we pushed for the successful adoption and implementation of the Academic and Career Success Initiative at LBUSD. The CFJ-led initiative increased college-going rates for the district and doubled the rate of students graduating with A-G college requirements.
- In 2013, CFJ Long Beach successfully moved LBUSD to pass a resolution committing to implement restorative justice practices district-wide as an alternative to punitive discipline practices that disproportionately target students of color.
Our Current Work
Californians for Justice is working in a variety of ways to advance equity in Long Beach. We’re breaking down walls and bringing people together so that every student can reach their full potential regardless of race or zipcode. Learn more about how we make change across the state here.
Relationship Centered Schools
Relationships between students and educators are crucial to raising student achievement and ending the school-to-prison-pipeline for youth of color. Through our Relationship Centered Schools Campaign, Californians for Justice youth leaders identified that caring relationships with educators were the key to ensuring students, especially students of color, feel like they belong, are believed in, and are supported to succeed in college, career, and community life. Unfortunately, school climate surveys show that 1 in 3 students in California cannot name a single caring adult on campus.
What is a Relationship Centered School?
A Relationship Centered School breaks down the cycles of racial bias and inequity in our schools by supporting educators and students to build relationships that embrace and empower all students to pursue their dreams. They are schools that invest in school staff, value student voice, and create space for relationship building.
To advance our Relationship Centered Schools campaign, Californians for Justice is collaborating with Long Beach Unified School District and two early adopter high schools--Cabrillo and Lakewood--that are committed to building relationships as the foundation for racial equity. Student leaders at each site work closely with staff and administrators as a part of a design team tasked with identifying ways the campus can support relationship building. From master schedule changes and additional teacher professional development, to placing greater value on student voice in school policy and hiring decisions, our teams are working to ensure that teachers and students alike feel safe, supported and capable of thriving at school.
A critical strategy of our Relationship Centered Schools campaign is shifting the narrative in Long Beach to see that race cannot be separated from how students of color experience the classroom and our education system. We are engaging youth, community allies, and educators in Long Beach to discuss how we can better center race in our words, in our actions, and in our policies to truly address the inequities youth of color face in our schools and communities. By putting racial equity at the forefront of our work, we hope to promote innovative ideas and the honest reflection that is needed to break the cycle of racial bias and inequality.
Through our Relationship Centered Schools campaign, we believe we can make significant progress in closing the achievement gap, ending punitive discipline practices, and retaining high-quality and diverse teachers in Long Beach.
“English Language Learners, low income and foster care youth are the students most often left behind. When I was a foster youth, I was alone. I couldn’t control anything at school or at home. There wasn’t any support available and I didn’t trust anyone enough to talk about what I was going through. I felt disconnected from school and found myself constantly distracted during class. In middle school that changed. I met Ms. Reyes, my English teacher. She took the time to talk to students and get to know them. She encouraged us to write about was important to us, not just follow the prompts. More importantly, she believed in me. Ms. Reyes helped me learn that about myself - that I have a story to tell. And it is my story, who I am, that has led me to plan a career in medicine where I am helping people, like Ms. Reyes did for me.”
– Diana Cruz, Long Beach Youth Leader & CFJ Board Member
Equity & Engagement through the Local Control Funding Formula
Californians for Justice was instrumental in securing the adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in 2013. The new school funding formula is a key part of our goal to promote equity, engagement and accountability in the public education system, bringing real racial justice to our community. Since 2013, CFJ has worked with Long Beach youth and families to understand the new law which prioritizes resources for low-income, English Learner and foster youth and requires great levels of community input and accountability.
We work closely with Long Beach ally organizations around the annual Local Control and Accountability Plan process and supports CFJ students to engage in the district’s Student Advisory Committee. CFJ will continue to ensure that students and families are well-informed of the LBUSD Local Control and Accountability Plan, are able to push for greater equity and accountability, and are meaningfully engaged in the decisions that impact them.
Youth Leadership & Civic Engagement
To ensure our goal of equity and racial justice in schools and our communities is achieved, CFJ is actively developing a multi-racial youth base in Long Beach that is inclusive of LGBTQ students, foster youth, low-income and immigrant youth. We are actively growing our base of high school youth to include perspectives and promote leadership of students traditionally underrepresented in decision-making. We understand that these youth are the current and future leaders our city and state need, so now is the time to support them in using their voices for change.
CFJ provides leadership development opportunities throughout the school year and summer to ensure our youth leaders gain the political education and valuable organizing skills they need to lead social justice movements. Every year we hold a intensive five-week Summer Youth Leadership Academy, a Fall Leadership Bootcamp, and a Statewide Leadership Retreat in the Spring in addition to weekly youth meetings and workshops. Youth then apply what they are learning in real-time by taking leadership roles in school governance and in our advocacy campaigns.
Through our civic engagement work, CFJ is building an integrated voter engagement strategy with young voters of color in Long Beach and across the state to ensure our policies and elected officials reflect their needs and interests. While some of our youth may be too young to vote, they are not too young to care. Long Beach youth take active roles in leading “Get out the Vote” drives, voter education events, and youth-centered candidate forums for local elections.
CFJ Long Beach is filling a unique role in the community and helping to shift the narrative to ensure our city’s youth are seen as valuable leaders that are worthy of the best Long Beach possible.