Op-Ed: Four ways to make black, brown and all lives matter

Too many black men of my generation have been asleep at the switch. We haven’t built on the successes of the civil rights movement to create a better America for our young sons and brothers, whose hardships are so evident after the tragedies in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island, N.Y.

So what I’m about to say might surprise you: I am uninspired by the many calls for a great National Conversation on Race. I’m done with talking. Let’s get down to the doing.
In California we stand at a once-in-a-generation crossroads. If we take action in four key areas, we will transform the lives of young people of color in our state for the better. The good news for California is that we have reforms underway we can build on. But if we do nothing, and just keep talking and studying, we’ll blow it.

Public education: California has made the most progressive changes in the nation to bring more resources to our most vulnerable students. In 2012, voters approved Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase that channeled $6 billion to our under-funded schools. We should make it permanent. Then, there’s the Local Control Funding Formula that was ushered in by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. It will increase classroom funding — by as much as $18 billion over eight years, according to Legislative Analyst Office estimates — for kids in poor, immigrant and foster care households.
Still, the supplemental funds from the Local Control Funding Formula risk disappearing into the ether of school districts’ bureaucracies. We need an annual report card or tracking effort to ensure that the money goes to the students it intends to help, and to hold education bureaucracies accountable for closing education gaps.

Criminal justice: California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47 last November, which reclassified nonviolent drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
Under Proposition 47, an estimated 40,000 fewer Californians will be convicted of low-level felonies every year. Up to 1 million could have old nonviolent felony convictions wiped from their records, improving their prospects for jobs, housing and stability, and hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced prison costs could be shifted to drug prevention and treatment services.

It is crucial to take advantage of what the law offers. We need to fund effective outreach about the clean-slate provision to maximize its life-changing possibilities. And we must deliver a new approach to safety. Californians are done with prison-first justice. Putting Proposition 47’s prison savings toward treatment programs will double down on its effectiveness in terms of tax dollars spent and people’s lives remade.
Immigration reform: California stands to gain more than any other state from President Obama’s executive actions on immigration last November. Under his proposed program, more than 1.5 million undocumented Californians — primarily the parents of children who are U.S. citizens — can apply for temporary legal work permits. These men and women stand poised to become full tax-paying contributors to the California economy, replacing fear of deportation with a new sense of opportunity. But this progress needs to be defended from attacks in Congress, and again, we need to get the word out to these communities, dispel untruths about the reforms and help people apply.


Healthcare: Not too long ago, California was home to more than 800,000 uninsured children. Obamacare is projected to cut that disgraceful number in half. California needs to finish the job by passing State Sen. Ricardo Lara’s Health for All Act. Every child, including the undocumented, should have access to healthcare. California has led the nation in the implementation of Obamacare, and as a result, we have a healthier productive citizenry to fuel our growing economy. With some courage and creativity, we can lead the nation in ensuring healthcare is a human right. Plus, enrolling eligible families in health insurance plans leverages billions of dollars in federal resources.
It’s a good time to be a Californian. Yes, we can and should raise our voices and insist that black lives matter, brown lives matter, all lives matter. Everyone will be measurably better off if we realize these hard fought reforms. The promise of the 20th century civil rights movement is within reach for 21st century.

Let’s get it done.

Robert K. Ross is the president and chief executive of the California Endowment, a philanthropic foundation.

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