Recently, I enjoyed the distinct honor of delivering the Commencement Speech at a local college. Over the past weekend, I attended the graduation ceremonies at a state college to witness my young godson graduate with his baccalaureate degree, as his four-year-old son watched several rows of seats back from the front of the stage. Both graduations were festive, exciting, and inspiring. However, each graduation also created in me a sense of consternation, ambivalence, and disappointment. I had water in my eyes during the recital of the names of the students walking across the stage to receive their hard-earned degree and shake the hand of administrators and the President.
What struck me as problematic was the minuscule number of African American young people walking across the stage. Sure, there was a much higher percentage of black students in the graduating classes at Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School, a small private liberal arts college nestled in a historic area of Pasadena. Parenthetically, for 70 years, Pacific Oaks has promoted the core values of respect, diversity, social justice, and inclusion and
serves as the preeminent thought-leader in preparing its students to be culturally intelligent agents of change in the space of early childhood development.
So, viewing the city as a microcosm of America, we must contextualize the discussion of The State of Black Pasadena, in my view, under the mantle of education. From the outset, let me be abundantly clear that the pernicious impacts of racism, bigotry, and the destructive corrosive public policies of governments have intentionally run havoc in impeding the upward mobility of black people in Pasadena and across this nation. Yet, obtaining a quality education is still one of the most important tools ever employed to help even the playing field of life and destroy the core structures of racism.
On this past Saturday, it appeared that 30% of the graduates at CSUN had an Armenian surname and 40% Spanish. If that was the case, I attribute that success to family, faith, and a desire to capture the American dream--a sense of group cohesion. Having acknowledged that, I am in no way suggesting the struggles of black people in America mirror those of other immigrant groups, lest we forget that blacks came to the shores of America in chains as chattel, a step removed from farm animals. The melanin, dark pigmentation in the skin, was made ugly and hated by white perverters of the truth. Therefore, blacks never had the opportunity to assimilate because of their dominant and beautiful dark skin color.
Our Armenian brothers and sisters came to the United States with the rights of “human-hood,” seeking a better life. Our Spanish brothers and sisters, constitute in a large measure, the mixed blood of native peoples who were first to this continent. [In Ivan Van Sertima’s They Came Before Columbus, he shares a more expansive view of Africans in ancient “America.”] What I have noticed is that successful immigrant populations possess a strong sense of community, preservation of culture, a total commitment to education and an all-encompassing platform of faith or belief in a higher power. Historically, this is true with the Japanese, French, Italians, Brits, Germans, Slavs, Russians, Celts, Jews, Latinos, Armenians, and most other ethnic groups. The exception is with blacks who were sold in or stolen from their homeland: 20 million murdered in the transatlantic slave trade, just to have those indomitable survivors receive the lash; destruction of family and culture; forced to work without compensation. It is interesting and troubling that respected historians and geneticists have documented that, arguably, the most advanced civilizations in the world were originally in Africa!
All of what I have shared heretofore may feel a little distant and esoteric, so let me bring the discussion closer to home.
African American Demographics in Pasadena:
• Black or African American accounted for 10.7% of the Pasadena Population in 2015(when I was a kid that figure was approximately 20%)
• The unemployment rate of Black or African American is 13.7% according to the 2010 census
• African Americans own 3.9% of the occupied housing units in the city of Pasadena
• African Americans make up 11% of the veteran population in the city of Pasadena
• 5.2% of African American children under 18 years old live in a married-couple household
• 16% of African American children under 18 years old live in a male household, no wife present
• 21% of African American children under 18 years old live in a female household, no male present.
The Education Platform:
Several institutions of higher learning call the city of Pasadena home. They include, but are not limited to, Pasadena City College, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School as referenced earlier, Art Center of Design, and the California Institute of Technology. These institutions serve as local and national thought leaders and facilitators of change. Fuller Theological Seminary was the first evangelical graduate school of theology to support an official student organization for LGBTQ[i] students. Pacific Oaks College created one of the nations’ only accredited degree programs in Advocacy and Social Justice at the Bachelors’ and Masters’ degree levels, while Pasadena City College hosts the Global Accessibility Awareness Day Seminar to address disparities in digital access and inclusion.
Our local colleges and universities embrace a servant leadership model and bring a variety of benefits to the residents and businesses of the city. Collaboration and community partnering are two of the primary ways the city of Pasadena’s relationship with its institutions of higher learning synergize. Collaborations among different schools to address conditions that are universal in nature like poverty, homelessness, and healthcare in addition to those that are stratified by race, gender and socio-economic status like over-incarceration, pay inequality and the digital divide create unique opportunities for the city and the institutions themselves.
The Pasadena City of Learning community is a monthly gathering of representatives from our local educational institutions and non-profit organizations with educational missions. This vehicle has been a great collaboration between the City and these institutions to promote learning and innovation throughout the city. In addition to the work of that collaborative group, institutions create independent partnership opportunities that further catalyze community growth and development. Caltech hosted 2,000 community members at their inaugural Science to March event aimed at making science more accessible to the local community. They were supported by community partners like Pasadena City College and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both Pasadena based learning communities. Pacific Oaks College and Fuller Theological Seminary co-hosted an Immigration Rights and Mental Health Care forum for the greater Pasadena community. The city of Pasadena will continue to partner with our local institutions to promote the well-being of all its residents across the lifespan.
Suggested Solutions to the Sustainability and Growth of Black Pasadena:
If you are a black business owner, consider hiring a black youth who you can teach your business through an internship, informational interview, or full-time employment. Such an approach provides a foundation for valuable exposure to careers, vocations, and the development of an entrepreneurial spirit.
Giving a black Pasadenan of any age an opportunity to learn the real estate business first hand through informal informational interviews, job shadowing, and inclusion/learning of investment strategies. Utilize your black investment clubs to invest in Pasadena real estate owned.
If you are a black business owner and need to market your business, service, trade et cetera, include various black media in your marketing mix: Pasadena Journal, Pasadena Black Pages, and possibly the utilization of a black publicist, event planner, or caterer in Pasadena.
If you are rearing young black girls and boys, ensure that they have opportunities to connect with others who look like them – whether through playdates, youth groups, church activities, travel (domestic & international), sports teams, STEM/STEAM classes, and conferences. This can be done through your involvement in the Pasadena National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (ACTSO), YWCA, YMCA, Gamma Zeta Boule, Boys & Girls Club, Jack & Jill, Mocha Moms, Delta Academy, Alpha Kappa Alpha Ascend Youth, Links Up for Success, religious youth groups, and many other organizations and activities.
If you are black real estate investor in Pasadena (landlord, commercial investor, single family, multi-family) consider pooling your resources to invest in even more Pasadena real estate or elsewhere similar to the Buy the Block movement in Detroit. Alternatively, as the Black Pasadena community has some elders aging and are consider downsizing or moving outside of the area, consider giving another black Pasadenan the first right of refusal when the time comes and you want to actualize your economic investment – ensures transfer of black wealth even if not within the same “family” but within the “black family.”
Actively participate in your city: whether serving on City commission, committee; or volunteering for neighborhood events or initiatives.
Help Black Pasadena youth to start their own investment club where they invest in each other’s business ideas, stock portfolios, or the next tech or app idea.
Freely share job leads and success strategies at both your employer & business. It takes knowledge and access to capital to enjoy the full measure of democracy and the beauty of Pasadena.
Consider mentoring black millennials living and working in Greater Pasadena – just because millennials may be considered beyond the “youth stage” does not mean that they are beyond the learning stage.
For black millennials who have an interest in serving on for-profit boards consider extending your network to them as they pursue this goal.
Actively inquire if they have other aspirations, take the time to ask a “black millennial” what could propel them further? The investment in black millennials is pertinent as they are an often overlooked middle generation – and the constructive exchange will not only positively impact the mature black Pasadena community in terms of transfer of black wealth and knowledge, but will also ensure that the youth the black millennials are rearing in Pasadena will have a positive and sustainable future in Pasadena.
If you have been blessed to live in Pasadena for 10+ years, consider why you have remained in Pasadena and how you can creatively, both economically and spiritually, uplift at least one black person to either remain engaged as well (job leads, business leads, spiritual support, and cultural enrichment suggestions) and helping a black person to move to the area.
Today there are numerous opportunities throughout the day to interact, connect with, laugh with Black Pasadenans, as well as supporting them economically by intentionally and constantly patronizing a black-owned business.
Black millennials living in the city have the greatest opportunities and solutions for not only their generation, but for the wise generations before them, and the youthful generation coming after them, to actively commit to taking one life- advancing and promoting step for someone else in the Black Community. Pasadena is a world-class city, and it will require strategic focus and wisdom to take initiative to work together collectively – to not only sustain but grow the black population of Pasadena.
We must do something significantly different than our previous and current patterns to ensure that Black Pasadena has the opportunity to thrive and grow. Let’s not wait until the Annual Black History Parade comes around to remember fellow Black Pasadenan’s. Let’s make it an everyday “intentional” moment. Black Pasadena has a special essence which sets it apart from other areas in Southern California and it is up to all of us to preserve and grow it!
As one leader stated: “[w]e may be uncomfortable talking about race, but we can no longer afford to be silent. And, again I say, we can “Forget Everything And Run”, or “Face Everything And Rise”. The choice is ours!
Ms. Victoria Williams
Dr. Donald Grant
Mr. Justin Jones