MLK Speaker Calls Davis a City Full of Contradictions, Critiques Race Relations

Dr. Mariama Gray, an assistant professor in the Educational Leadership Department at Cal State East Bay, was the keynote speaker at MLK Day 2018.

Speaker: The city’s outward affluence masks a surprising poverty

This year’s keynote speaker at the Davis MLK Day celebration held at the Varsity Theater was Dr. Mariama Gray, an assistant professor in the Educational Leadership Department at Cal State East Bay.  The talk was entitled, “Where Do We Go from Here, Davis?”

“Before I talk to you and I want to acknowledge the history of this place that we’re in,” she said.  “We’re on Patwin lands.  We’re on the land of the Patwin people and in the same way that we remember the ancestors through our story telling and photographs, and remember Dr. King’s legacy through celebrations like these, it’s important that we acknowledge the history of the Patwin people that lived here before we did.”

Today only 1.1 percent of the population of Davis is Native American, she said.

“The Patwin are invisible in the telling of the story of Davis which often begins with the farmlands and the creation of the university,” she said.  “As the descendant of enslaved Africans, I can
often relate to this invisible experience that they’re having here.”

In her scholarship, she said, “I tried make what’s invisible, visible.”  The title of her talk, “Where Do We Go from Here, Davis?” is mirrored after MLK’s last book where he asked the community “where do we go from here?”

“In his book, Dr. King argued that we have the resources to eradicate poverty,” she said.  His economic vision included better jobs, higher wages, decent housing and high quality schooling.

“In many ways,” she argued, “Davis is like the south in the 1960s.

“The city is full of contradictions,” she said.  “Data from the 2016 census shows that the average household income is about $90,000 and for families it’s $137,000.  And yet one in four people live below the federal level for poverty.  One in four live either without health insurance altogether or public health insurance that we all know is tenuous at best.

“The city’s outward affluence masks a surprising poverty,” she said.  “Davis is a well-educated city.  At one time it was the second most-educated city in the United States.  Those who are doing well believe it is because of their own efforts.”

However, “In Davis like most cities in America, race and class, disability and gender, are predictive of achievement.

“Math is a key gatekeeper for a career in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics],” she said.  “If you look at the District’s test scores for students in third through eighth grade, it shows that African Americans, Latinos, the poor, and students who qualify for special education have markedly lower math achievement than students that are Asian and white, Filipino or biracial.

“If we track student achievement based on parent fundraising, we see wealthier parents ensuring the perpetuation of their children’s privilege,” she continued.  “Because we know what happens when schools are under-resourced, it is no surprise that the Davis schools (in the) system that suspend their students the most have students who are browner and poorer, so if Davis is to realize Dr. King’s dream it will need to contend with its inequities.

“What this means is that we have 25 percent of the city that are living below the poverty line,” she said.  “People who don’t have the same access that we do to clothing, housing, food and leisure.  People who make difficult decisions between food or paying a bill.  Between medicine and rent in Davis.  Between transportation and clothing.

“We have people of color who have been left behind when it comes to STEM or for college at all,” she said.  “People who over time believe that they don’t have what it takes to go onto college, to make it in the world in a high paying job.”

“Dr. King called this forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodyness,” she said.  She said that we have people in our city who do not have access to medicine and cannot see a doctor “until it’s too late.

“We have mostly children of color who are being suspended from school beginning in elementary school,” she said.  “If you ask my friends who are mostly people of color, we really believe it’s starting in the preschools.

“We know that just one suspension is predictive of more suspensions,” she said.  “Lower reading scores.  Drop out.  And (it) is associated with involvement in the criminal justice system.

“We have a two-tiered system in Davis,” she said.  “I’m not talking about Chicago.  I’m not talking about Detroit.  I am not talking about Oakland.  I am talking about Davis.  In our backyard, today, 2018.”

She noted that people of color can get on any buses, drink from any fountains, use any toilets.  But she said “there’s still unequal access in our city.  There is an income disparity that started generations ago – it’s going to take a lot to get where we want to go.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 thoughts on “MLK Speaker Calls Davis a City Full of Contradictions, Critiques Race Relations”

  1. Michael Bisch

    However, “In Davis like most cities in America, race and class, disability and gender, are predictive of achievement.”

    and

    But she said “there’s still unequal access in our city.  There is an income disparity that started generations ago – it’s going to take a lot to get where we want to go.”

     

    As you may recall, we enjoyed a vigorous community debate over this very subject last September in the context of the formation of the CAAC and the CASP/GP updates.

  2. Michael Bisch

    It’s notable that we didn’t have a similarly vigorous debate over the social services parcel tax.  I can’t help but wonder what would have transpired had Dr. May delivered her comments January 9th in the City Council chambers.

        1. David Greenwald

          It’s a little bit hyperbolic, but it’s also an MLK day speech, not a scholarly article and there is a basis for the comment.  Just as Michelle Alexander arguing that blacks are under as much control now as they were under Jim Crow isn’t completely accurate, but has a point to make.

        2. Cindy Pickett

          Alan – If you have Netflix, you might consider watching Teach Us All. The documentary makes the same point that Dr. Gray was making — i.e., that in some ways our nation’s schools look like they did in the 1960s. The film provides a lot more evidence and examples though. It is, however, explicitly focused on promoting social justice and reducing inequality, so it does have that agenda.

  3. Alan Miller

    “If we track student achievement based on parent fundraising, we see wealthier parents ensuring the perpetuation of their children’s privilege,”

    Is she saying parents with money pay for their kids to be well-educated?  What is she proposing to change that?

        1. David Greenwald

          I think toward her point that she would like to change it.  There is a great inequity in our schools which manifests itself in the achievement gap.  We like to satiate ourselves about that gap, her intent was to draw attention to what it really means and why it might be there.

        2. Alan Miller

          There is a great inequity in our schools which manifests itself in the achievement gap.

          Agreed on that.  I’ve never understood why schools are funded locally, so that rich communities have well-funded schools.

        3. Alan Miller

          I have never looked into how schools are funded.  I’ve always thought it’s sh**ty that schools in low income neighborhoods are generally much worse than those in well-off areas.  If not locally funded, why is this?

        4. Howard P

          Alan… for those of us long in the tooth, it is true that local schools were locally funded, mainly, when we were growing up… that started changing with the Serrano-Priest decision, and after Prop 13, has morphed big time again.  Many incremental steps along the way.

          Not sure if it is evolution, or devolution, or just “it is what it is”.

          One concern in the back of my mind is that the more we locally fund our schools, the State will figure they can take more of the money they currently send our way, to direct to other districts who are not as generous.  Hope I’m wrong…

           

      1. Marina Khan

        that is also not true David, or rather not completely accurate… the DJUSD makes decisions and choices on how to allocate the state funds, they can ASK for more funds,

        like the former GATE coordinator used to do…

        due to the agenda of the prior superintendent, and the housewives on the DJUSD, the only GATE specialist was removed and an incompetent was hired.. . that is all of record….no names for a reason…

        It is ALSO a matter of record of how many millions Davis lost due to the incompetents appointed…after the coordinator was given a pink slip…

        As a parent in Davis, I paid many thousands a year for fundraisers to subsidize various schools and programs. that doesn’t include my hourly salary for the first decades when I was only paid low union wages…

        I was a driving force and leader of PACE,  in my spare time also…Again, my sons always came first, they didn’t have a dad really…

        As a senior adminstrator, and also when I was a student, I was a major donor at UCD and DJUSD… I made those sort of choices, even though I was usually the lowest paid….

        For me, education of my children was the most important thing in my life…. they were GATE when there was only one class and if they didn’t have it, well I would have had to stay home 24/7 to ensure they were challenged….

        So I agree with the speaker, money counts, but there are other factors.. . Chancellor emerita L Katehi understood those factors and that is how UCD is now #3 on the WSJ…from #6 a year ago…

        The MAIN issue with Davis is it is mostly full of “know it alls” with tons of letters behind their names, but did they learn anything?  what were they taught?

        Where were they taught and when?  was it NO child left behind?   was it GATE?  where was it GATE?  was it the schools for the vaccine damaged?  how about Common Core?

        Does anyone here even KNOW what Common Core is and what it did to the Davis students?  not likely

         

         

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