LANCASTER – About a dozen leaders from various segments of the Antelope Valley community gathered Saturday afternoon at the Agape Church for a Community Roundtable.
Organizer and community activist, Abdul Majeed Askia, said the purpose of the roundtable was for various community leaders to pool their knowledge and resources together to tackle the most pressing issues affecting the Antelope Valley community today.
“Education, crime, recidivism, and unity in the community across racial, cultural and ethnic lines,” Askia said. “We’re here to collectively and effectively address these issues in our community.
Speakers at the roundtable included Robert “Bo” Bynum, Palmdale School District Trustee; Pharaoh Mitchell, President of The Community Action League; Juan Blanco, President of the NAACP – AV Chapter; Lilia Galindo, Director of Unincorporated Areas for the League of United Latin American Citizens; David Paul, Lancaster Human Relations Tapestry Commissioner; local pastor Gerry Mitchell; mediator Linda Atkins Hughes; local businessman Savi Masood from Valley Construction; and community organizers Larry Evans, David Marshall and Cary Sherman.
The majority of the speakers stressed education as the key to addressing crime and unifying the community.
“Education to me seems to be the core of how we reconstruct our society,” Bynum said, adding that rigorous education needed to start at the preschool level in order to counteract some of the negative influences some students faced at home.
“I can stand up here and tell you stories, that would have all of you crying, about the kids that we have to send home every day that don’t want to go back home,” Bynum said. “When we glorify them in school, it offsets some of the home life.”
Pharaoh Mitchell said community leaders should reach out to struggling parents as well and treat them with respect and dignity.
“What we have to start working on is getting those parents together and letting those parents know that there are people out here that care about them,” Mitchell said. “When you have nothing to reach for, you can’t go get a job, you can’t fulfill your family’s needs… then you will reach for something else – alcohol and drugs. And this is what our community is reaching for, and now our kids are going home to hell every day.”
Bynum said he and other educators had initiated parenting classes in an effort to address some of the problems students may be facing at home. But he said many parents would attend initial meetings and then drop out due to lack of interest. He said it was now up to educators to succeed, in seven hours a day, where parents had failed.
“So when we do release them to go home, the negative influence [from home] will be minimal,” Bynum said.
Community organizer, Larry Evans, said religious organizations could play a more active role in addressing education and other social issues. Evans said church leaders should implore their congregation to volunteer in the schools.
“Why can’t the people in those pews tutor the kids at the schools?” Evans said, adding that sermons should address social issues in addition to religious issues. Askia agreed.
“The church has an audience and with this audience they can start to effectively address the issues in the community, as opposed to just a feel-good sermon,” Askia said. “We have drive-bys, we have broken families, we have racial issues, we have all types of conflict that often times the church just totally overlooks.”
Bynum said unity among the churches could spread the message even further. He said every pastor of every denomination and faith needed to bring their congregations together to one location and then preach a unified message that focused on solutions.
“That’s the one sure way I know that we will get a windfall of people, and then the message coming from our pastors, our religious leaders, has to be so strong that there’s commitment from everyone in the audience,” Bynum. “To be inspired enough to go out and say, ‘yeah, we’re gonna make a difference, and we know how.’”
Another surefire way to make a difference is through voting, said LULAC’s Lilia Galindo. She said the importance of voting was a message that was not getting through to the community, as evidenced by the 14 percent voter turnout in the Lancaster election on April 10.
“We can come here, go to protest, we can do many things, but if we are not convinced of the importance of our voice through our vote, we are never going to do anything,” Galindo said. “There are many things different in our ethnic groups, but we have something in common… we are the 99% working class, and we have to vote.”
Galindo said, in addition to registering people to vote, leaders needed to figure out why the people already registered to vote appear to have no interest in voting.
“I think that we have to work together and make a change, otherwise we’re going to continue with the same thing,” Galindo said.
Juan Blanco spoke of the importance of putting character before color, Linda Hughes spoke of the importance of having a mutually respectful relationship with law enforcement, and David Paul spoke of the importance of seeing past race.
“There is only one race, the human race,” Paul said.
Askia said Saturday’s Community Roundtable was the first of several roundtables he would be organizing to address the problems that are hindering the growth of the Antelope Valley community.