Where Do You Stand?

March 2, 2015

On the matter of helping people, we stand divided. Conservatives argue people should help themselves, that too many people don’t, too many are happy to depend on the State, that opportunity abounds.

Liberals argue the obstacles to opportunity are great for many, it’s not that easy, that those of us who have been privileged to “succeed” economically, no matter the reason (deserved or good fortune), should help those who are not successful.

There is truth in both positions. Yes, there are some who are too lazy or for some reason just don’t apply themselves to take advantage of opportunity. For example, studying hard in school. And, yes, there are some who face obstacles far greater than you and I, which some of us are inclined to forget when we’re on top, tempted to think we did it all with our hard work and intellect.

All of us are frustrated to see that a few young children of poor parents of color somehow forge a path through the obstacles of that birth, with hard work and study, while so many others do not. A few succeed, while most end up in a life of poverty, with little or no fulfillment. It’s tempting to think the majority who do not, simply do not try hard enough. No one has successfully determined what distinguishes the winners.

There is one thing that can hardly be disputed: With a helping hand of the right sort, the odds can be turned around. One such example is Eastside College Preparatory School, right in our own backyard–East Palo Alto, a poor community of color.

98% of Eastside’s students are first generation college bound. A significant number are housed in dormitories on campus, because they do not have a satisfactory home in which to live and study. Often there is only one parent available, or in some cases, none, and the children are bounced around between relatives and friends. Crime and drugs are rampant in the community. 65% of students are Latino, 31% African American, and 4% Pacific Islander.

With all this, operating since 1996, with hundreds of graduates, Eastside boasts a 100% success in graduating its students and sending all of them to four year colleges. So far, all have either graduated from college or are on track to do so. All!

With a national college completion rate of only 11% for first generation students, Eastside is an example of what can be done.

Eastside has a faculty, campus, and program which will compete favorably with the best of the wealthy prep schools in Pacific Heights, my part of San Francisco, where parents pay $35,000 per year to send their teenagers to schools which are feeders to Ivy League Universities.

There are other organizations around the country doing similar work with underprivileged youngsters. The model usually involves close mentoring of students who can’t see the way forward without guidance and encouragement, which is not sufficiently available to them from their home or neighborhood. Many credit such opportunities as saving them from a life of crime and drugs or other ways of becoming a cost to the state. To the contrary, they become contributors to the economy!

So, as a nation, we can continue to be frustrated with those who don’t try hard enough on their own, if that relieves our sense of responsibility. Or, we can focus on what is indisputably the benefit to our nation of a lifetime differential, backed by indisputable statistics–11% vs. 100%. Can anyone find fault with that?

The tragedy is that the number of people helped by organizations like Eastside is tiny by comparison to the number who do not make it through the morass.

Government does not fund Eastside or the wealthy prep schools in my neighborhood. Private efforts have demonstrated results in both cases.

Isn’t it time for us to join together to get government properly involved in expanding these success stories?


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