My friend andy recently celebrated a milestone graduation. There was a cap and gown, a crisp diploma, a clip-on tie — and plenty of cake. Andy graduated from kindergarten at Gordon J. Lau Elementary, and I could not be prouder of Andy and of the great things that he is destined to do.
At 5 years old, he already has more energy than an entire kindergarten classroom and carries himself with a sense of invincibility that only the very young possess. He is mischievous, clever, and loves to laugh. You will often find him zipping around Joe DiMaggio Playground in a little yellow Corvette (a Christmas gift from my wife Nancy and me) or marching through Chinatown, proudly singing whatever new nursery song he learned in school. To be around Andy is to know joy — a little tornado of joy.
Andy’s mother, Huina, is the wife of the late Kwong Choy, a very active Community Tenants Association (CTA) member who became a tenant leader after fighting off the family’s Ellis Act eviction on Grant Avenue. Huina is now active with Unite Here! Local 2 as a hotel worker, and it’s clear that both parents have passed down the tenacity of an organizer to their offspring.
Thanks to the hard work of Supervisor Jane Kim and a broad-based coalition of labor, students, and faculty, Andy can now receive a good education at San Francisco City College free of charge. We fought early on at the Board of Supervisors to secure commitments that Proposition W revenue would go to making City College free before we won the ballot measure in November 2016, and since that time, it’s been a focused slog to implement the will of the voters.
Last month I wrote about the challenges of a gig economy that not only impacts the quality of life and public safety of San Francisco residents, but devalues our local economy with a “race to the bottom” ethos. Ultimately, cities are now planning for a future that will prioritize the convenience of automated labor over workers altogether. As we grapple with how to address these challenges in San Francisco, I am reminded of why we fought so hard for free City College: to offer a future for San Franciscans like Andy that values their development as human beings and acknowledges that public education is a fundamental right.
I remember when a debate simmered across San Francisco about whether the city should help fund afterschool and summer school classes that would ensure our SFUSD juniors and seniors graduated college-ready. Arguments poured in across the city — and even from within our own city government — that City Hall should not subsidize public schools because they already received money from the state and federal government. Naysayers also argued that not everyone had a child in any school, let alone in a public school — so why should they have to help subsidize other people’s children?
The lesson we learned is that every child is our responsibility — and our future neighbor, future co-worker, and future contributor to our community. In an era when our president wants to fund more weapons of mass destruction by cutting funding to education, we must fight for the future of our children. In an increasingly hostile workplace, not only young people but older workers who are unable to retire or who must come back to school to refresh their skill sets deserve our highest prioritization. This is the workforce that ultimately makes our community the vibrant home for the innovation we are so proud of.
City College has launched an aggressive campaign to recruit students. State funding is tied to enrollment numbers, and we have to get the word out about the amazing opportunities available to every San Franciscan to ensure long-term ongoing funding. City College can once again be synonymous with having the world be your oyster.
I love the thought that someday Andy will be able to take a construction management course, improve his Chinese and English, learn how to code, learn how to start up his own small business — or just discuss the intersectionality of comics, power, and society — for free. And it will be an education that he can be proud of and that will value the limitless potential he has to offer our community.
Please enroll yourself and help spread the word about the opportunities at City College — our public institution, by and for the people. It is our responsibility to maintain and keep alive.
And who knows? Maybe Andy will go to Harvard or overseas to pursue his dreams. But a City College education is an option that he can be proud to claim as his birthright — and something to fight for, just like his parents taught him.