About 15 members of various community organizations gathered on Thursday night at Trinity Baptist Church in Mableton to discuss issues they plan to address and help solve throughout the county.
The group, Cobb United for Change Coalition, plans to meet on a monthly or bimonthly basis and establish an action plan to bring about changes they wish to see.
A panelist of five community members answered questions about immigration, racial profiling, education, jobs and prison industrial complex during the two-hour session. Rev. Lionel Gantt of Cobb SCLC, Cobb Works Program Services Manager Lisa Davis, GALEO Executive Director Jerry Gonzalez, District Four County Commissioner candidate Michael Rhett and Southern Regional Prison Reform Minister Charles Muhammad of the Marietta Chapter of the Nation of Islam.
Additionally, members and representatives from the Austell Community Taskforce, the Powder Springs Community Taskforce, Vote or Cry, Mableton Business Exchange, DREAM ACTivists attended the forum on Thursday night.
To get the conversation started so that concrete solutions can be developed, South Cobb Patch will run a piece about each segment of the forum over the next three days.
Chime in to the conversation and make your voice heard.
The first topic is education.
Diverse Needs Not Being Met
The panelists agreed that more vocational training was needed in high schools in order to serve the diverse population of students in Cobb County.
Davis said her organization sees many high school students who dropped out of school because they needed to help their families make income to pay rent or keep the lights on at home. She said a solution is needed to help these students understand the importance of education in their lives for the long-run. Additionally, Cobb Works is beginning to teach entrepreneurship classes to empower individuals to build businesses in their own communities.
Charles Muhammad agreed, saying, “We keep saying education is the key. Where are you leading our children? The unemployment lines are filled with those who have a bachelor’s of science. It’s filled with people with have a doctorate. What can I use from a tangible standpoint that I can go out and make a living for myself and become a proud member of society? Because the public school system, I’m sorry my brothers and sisters, it’s not going to cut it.”
Charles Muhammad said the current educational model used in most public schools “absolutely, positively has run its course” and that what he called a "Eurocentric focus" in most school curriculum leaves many students without a sense of self.
Additionally, in an effort to meet state or nationally imposed standards, teachers are limited in what or how they can teach, Charles Muhammad argued. Because of this, some students are not having their needs met, he said.
Lack of Discipline, Soft Skills Hinders Learning
Moderator Sean Muhammad, who heads the Marietta chapter of the Nation of Islam, stated that disciplinary problems also hinder learning for many students from lower income households. He asked, “How can we get to the actual point of educating our kids if we can’t get them to sit down?”
The disciplinary problems within the classrooms extend into the workforce, Davis explained. Adults who lack soft skills also have problems obtaining and keeping jobs, she said.
“Unfortunately, if they are not getting it at home, there has to be some place or someone that they can go to to learn how to function in a society,” Davis said.
Take Ownership and Take Action
With all the educational obstacles presented, Gonzalez challenged everyone to take ownership of the problems and become the solution themselves.
“We’re pointing externally and saying, ‘well the educational system is a mess,’
but we’re not doing anything about it. That doesn’t solve anything,” Gonzalez said. “So we need to take personal responsibility for these problems and do something about it at our local schools, at our local PTA, at our local school board, at our legislative seat as well. It’s our responsibility. We get the educational system we deserve because it’s a democracy. If we don’t engage in the process to fix it, it’s our fault. It’s not anybody else’s fault. We need to fix ourselves.”
Educational Access for Some, Not All
Gonzalez also informed the audience about Senate Bill 458, which passed out of the senate and went on to its first reading in the House. The bill would prohibit all undocumented students from attending any public college or university in the state.
“They’re less than one-tenth of one percent of the University System, yet they’ve indicated that this is a topic worthy of legislative action,” Gonzalez said.
Currently, about 300 undocumented students attend public colleges or universities in the state of Georgia.
He said the bill’s creator, Sen. Barry Loudermilk is using his power to legislate his xenophobia and to bully children.
“We can’t afford to stand silent on these issues. That’s why engagement, being educated on these issues is very important because we need to take a stand. They’re targeting children now,” said Gonzalez. “We need to make sure we stand up to that hateful, xenophobic, bullying that that is.”