Martin Luther King's dream does not exist in San Mateo County.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of King's heroic speech this August, San Mateo County has failed on almost all fronts to attain equality for all.
Racism starts at the top. All five San Mateo County supervisors are white despite Caucasians making up only 42 percent of the county's population. The leadership problem is compounded because a vast majority of other top elected and appointed officials are also Caucasian. The county manager, the assistant county manager, the county legal counsel, the sheriff, the district attorney, the tax assessor and the controller are all white. No other Northern California county has such homogeneous leadership where a minority rules the majority. Isn't this a recipe for Apartheid?
King would have tears in his eyes if he could witness the thriving segregation system in San Mateo County. Hispanic and African-American students trapped in underperforming schools in East Palo Alto -- where students score well below average on state tests -- cannot easily transfer to the better schools in this county. The Tinsley Program is an integration program that allows some East Palo Alto students to transfer to schools in Palo Alto, but too many students are turned away.
It would be interesting if the county surveyed adults who have attended the Ravenswood School District in East Palo Alto. How many dropped out of high school? How many graduated from college? What percentage spent time in jail? Then compare these results with adults who attended schools in Woodside, Foster City and Burlingame. Of course, this survey will never be conducted because the truth can be devastating.
There is no excuse for robbing our children's minds and futures in one of the richest counties in California.
Minorities in San Mateo County endure a high unemployment rate. East Palo Alto, which is 97 percent minority, suffers a 15 percent unemployment rate. Why?
It's difficult to determine because, unfortunately, many Silicon Valley companies refuse to release the ethnic breakdown of their work force, citing this information as a trade secret. How can we push these corporations to be equal opportunity employers if we don't know how many African-Americans and Hispanics they hire?
We in the African-American community are well aware that minorities average longer jail sentences in San Mateo County. The court-appointed attorney system in this county saves money by allowing many attorneys to just show up to court hearings. Defense investigations and trials cost money. Consequently, the poor, many of whom are minorities, are often pushed into the first plea bargain that comes along. Is this what the Constitution intended?
A recent San Mateo County review of its court-appointed-attorney system praised these attorneys for doing a great job. The review called only 4 defendants to testify. Ironically, all five review committee members are white and all five supervisors approving the review are white.
We are a multiethnic society. Let's act like it.
What are the results of such overt racism? In 1980, there were 35,575 African Americans in San Mateo County, according to the U.S. Census. By 2010, there were only 20,436 African-Americans in this county despite an overall population increase of 130,000. African-Americans have left this county in huge numbers because San Mateo County is a very unfriendly place for those who seek equality.
Dreams do not always come true.
Gertrude Wilks is a former mayor of East Palo Alto and founder of Mothers for Equal Education. She wrote this for this newspaper.