BERKELEY -- Nya Sandeford, an African-American ninth-grader at Berkeley High, has no black teachers this year. She never had a black teacher in either elementary or middle school, either.

"We learn about African-American history, but not very much. When my teachers teach African-American history, they're just teaching to teach, not because they want to," Sandeford said before joining almost 100 others May 19 -- Malcolm X's birthday -- on a mile-long "March and Rally for Equity in Public Schools" trek from the UC Berkeley campus to the Berkeley Unified School District offices.

The event targeting Berkeley's educational achievement gap between white students and students of color was organized by Parents of Children of African Descent, the Berkeley NAACP, African American Regional Educational Alliances, Young Gifted and Black and other groups.

School Superintendent Donald Evens, an African-American appointed to his post last July, attributed the lack of teachers of color, in part, to the high cost of living in the Berkeley area and also acknowledged the difficulty for those who were the lone teachers of color at their schools.

The solution, he said in an interview after addressing the post-march rally, is "growing our own," supporting BUSD classified personnel of color who want to become credentialed.

Dru Howard, a classified BUSD employee who helped organize the event, didn't mince words, attributing the lack of African-American teachers to a "culture of racism" in Berkeley schools.

The issue was reflected in the signs marchers carried -- "Stop institutional racism," "Racismo en tu escuela" — and speeches at the rally.

Laura Babbitt, PCAD executive board member and rally emcee, said African-Americans make up 21 percent of district students but get 72 percent of the suspensions.

She explained the role racism plays.

"Two little black boys start tussling in the class or on the playground and it's violent,'" she said. "Two little white boys (do the same) and it's 'Boys will be boys.'"

Making sure that funds intended to assist disadvantaged students, actually serve that population was a prominent theme.

Speakers called for more mental health services for students at Berkeley Tech, the district's continuation high school, mandatory teacher training in working with children from diverse backgrounds, and more tutoring and mentoring services.

Resources should be targeted to "our most needy students -- students who are African-American, Latino, English language learners, our socially-economically disadvantaged," said school board member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler.

Superintendent Evans told the crowd,

"We have not done enough for our students of color. We have not acknowledged that there needs to be a sense of urgency around why our kids are not achieving."

Invoking the 60-year anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court on May 17, 1954 that mandated school integration, Babbitt told the gathering, "This is not a march just for one day. It's the beginning of an accountability movement.

"This is the start of change happening in Berkeley. Berkeley was the first school district to integrate, and Berkeley should be the first school district to close the achievement gap."

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