Op-Ed by Jose Vega
The detainment and separation of migrant children from their families has grabbed so many headlines this summer, and Tulsa’s Latinx community needs to feel reassured that its voice is heard and that its voice matters.
Recently, I have seen a shift in the discussion about education in our community. More and more, we are beginning to have some real conversations about equity and the actual challenges: Decades of inequitable systems have deeply segregated our community. When I see school leaders boldly acknowledging these disparities to our community and committing themselves to the thorny and laborious path toward equity, I am inspired. Though the decision made over this past year by the Tulsa Public Schools’ Board of Education around whether to eradicate the name of a warrior for slavery from a public school was fraught with struggle, ultimately, the board did the right thing and listened to the voices of those most impacted.
Renaming Christopher Columbus Elementary School to Dolores Huerta Elementary School eased the anxiety within Tulsa’s Latinx community and demonstrated that TPS’s school board cares about its Hispanic students. However, it is on the heels of that decision — to take the bold step and make the right choice, despite the challenges that come with that choice — that I find myself stunned by the school board’s decision that they did not immediately select Jania Wester as its District 2 representative.
In a majority Latinx district that showed up in mass and with an impeccable, decades-long history of direct work in and for the school district, why did school board members not see fit to choose an equitable and historical option by naming the first Latinx person to the Tulsa Public Schools’ board? Not only is Wester the most qualified candidate, but she is one who has deep roots in the underrepresented neighborhood in which she lives and serves.
I was inspired Sept. 4 as I saw so many Latinxs showing up to display their support for their Jania Wester, who delivered an inspirational bilingual address to the crowd that had assembled. She didn’t focus on her vast credentials of professional accomplishments nor her successes with the very kids and families who were present that night. Instead, she focused on making sure that those in the room felt heard – that they knew that for that moment, they had a voice. That encouragement was short-lived, as the board returned from an executive session only to say that they were going to deliberate further. I left feeling discouraged. I experienced that terrible feeling of being marginalized once again; that feeling of helplessness when your opinion doesn’t matter.
This week, board members have to decide whether to listen to those they serve or to choose someone else. If they decide not to listen to the constituents of District 2, they should be prepared to provide a serious explanation. Otherwise, we are left to question whether equity is really on the agenda.
Tulsa’s Latinx community needs equitable representation, and we believe Jania Wester is the type of representation that’s missing from the Tulsa Public Schools’ Board of Education.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Watch Jania Wester’s speech below:
Jose Emmanuel Vega is a proud first-generation Mexican American and regards that being a child of an undocumented immigrant shaped him to become a positive force for change in his community. Vega currently sits on the Greater Tulsa Area Hispanic Affairs Commission and supports Dream Act Oklahoma. He is also coordinating the Tulsa Mayor’s Youth Council, and the program director at Oklahomans for Equality.