Fred Piegonski, Executive Assistant to the President  
               Los Angeles City College, 855 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029 
                           (323) 953-4000  ext. 2243                            

                      For Immediate Release:  September 25, 2006

Constitution Day Event at LACC

Photo:  Constitution Day Event at LACC

Photo Caption: LACC Theatre students in historical costume along with guest speakers for Constitution Day event: 
Martin Head as Benjamin Banneker, Sheena Duff as Abigail Adams, Dr. Andrei Cherny, Amber Harris as Harriet Tubman, 
Dr. Terrence Roberts, Constance Strickland as Sojourner Truth, David Douglas as Benjamin Franklin.  (Photo: Chuck Ake)

Featuring Civil Rights Pioneer Terrence Roberts
and Acclaimed Author Andrei Cherny

“I felt fear from the howling mob.  They were yelling for blood,” said Dr. Terrence Roberts, recounting his experience as one of the first Black students trying to enroll in an all-white school in Arkansas almost 50 years ago.  Dr. Roberts was one of two guest speakers, along with Andrei Cherny, speechwriter for Al Gore, to speak at LA City College’s Sept. 18 Constitution Day celebration.

The large audience of over 400 students and staff sat rapt under a large tent on the quad as they listened to Dr. Roberts recount his first-hand experience as a civil rights pioneer in Little Rock, Arkansas.  In 1957 at the age of 15, he was one of nine African-American students who helped to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School, after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that educational facilities could no longer be separate but equal in the United States. 

He recalled that even at the age of nine, he couldn’t understand why laws existed to segregate African-Americans from the rest of the population.  And he assumed that “all white people must be crazy” to have allowed this, he said.  He volunteered to help integrate the local high school because of his steadfast convictions.  He recounted how Governor Faubus sent in the National Guard on that auspicious first day of school.  He thought they were there to help students like him enroll and protect them from the jeering crowd that had gathered outside.  But he was mistaken.  They were there to see that he didn’t get in, as they kept changing the entrances to the school, allowing some students in, but keeping others, like him, out. 

It wasn’t until three weeks later, when President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division of the Army that he was allowed to enroll. “Although we got beaten up physically and psychologically for one year, we knew that at bottom, we were right,” he said.   Dr. Roberts continued his education in Los Angeles and was a graduate of LACC.  He went on to earn a doctorate degree, and now teaches at UCLA and Antioch College. He is also a clinical psychologist.

After his talk, students lined up to ask him questions. “Do you think there’s still discrimination in the South?” asked one student.  “Yes, south of Canada,” he replied. Generally, he explained, he felt there was still discrimination of sorts in the United States.    

Dr. Andrei Cherny, senior speechwriter for vice president Al Gore and Senator Kerry's presidential campaign, began his talk by saying that he was a Los Angeles native.  And although he was born in the U.S., his parents were immigrants.  He praised the community college system and said his mother attended Valley College to learn English, and his brother had also gone there.

A founder and co-editor of “Democracy: a Journal of Ideas” and the author of  “The Next Deal: The future of Public life in the Information Age,” Dr. Cherny talked about the origins of the U.S. Constitution.  He noted that while it was being drafted, rumors had swirled about what shape the new country would take.  Would the country have a king and be ruled by an elite, or would it be governed by the rule of law? 

Shortly after the Constitution was completed, so the story goes, Benjamin Franklin was asked whether the framers had decided on a monarchy or republic. “A republic,” he supposedly answered, “if you can keep it.” 

Dr. Cherny went on to say that it’s so easy to think of the Constitution as written by a people of another age who thought and acted differently than us.  But this original document, viewed by so many in the National Archives in Washington, is a living document and has served as the basis for our democracy up until the present day.  

He warned of the influence of lobbyists in Washington whose number has doubled since 2000, the fact that wealth in America is increasingly being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, and that upward mobility for many Americans has been dropping.   These are all challenges for our society and we must re-imagine democracy for our times, he said.

LACC professor of political science Joe Meyer served as the emcee for the event, which is a congressionally mandated event for all educational institutions.  Mr. Meyer pointed out that the U.S. Constitution has been open to varying interpretations over the years.   When it was written in 1787, it allowed for the institution of slavery, and it took more than 150 years for the Constitution to be reinterpreted by the Supreme Court and federal legislation to ensure equality for all U.S. citizens.

Mattie Moon, chair of the Social Science Dept., who helped spearhead the event, was also on the roster of speakers.  She quoted Texas legislator Barbara Jordan who said of our national document: “When that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that ‘We the people.’   I felt somehow for years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in ‘We the people.’ My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete, it is total.”

Dr. Steve Maradian, college president, called the Constitution the most dynamic document the world has ever known.  He along with Ryan Hall Allen, student body president, encouraged students to use their constitutional right to vote in the upcoming elections.

The program also featured several theatre students dressed as various U.S. historical figures, among them pioneering African-Americans, and they provided first hand accounts at the podium. The LACC Jazz Band also performed at the event.   A reception was held for the speakers in the faculty and staff lounge.


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