Students Urge Education On City’s Racial History

SPHS sophomore Noah Kuhn speaks to the South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education on the history of South Pasadena’s racism he’d like to see included in elementary school curriculum, August 13. Photo by Skye Hannah

Two South Pasadena High School sophomores raised their voices at the Aug. 13 school-board meeting during public comments to encourage the district to include the city’s history of racism in the elementary-school curriculum.

Sophomores Noah Kuhn and Amber Chen said they were surprised to learn of South Pasadena’s racist history only last year, during their multicultural English class with teacher Rama Kadri.

Kadri handed out an article from the online news site Hometown Pasadena that detailed how South Pasadena, for many years, had restrictive covenants that barred people of color from owning homes, and that only in 1964 did that “color barrier” finally fall. There also was evidence that the city used an air-raid warning system to signal nonwhite visitors to leave at sunset, the article reported.

“Fortunately we have come a long way from those overtly racist times,” said Kuhn. “South Pasadena embraces other cultures and fosters an inclusive environment through programs like multicultural English in high school and dual immersion in elementary schools, but the way we deal with our own history of racism doesn’t match that progressive identity.”

Kuhn said the story was “incredibly eye-opening and shocking” to him and his classmates, as he previously believed the city had always been welcoming and inclusive. He reminded the board that last year the high school recorded a masked intruder on school grounds who posted flyers of “it’s okay to be white.”

“This message is synonymous with white nationalism groups,” said Kuhn. “Racism is South Pasadena is not something to talk about in the past tense. It is still alive and working to drive our community apart, and that racism won’t go away until we acknowledge its history in our own town.”

SPHS sophomore Amber Chen shares with the SPUSD Board of Education what she learned in her freshman English multicultural class about the history of racism in South Pasadena, August 13. Photo by Skye Hannah

Chen shared that hate crimes are often related to early influences on children.

“These crimes can be linked to their upbringing,” said Chen. “We need to tackle this issue as soon as possible, which is why tolerance needs to be taught as soon as possible.”

She said that people often underestimate young children, and that saying they’re too young to handle the information is doing a disservice to their development and education in empathy.

“That doesn’t justify lying to people about the history of our city and trying to label the city as inclusive if we’re not really teaching a history of racism,” said Chen.

Board Member Jon Primuth thanked the students for their comments and noted that each year is a new chance to invigorate the culture of tolerance within schools.

“This is a time when we need to be listening carefully for new directions, and I’m really happy to hear all comments,” said Primuth. “I’m very much in agreement with listening and really absorbing and trying to fit through how we change, move forward, make adjustments, because really what we’re trying to do is continuous improvement.”