State of Oregon

Governor John Kitzhaber

Governor's Summit on the Over-Representation
of Minorities in the Juvenile Justice System

Portland, Oregon
October 9, 2002

Thank you very much. Today I want to talk with you about the theme of this year’s summit—“Enhancing Partnerships with the Education Community”—and what it means to our cause of ending the injustice of over-representation of minorities in the juvenile justice system.

But first, I want to express my deep appreciation to all of you for being here today—whether you’re a young person or an adult. To you young people, I say, Thank-you for giving us hope. Thank-you for setting the example of personal strength and character that inspires others to overcome the bad things in their lives—the disadvantages and pressures that too often doom young people to poverty and hopelessness. You are showing the way, and we owe you more than we can ever express.

To the older folks who are here today—the professionals in education and juvenile justice, the teachers and counselors, the administrators and planners—I say, Thank-you for your commitment and hard work. Thank-you for rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard things, and the often-thankless things, that help young people of color overcome the risks and hardships to become successful citizens. You too are making a difference, and Oregon owes you much.

This year’s Summit on Over-Representation will be the final one I host as your governor. Since we starting sponsoring this event six years ago, we’ve accomplished a great deal, and we’ve learned even more. We have shown that by recognizing the over-representation of minority kids in the juvenile justice system, and by acting to reduce that over-representation, we can make a better world for everyone.

“Enhancing Partnerships with the Education Community” [PAUSE]—in my view, that is the right theme for two very important reasons.

First, it expresses the fact that no single agency, entity or professional community can do this job alone. Success requires a multilateral effort. Nothing short of a strong partnership among law enforcement, juvenile justice, education, health care and social service agencies can achieve the goal we’ve set for ourselves.

Second, this year’s theme expresses an idea that I believe in with all my heart, one that I’ve stated many times in the past. Today I’ll state it one more time: Success in school is one of the strongest protective factors that can keep a young person from falling into delinquent behavior, no matter whether he or she happens to be a Native American, an African-American, Asian, Latino or Caucasian.

In the broader context, we know that success in school and the future of Oregon are inseparable, because people who succeed in school are more likely to succeed in life. For those who fail in school, however, success is often an elusive thing.

Those who lack the power to communicate forcefully and persuasively, for example, are powerless to help themselves in today’s world. Those who know nothing of art or history suffer cultural impoverishment that causes isolation and alienation. People with inadequate training lack the ability to make use of the new technologies of the 21st century. In short, without good schools that turn out well-educated people, Oregon cannot remain economically competitive or civically vital.

You and I know that uneducated children are unlikely to become self-sufficient adults with secure, productive jobs. We also know that well over half of Oregon’s employed people are high school dropouts, and that dropouts can expect to earn 30 percent less than those who graduate from high school.

Forty-six point two percent of the youth who enter the juvenile justice system have suffered academic failure within a six-month period prior to contact with the system. More than a quarter of them are chronically truant. Almost a third display antisocial behavior in school before the age of 13. We know who they are. We should be helping them. All these youth are likely to suffer problems with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Even more telling is the fact that 79 percent of the adults who enter Oregon’s prisons have dropped out of high school. To me, this is the most illustrative and most tragic of all the statistics I’ve tossed out today, the one that underscores the importance of the partnership with education. The cost of failure on this front is staggering—the cost of prisons, police, probation programs, drug and alcohol counseling; the list goes on and on—costs that taxpayers must bear. When Children fail in school, taxpayers pay the price. It’s as simple as that.

From a purely human perspective, I can think of no greater injustice than the one that so many children of color endure in today’s world—the injustice of bearing the high risk of failing in school; the injustice of being poor through no fault of their own, of living in homes where they don’t get the support they need to become good students; the injustice of coping with parents or foster parents who abuse drugs and commit crimes.

The State of Oregon has resolved to fight the injustice that weighs these young people down, for their sakes and all Oregonians who care about their fellow human beings. Today, I want to reaffirm this state’s commitment to win that fight.

Can any of us estimate how many great scientists we’ve lost, or how many poets, doctors, jurists, or writers, or homemakers because we’ve allowed so many children to fall victim to the risks that many young people of color endure? No, we can’t begin to make such an estimate. But the loss is no less real, and we’re all poorer because of it.

Fortunately, we’ve made some notable progress in recent years.

The statewide dropout rate for the 2000-2001 school year was 5.3 percent, which reflects a 23-percent reduction in just three years. And even though the dropout rates for African-American and Hispanic students were 11 percent and 11.3 percent respectively—more than twice the overall average—both have declined measurably in the past five years, which is good news.

We still have much to do, no doubt about that. During the past four years, the percentage of minority students in Oregon has grown more than 18 percent, to the point where nearly one out of every five kids in school is a person of color. Yet, the percentage of minority teachers has grown hardly at all. We need more minority teachers in Oregon’s schools, and our partnership with the education community must make this a priority.

Enhancing that partnership also means addressing the policies and practices that cut across systems—education, human services, and community—in order to promote healthy development and success in school. Parents, teachers, mentors, ministers and other members of the community are all active ingredients in influencing how and whether a child of color will thrive or fall by the wayside.

In Oregon, we’ve laid the foundation of such partnerships. Three years ago, we enacted the High Risk Juvenile Crime Prevention Initiative, and—just last year—the Oregon Children’s Plan. Our goal is to give every child and family an equal chance to be successful. Rather than thinking of at-risk students as liabilities, we think of them as assets that need some extra attention. They need our respect and our care if they are to grow up to become healthy, productive members of society.

My friends, the time has come to link our efforts to help ensure that minority children are ready to learn when they reach our public school system. We’re talking about helping schools prepare to teach the diverse student populations who enter their doors. We’re talking about collaboration among schools, businesses, families and community groups.

Let me challenge you to make two measures a matter of policy in Oregon’s schools, and then work to implement them throughout the state.

First, let’s increase the adult-child ratio in our schools and communities. Let’s enlist individual citizens, charitable organizations and community groups to ensure that every minority child gets the personal support of at least one upstanding adult—someone who provides encouragement and support, someone who cheers for his or her success and comfort them in their times of failure. We know that kids thrive with close and dependable relationships that give them love, nurturance, security and responsive interaction. Studies have told us that the most successful mentoring efforts are those that focus on helping a child succeed in school. So let’s get that job done.

Second, let’s increase the connection among families, social services and our public school system. Agencies and schools should extend their partnership to parents and families, and enlist them as allies to ensure that every child has a chance to succeed. What does this mean? It means close communication with parents on a day-to-day basis—communication that includes people from the schools and the social service agencies.

I don’t doubt that doing these things will require investments of time, resources and money, none of which is in ample supply these days. For this reason, I urge each and every one of you to give your strong support to the ballot measure that will go to voters on January 28 of next year—a measure to establish a modest, temporary surtax that will provide critical financial support to education and other services in Oregon. Passage of this measure will give the next legislature and the next governor time to examine the larger issue of Oregon’s revenue structure, and make changes that make it more reliable and more responsive to our state’s needs.

My friends, never has it been more important for those of us who care about people to make our voices heard. Never has it been more important for us to stand up for the values that have made Oregon a leader among states, a place where the citizens work to ensure that no man, woman or child suffers because of race, religion, philosophy, sexual orientation, or cultural background.

Francis Bacon, the great Renaissance humanist of the 17th century, said, “If we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us.” Let’s keep our commitment to justice strong in Oregon, so that justice will continue to keep us strong. Let’s reaffirm that commitment by renewing our efforts at every level and every part of this state to ensure that every child, regardless of the color of his or her skin, gets an equal chance to succeed in school. This, I believe, is the richest legacy that we could leave to the generations that follow us.

And now, for my favorite part of the program—the presentation of the Governor’s Youth Awards.

Our first recipient is Michael Arnold, who’s 19 years old, from Salem. He’s a young man who has made a big impression on the people who nominated him. Even though he has spent time in a youth correctional facility and several different households, he’s shown himself to be creative, willing to learn, eager to improve, and—perhaps most important—respectful of others. Today, thanks to his own basic goodness and the efforts of people at the Oregon Youth Authority, Michael has taken full accountability for his life. No longer on probation, he’s a contributing and successful member of the community. I’m proud to present to him the Governor’s Youth Award for 2002. Michael . . .

Our next recipient is Melissa Garcia, who’s 15. She lives in one of my favorite parts of Oregon—Tillamook. After her father died in a shooting in 1999, Melissa fell in with people who did drugs and took part in gang violence. In her emotional turmoil, she came to hate police officers and other authority figures, and became more and more antisocial. But then she began to learn about the richness of Hispanic culture—the dances, the traditions and the cooking. She became more active in her church, and joined the school volleyball team. She became a volunteer translator to help Latino families, a wonderful way to use her precious bilingual skills. Today she’s a great student, an example for people of all races and backgrounds to follow. I’m pleased and proud to present the Governor’s Youth Award to Melissa Garcia. Melissa . . .

Cody Campbell is a young man who first turned up at the Marion County Juvenile Justice Department when he was only 12. A sufferer of ADHD, he was failing all his classes. Charges against him ranged from unauthorized use of a motor vehicle to theft and criminal mischief. Having lost both his father and his stepfather at a very early age, and having seen a close friend shot dead right in his own neighborhood, his emotional troubles were significant. But after participating psychological counseling, and after learning to manage his anger and grief through classes, and has started college. Through hard work, Cody has succeeded admirably, even to the point of becoming a staff assistant in the Marion County Fuel program, which develops skills in mechanics, welding and construction. He also works as a peer counselor for Mother Oakes Child in grief counseling. Here’s a young man who has learned that the greatest rewards come to those who help others, and I’m proud to present to him the Governor’s Youth Award. Cody . . .

People call Tasha Murphy a survivor. At the tender age of 15, she knows the hardship of living in a condemned building. She knows poverty and privation. She has suffered the pain that comes with being an at-risk child. Despite the troubles she’s known, Tasha has displayed courage and determination, and she’s worked hard to overcome hardships, risks and disadvantages. Today, she’s a high school graduate with a GPA of 3.0, and a volunteer with the Tillamook County SMART program. She will shortly begin her college education. Those who know her describe her as sensitive, caring and supportive of other students, a person to whom others are drawn. She’s always willing to lend a hand, and exhibits tremendous resolve, as well as a capacity to see the big picture. Maybe this is why she hopes to become a special education teacher for pre-schoolers, a career that will enable Tasha to help others avoid the hardships and pitfalls that she herself learned to surmount. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted and proud to present the Governor’s Youth Award to Tasha Murphy.

Our final recipient is Mike Greene. During his childhood, his parents lived lives of delinquency, so a friend of the family adopted him. Despite the problems he endured, Mike was a good student. But he started to suffer extreme abuse by an adopted parent, which included imprisonment in a locked room for 30 days. He rebelled, starting running away, stealing cars and committing other crimes. At the age of 13, he sold drugs, and took up an affiliation with a gang. He lost friends to gang violence, and suffered a gunshot wound himself. But then he found strength and inspiration in religion, and thanks to counseling and friendships at the House of Umoja, Portland’s safe house for threatened youth, he showed what he’s made of. Mike now works as a counselor at the House of Umoja, helping other young people steer clear of the troubles that he himself suffered. He’s a young man who’s giving back to his community, a young man any of would be proud to have a friend. I’m honored to present the Governor’s Youth Award to Mike Greene. Mike . . .

Join me in giving these young Oregonians a big hand. Thank-you all for coming, and keep the faith!

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