Every year, two or three Cal Grant award recipients from USD accompany me to Sacramento to help advocate for continued funding for this proven efficient and successful program. There are 75 nonprofit members of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), which organizes the day, and most institutions try to send at least one student or administrator to represent their campus and convey a personal story to legislators and their staff.
This year, Ce’sjonnae (CJ) Taylor and Tarez Lemmons represented USD’s 514 current and future Cal Grant students. Both “CJ” and Tarez are juniors, attending USD with the assistance of Cal Grants and other financial awards or loans. The first in their respective families to attend a traditional, four-year college, both students have younger siblings at home anxious to follow them as future Toreros.
As the president and vice president, respectively, of the USD Black Student Union, CJ and Tarez willingly gave up a day of their Spring Break to travel to Sacramento to lobby for fellow students.
During our day at the Capitol, we began with a briefing by AICCU for students to provide them with additional history and statistics on the Cal Grant program. Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, a Cal Grant recipient herself who has championed several pieces of legislation to support or standardize the program, gave a compassionate and motivating welcome to students. Bonilla is also the author of Assembly Bill 1318, which hopes to establish a statutory formula to increase the current Cal Grant award for students attending private colleges accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and create an institutional aid threshold which must be met for institutional eligibility for the Cal Grant program.
Next, we were set loose on the state capitol building and dashed from one legislative office to the next. CJ and Tarez were often in meetings with other Cal Grant students and valiantly shared personal accounts that involved humble beginnings, nontraditional environments, and incredible challenges in the face of daunting personal adversity.
Every year I am privileged to meet USD students like CJ and Tarez who are Cal Grant recipients and volunteer to join this advocacy expedition to Sacramento. Like characters from a Charles Dickens novel, they do not hesitate to stand before the powers that be, bare their soul, and ask, “please, sir, more is needed,” but not for themselves; for those younger students who are academically qualified yet financially incapable of attending college and struggling for the opportunity to apply or be recognized for their intellectual abilities. I marvel at their strength and determination.
CJ and Tarez met with Senator Marty Block and Senator Mark Wyland, who are the chair and vice-chair of the Senate Education Committee, as well as members of the Senate Budget & Finance Subcommittee on Education. They also met with Assemblywoman Shirley Weber and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, and staff for Assembly Members Toni Atkins, Brian Maienschein, and Christopher Holden, plus Senators Carol Liu and Steve Knight.
Several legislators subsequently asked to co-sign a letter to Governor Brown written by Assemblyman Henry Perea asking for the proposed cuts to Cal Grants to be restored in the state budget.
CJ and Tarez’s lobbying say in Sacramento may have come to a close, but the fight to preserve Cal Grants is far from over. Everyone can help in the fight by going to www.change.org/petitions/governor-brown-ca-legislature-protect-our-cal-grant and signing the online petition asking the Governor and Legislature to restore funding for Cal Grants.
— Tom Cleary