The Case for Christian Education
An Academy Closed; A Jewel Lost
Oakland, California in the 1970’s was a grim place. Violence was rampant; its murder rate was twice that of San Francisco or New York. The junior high I attended in 7th grade averaged about 1 killing a year, and it was one of the better schools.
Infamous gangs like the 69 Mob flooded Oakland with drugs. Just saying no wasn’t enough; it was common for a person’s drink to be spiked with LSD when his or her back was turned. At least once a year, there would be news of a high-achieving student having a psychotic episode from this. Often, the student would never recover; a life ruined when it had barely begun.
Teen pregnancy was caused by ignorance, and girls’ minds being warped from forced sexual activity at an early age. This usually condemned her to dropping out of school, going on welfare, and raising the child on her own. Often, the cycle would repeat in the next generation.
Besides pregnancy, students dropped out of school for a variety of reasons, campus safety being a main one. The rate among African Americans was close to 50%. Teachers were too concerned with their own issues to reach out to at-risk youths.
Rising above all this mayhem stood Golden Gate Academy. Set in a eucalyptus grove in the Oakland hills, overlooking half the Bay Area, it was a beautiful campus. In a world full of negative role models, it provided positive ones for its 80% African American student body. As a result, not only did nearly all of them graduate, but most went on to college.
I attended GGA from 8th grade until graduation. At first, I was put off by the considerable disrespect at the school. Students, and often staff members, were critical of how dedicated to Christ some people were, and the classrooms were noisy and chaotic. Though it took me awhile to adjust, I was pleased that there was very little violence, and the teachers really cared. I’ll gladly take disrespect and chaos over violence any day.
Like many of my classmates, once I graduated, I moved on and practically forgot about GGA. What led me to remember was the tremendous amount of ignorance I found in the world. People thought I was strange because of life skills I took for granted. I realized GGA gave me a lot of information other people never had the good fortune to obtain.
I got back in touch with some of its staff members, one of them a counselor named Mrs. Brown. I did my best to help the school; I sponsored a couple of students, and donated money to its scholarship funds.
A few years ago, during the last recession, Mrs. Brown told me GGA, in terrible financial shape, was about to close. I informed my brother, and he told me to ask Mrs. Brown how Rio Lindo Academy (a white school) was doing, and why. He assumed they were doing well because of liberal support from the Northern California Conference. I asked Mrs. Brown those questions, and sure enough, she said they were doing well. However, her answer to the second question surprised me; she said the reason is because they have doctors and lawyers in their alumni who donated to the school.
I held many conversations with Mrs. Brown, trying to come up with ways to save GGA. Her answer about Rio Lindo made me realize GGA has many professionals in its alumni, too; in fact, my brother is a doctor. This inspired me to write the following letter. I sent it to the school board, and to Mrs. Brown, telling them to distribute the letter to as many alumni as possible, so they could think about what GGA did for them as opposed to public schools. Hopefully, they would realize the school was worth saving. I know if I had read such a letter while in rebellion, it would have shamed me to tears; if I’d read it before, it would have made me think twice before rebelling.
I told Mrs. Brown rather than look for 1 person to give $100,000, we should seek 1,000 people to give $100; the result would be the same. I cited the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30, saying there are several ways to interpret it; one way is, by valuing what you have, you increase it, but if you don’t, you lose it. “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them (verse 29, NIV).
I sent $200 with the letter, then waited for results with high hopes.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Dear Golden Gate Academy School Board,
The purpose of this open letter is to express my appreciation for the privilege of having attended Golden Gate Academy. I went there from the middle of 8th grade until graduation, from January 1974 to June 1978. I would like to list some of the many blessings I acquired while attending there.
Attending GGA gave me a good value system. Our Modern Living class was excellent. We were taught to just say no to premarital sex, why we should do so, and what to do if we decided to go ahead anyway (when I learned all that was involved, I decided it was easier to just say no!). We learned ways to conduct a good marriage, plus how to get to know a future partner, enabling us to make good choices, and to be good choices.
Our Bible class taught us not only to just say no to drugs, it gave us multiple alternatives for recreation so that drugs weren’t necessary. I was part of the “Smoking Sam” team; we would go around to various schools in Oakland, giving anti-smoking speeches. I hope we won some people over. Smoking is a useless habit at best; it is expensive, and it destroys health.
Unfortunately, I rebelled after graduating from GGA. Still, though, I knew to take things only so far. I did the nightclub scene, but never became a barfly. I took up alcohol and dabbled in drugs, but never to the point of addiction, and of course, I never smoked cigarettes. Because of this, today I am not an addict or a single mother, and I have no incurable diseases. Yes, I have regrets, but they could be much worse.
My biggest regret is that the rebellion led to me not making good use of my opportunities. As a result, I wound up in some very undesirable work circumstances. I’ve dealt with workplace violence numerous times, and have been treated like a handiwipe, mainly because I was replaceable as one. This is a real shame, because GGA has produced a lot of professionals – doctors, lawyers, etc. – and I could have been one of them.
One major fact I’ve noticed about the world is the tremendous amount of ignorance out there. At one place where I worked, I was made fun of because the women would regularly go to bed with a man on the 3rd date, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it (actually, since I had no car and had to walk the street at night to and from the bus stop, looking for Mr. Goodbar was the last thing on my agenda). My best friend there had numerous misadventures; one “boyfriend” turned out to be a potential child molester, and another one was into orgies, which, in the age of AIDS, is not a good idea. After I left that job and moved away, I met her again a year later, and she told me she had dated another man for a couple weeks. He turned out to be a creep, but fortunately, she had followed my example and not slept with him. I was shocked; the whole time she had been laughing at me, she had been observing me as well!
Another co-worker (at another job) had a very interesting experience. I don’t know how well he was schooled in the perils of drugs; probably not as well as GGA students. His name is Mike, and he’s an unusually big guy; he’s six foot nine inches tall, and he probably weighs about 300 pounds. While he was in college at San Jose State, he met another guy his size, and they became really good friends. They played both college football and basketball.
Mike’s friend was into all sorts of drugs, and he talked Mike into trying crack. Mike said it was the most FABULOUS feeling he ever had. He said he was never using it again, because if he did, he knew he would be hooked. His friend said, “Aw, c’mon, everything in moderation! You won’t get hooked if you use it only every once in a while.” But Mike refused to use it again. Shortly afterwards, they both graduated from college, and then they went their separate ways and lost track of each other.
A few years later, Mike was driving down San Pablo Avenue. All you Oakland residents know about San Pablo Ave., right? That’s where the streetwalkers are. You probably also know that’s the lowest form of prostitution that exists. The streetwalkers are beaten up and killed by pimps and johns regularly, and they don’t even get to keep what little money they make. So why do they stay? Because they’re all heroin addicts. If they left, they’d go through withdrawals in no time. Those are extremely agonizing, and can kill.
Mike was driving along, when he decided to buy some beer at a liquor store. He parked, and got out of his car. Standing in front of the store was the ugliest woman he ever saw. She was huge, dyke-looking, and had the hard face of someone who had used a lot of drugs. She took one look at him and burst into tears.
Guess who it was?
Attending GGA saved me from such a situation. It also protected me from the violence so common at Oakland public schools. It gave me good Black role models to look up to.
Of course, I can’t adequately thank GGA enough, but I would love to try. I can give ideas, anyway.
I) I understand GGA is in financial trouble again. I think it would be a great idea if you could minister to the public through your auto shop. After all, there can never be too many good, honest, reasonably-priced auto mechanics. The students and faculty could fix cars for the community, charging slightly less than regular auto shops. The school can take a cut for supplies and student tuition, and the students could pocket the rest. It would provide money for the school, good public relations, and valuable job experience and money for the students. One important word: MAKE THE GIRLS WORK!!! I took the auto class, and many times, I and some other girls would arrive all dolled up and not wanting to get dirty. Make the girls change into blue jumpsuits and work! They can always take a shower in the locker room afterwards.
II) When you can, reopen the woodshop. Have the students make crafts, and then hold craft fairs at the school. I LOVED that woodshop when I was there, and was so sad to hear it was closed. I remember in 1975, Mark Bowman, one of my classmates, was riding the bus home from school, carrying a mirror he had made. Someone offered him $50 for it! And that was his first effort, 30 years ago! I should think the school could raise lots of money this way.
III) I think you should incorporate positive Black History in your coursework. One book I highly recommend is one I stumbled across accidentally. It’s called Black People Who Made The Old West, by William Loren Katz. It profiles 36 Blacks, and proves there’s more to Black history than slavery, sharecropping, slums, and civil rights.
IV) I also think you should incorporate modern Jewish history in your Bible classes. Seventh Day Adventists and Jews have a lot in common, and I think they should get together.
V) Blacks can learn a lot from other ethnic groups. How about a study on other races, like Mexicans and Asians? I’m a great admirer of Mexicans and Koreans, myself. There aren’t many Koreans in the Bay Area, but you do have lots of Asian groups to choose from.
VI) Is there a way to do an outreach program to bring more students into the school? If I weren’t a Seventh Day Adventist, I probably never would have heard of GGA, and maybe I would have been condemned to attend Oakland High. Is there a way to search for students to rescue, and bring to GGA? If enough money is made through the auto and wood shops, maybe a scholarship can even be provided for those who can’t pay.
I wish to apologize for whatever negative, critical attitudes I held while attending GGA. I did it because of residual fear acquired from attending Oakland public schools, and also – this embarrasses me – because “everybody” did it. I realize now that not everybody did it, and those who did were not necessarily in the right. After graduating from GGA, I made some bad decisions, but I have no one to blame for those but myself. If it weren’t for GGA, I would have made far worse ones.
Thank you, Golden Gate Academy, for being there for me. I sincerely hope you can be there for many future generations to come.
Yoleen Denise Lucas
Class of 1978
Unfortunately, my letter was never distributed, and Golden Gate Academy closed in 2006. Mrs. Brown came up with multiple excuses, which leads me to think the reason there was so much disrespect while I attended there is because the authorities didn’t respect the school themselves. While this didn’t prevent the students from doing well, it did cause GGA’s demise (verse 29 again).
I understand other Adventist schools have closed because of two recessions so close together. Each closure is a major loss to society. I’m hoping, by publishing this article, alumni from Christian schools can realize the blessings they’ve gained, and the schools at risk can use its ideas. These days, Christian education is more important than ever.
© 2012 Yoleen Lucas