Luna: ‘Liaison’ label fosters tension, obscures role of TPS Hispanic Outreach CoordinatorWritten by John P. McCartney | | email@example.com
Although he says there’s not a single thing he doesn’t thoroughly enjoy about his job as Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Hispanic Outreach Coordinator, if José Luna could change one thing, it would be how he is perceived.
“There was debate the last time they wanted to cut my job,” Luna said. “And all the media talked about was that I was a liaison. That’s just a miniscule part of what I do.
“And then people in the African-American community were [questioning why] they cut Pastor [Cedric] Brock’s job as ombudsman. Why did his job not exist and mine did?”
Luna suggested that much of that confusion and occasional animosity goes back more than a century and a half.
“That tension between the black and Hispanic communities is historical,” Luna said. “It goes back to the slaves being given freedom. Suddenly, the Hispanic people were vying with members of the black community for the same low-level, low-paying jobs. That was something new for Hispanics. Those jobs had always been theirs, and now they had to vie for them. And sadly, too many of them are still doing the same thing today.”
Morris Jenkins said the tension that arose between the African-American and Latino communities over the elimination of the ombudsman position in 2010 is not unique to TPS or even to Toledo.
Jenkins is chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice and Social Work at the University of Toledo, an associate professor in criminal justice and a member of the City of Toledo Police Review Board. He also works with the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Division.
“It becomes a question of who’s the most oppressed minority,” Jenkins said. “You get that argument going, and the system now is trying to balance it out, and they’re overbalancing it with the Latino community, which is growing.
“I think they should do something across the board, not only with Latinos and blacks. I think there’s a lot of poor white folks in this community as well. There should be something to deal with all of the groups. The tension is there.”
Jenkins said he recognizes that TPS faces economic limitations, but he thinks the district may be playing one racial group off the other.
“I think that’s part of this issue of institutional racism,” Jenkins said. “In order to take care of the slaves, they used to split them up based on color. The light-colored slaves would be in the house and the darker-colored slaves would be in the field.
“That’s the tactic that they’re using to deal with the issue here — dividing and conquer. I think it’s Willie Lynch where they separated the races for the house vs. the field.”
Willie Lynch refers to a policy some historians have argued slave owners used to managing their slaves. Rather than lynching the unruly ones, which was counterproductive, slave owners exploited the differences such as age and skin color in order to pit slaves against each other.
“We’ve got to be careful when we do stuff like that,” Jenkins warned.
‘There’s no comparison’
However, Luna said there is no comparison to the job of an ombudsman with what he does.
In addition to his undergraduate degree in education from Bowling Green State University, Luna earned a master’s degree from Siena Heights University’s School of Counseling.
“I’m not an ombudsman,” Luna said. “There are certain times I serve as an advocate, like an ombudsman, but I never get involved in disciplinary issues unless I act as the interpreter.
“I’m an educator and a school counselor. I do more counseling than most counselors. Unfortunately, school counselors today have lots to do as far as scheduling, and it’s hard for them to find the time to sit down and talk to students. I have that ability to sit down with kids.”
Luna said he approaches everything he does as Hispanic Outreach Coordinator from a career counseling perspective.
“When I got to this job, there was nothing in place. When I started, I did my job putting out fires. And then I decided to become more proactive.
“So I looked at the Carl D. Perkins federal grant that paid my salary. No. 1: What I should be doing? I should be serving the area of the grant I’m being paid from. So I started doing career-based programs.”
Brian Murphy, assistant superintendent of the Start, Rogers and Woodward learning communities and Luna’s supervisor, acknowledges that one of the problems in 2010 was that the general public wasn’t aware that Luna’s job is funded differently than a teacher’s and an ombudsman’s job.
Luna said he still follows the advice of former TPS Superintendent Crystal Ellis, a man he describes as “one of my greatest mentors in my career. I always quote him when anyone questions what I do. He told me, ‘José, children will never become what they don’t see. Go out and show them.’ ”
‘If it don’t kill you …’
Luna said it is important to teach students and parents to take ownership of each student’s education.
“One of my philosophies is, ‘Never baby a child.’ Make them face what they’ve got to face,” he said. “I go back to, ‘If it don’t kill you, it makes you stronger.’
“I believe children mature when they’re challenged. If they’re having disciplinary issues, we sit down and talk about what they’re doing wrong. It’s up to that child and his family to make him grow.”
Luna regularly tells students and parents the story of an incident that happened to him when he was in elementary school to make his point.
“I was in fourth grade down in Texas, and this teacher called me a wetback,” Luna said. “I was outraged. And I let that teacher know it. And they took me out and paddled me.
“When I got home, I righteously told my mom what the deal was. And she paddled me. She said, ‘One of these days, you’re going to look back at this and you’ll understand even more what I’m telling you now. You need this education more than calling you any name.’
“And I see what my mother was saying now as an adult. I tell these kids all the time that I need education more than anything else. My job is to get past anything anybody calls me to get that education so that I can move forward.”
A growing trend
The number of Hispanic students enrolled in TPS is in flux for many reasons, almost all of which are financial, Luna said.
Of the 2,168 Hispanic children enrolled on March 6, Luna said he works most closely with approximately 300 Spanish-speaking families as a translator.
“But the demographics are changing every year with the influx of immigrants,” Luna said. “More and more of my business is being done in K-8 because younger families are coming in from out of the country.”
Murphy said that in the past two years, TPS’s Hispanic population has increased by about 10 percent, and that he expects that increase to continue for at least the next two years.
Luna said today’s statistics show that 20 percent of jobs are for the college-educated, 20 percent are for those with a high school education and 60 percent are for people who have had a career tech education.
“That’s a huge thing. Brian [Murphy] and I could just talk about the fact that opportunities abound, even in this area, if you have the right skills.”
Start and Bowsher high schools have milling programs through which small local companies hire students out of high school with basic milling education in metal lathes, Luna said.
Luna pointed to Bowsher High School’s electronic tech prep program; those he said students can enter the workforce immediately after graduation repairing computers or working in electronic security or the cable and satellite industries. Luna also points to Woodward High School’s graphic arts program and Rogers High School’s construction academy as career tech programs students can graduate from with job skills to earn more than $30,000 a year.
“Myself, I’m a pusher of career tech because I really believe that’s where it’s at,” Luna said. “I don’t think colleges are always good. And we do kids an injustice by saying they have to go to college. I see in a lot of kids that it’s just not for them.
“We’ve got to get them to dream, a dream that fits them,” Luna said. “And then we’ve got to get them to realize that a dream is one-fifteenth of the whole deal. The other 14 parts are work, work, work, work and more work. And more work. And more work. And each stage will give you a sense of gratification that will build. That’s what I’m all about because I’m a product of that.”