As part of a system-wide initiative to increase its African American student population, officials from California State University, Sonoma visited St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond on Sunday with a message: “Send us your best and brightest,” CSU president Rueben Armiñana said to church members from the pulpit.
Armiñana, along with the other 22 university presidents and other officials, has been speaking to congregations as part of the school system’s Super Sunday program. Coordinated through the African American Initiative, its purpose is to increase the number of African American students attending the California State University college system.
This was the eighth year the program held the event. This February, it sent university officials to more than 100 churches in California. As of the fall of 2012, African Americans made up 4.8 percent of the student population in the Cal State system, according to statistics kept by the university system.
The service at St. Luke got off to an unusual start, due to a 17-minute blackout caused by a goose flying into a nearby power line at the corner of Virginia and South 9th Street. But churchgoers made the best of the situation, using lanterns and the daylight streaming through the stained-glass window, which was enough to keep the church dimly lit. Meanwhile, singers and speakers raised their voices loud enough that the mic wasn’t even necessary when the power eventually came back on.
Before Armiñana spoke at the pulpit, church members watched a slideshow of photos of protesters and demonstrators from the civil rights movement, which were interwoven among photos of President Barack Obama and his family. A song played underneath with the lyrics “We’ve come a long way.”
Armiñana, an immigrant from Cuba, said he was living in the South during those demonstrations and agreed the country had come far, but, he said, “There’s a long way to go,” to reach equality in the educational system.
“It’s one of those great concerns that we have,” Armiñana said outside after the service. “Despite all the advantages of the civil rights movement, there are not enough African Americans graduating from college.”
The service also included several presentations focusing on the young members of the church. One video showed children giving their answers to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Their answers, which ranged from doctor to football player to police officer, were met with “Amens” and cheers from the audience.
“The decision to go to college doesn’t happen in the twelfth grade,” Armiñana said after praising their answers. “The decision to go to college happens in the first grade.”
Derek Bradley sat in the audience, representing the university as a fifth-year student, who will be graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Bradley, 22, grew up in a similar Baptist church in his hometown of San Bernardino.
Bradley said it’s easier to present these kinds of messages in a church rather than at school because everyone is there for the same reason—to hear a sermon. “I hope from us coming out, they have their hope of getting a higher education,” Bradley said.