Chuck Gary has devoted many years to making a tremendous impact on education in Milpitas. He recently delivered a speech at the Juneteenth event on June 17, 2023, held at Sunnyhills Albert Augustine Jr. Memorial Park.
Here is the full video of Chuck Gary’s speech. Full text of Chuck Gary’s Juneteenth speech below the video.
First things first, I would like to thank the organizers of this first community sponsored Juneteenth celebration. Earlier you heard about the origins of Juneteenth, which is a recognition of the events in Galveston, where the last vestiges of slavery ended. But it was the 14th amendment to the constitution in 1868 that established and defined the rights and privileges of every U.S. citizen. This included the slaves freed in 1863.
We stand here today in June of 2023, 160 Years later since my African American ancestors were freed. I ask the question “Are we free?” I believe freedom is being able to choose from all that we are prepared and qualified for. In my life I have asked myself whether I was free or freer. My life has been a path through a maze where I have had to change directions or backstep to achieve my goal, my choice.
In the eighth grade in Richmond, CA as I scheduled for courses for high school for the next year, I was told I needed to take shop classes although my choice was college prep. The choice was to move to Milpitas where I took college preparatory courses at Samuel Ayer High School. Free or Freer? Our move was to Sunny hills which was the coop that was the integrated tracts in Milpitas to support workers from the moved Ford Plant from Richmond CA. Free or Freer? After attending San Jose City College, I chose to attend Sacramento State College, as it was called at the time. They had dorms and apartments around the college. However, my track coach had secured my housing with a room in an elderly lady’s home with a track athlete roommate. This lady looked like us. The following year we ventured to get our own apartment and found them vacant until we showed up to view them. Free or freer? Securing a White reporter from the Sacramento Bee to secure an apartment and once I arrived with the reporter to a now unavailable apartment. This led to apartments around Sacramento State College being made available to African Americans as the result of the opinion page article written by me for the Sacramento Bee. Free or Freer?
Upon returning to Milpitas after graduating form SSC, I had been chosen and chose my wife, now almost 54 years, and me a Science teacher. I had a full blown natural and then one was most often perceived as a militant. Free or Freer? All the students in my first class were White. I was concerned about intimidating my students! Would I have this concern if they were all Black? Free or Freer? Milpitas offered a Black History class, and I was selected to teach it, though not a Social Studies major or minor. I did not know Black History but found two texts to use for the course, African Glory, and Eye on US Negro History. Thus, my first encounter with the history of people who look like me other than the story of slavery in the US. Free or Freer? This class had 32 students, 30 Black students and 2 white students the first day and 30 Black students the second day. On one occasion, I had been absent a day and the substitute who was a White teacher who told me that when he arrived in the class he found “Uncle Tom” written on the Blackboard. It’s a derogatory term of a black man considered to be excessively obedient or servile to white people. Usually, a black referring to another black. Free or Freer? Must I be concerned with what others think of my choices?
After six years of teaching, my choice of being a teacher was not going to allow me to achieve my economic goals for me and family. I had decided to address this focusing on being either an administrator or head track coach. One door shuts and another opens and I become an administrator as Assistant Principal in charge of Discipline. At the time where most start in HS administration. To be prepared and qualified by this time I had obtained my master’s degree. Free or Freer?
On the home front Mary and I had been blessed with two sons and the concerns that every parent faces entered our lives. School, safety, fairness, acceptance, health needs, and provisions. Free or Freer? The maze becomes more apparent as the many choices available and unavailable are revealed. Which will provide the best for my children.
When my sons reach high school, I ask them if they wanted some of the choices or all the choices when they graduate from high school. They both always said,
they wanted all the choices. I gave them critical feedback about their grades that needed to change to have all the choices. One of my sons was accused of cheating in English on an essay because of the words used, the teacher thought he couldn’t possibly know. Free or Freer?
After six years as an assistant principal, I was ready for my own school after sharing another idea for the direction the school needed to move to my principal. He tells me I am ready for my own school. I approach the superintendent and tell him I am ready to be principal. He is a person of color and tells me African Americans often move up because of personality and has a concern for my qualifications. He suggests a course at Stanford University. Free or Freer? I had already successfully completed the course at San Jose State during my master’s degree.
I was promoted to Rancho Middle School and spent seven years there before winning the position at Milpitas High School from among nine applicants.
With the experiences I have had in my life’s journey, I have concluded that I am freer rather than free. As time has past and the opportunities that I have perceived may have been a choice I could have made but may not truly been available to me. Surely, I did not face the kind of challenges the generations in my family faced in their lives. Yet, my father made me aware that my greatest challenge in life may have been in my own mind, when I was 18 years old. That day is still vivid in my mind today. I had read in the San Jose Mercury News of a job at the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffitt Field in the photography lab. I had taken a class in my senior year. I told my dad about the listing and how I would love to have such a job. But I told him that I would never get it.
The thought of the bias and prejudice and the status of African Americans in society was preventing me from applying. He surprised me by saying you’re right. You won’t get the job! Then he said because you won’t try. This prompted me to apply so that I could prove that I wouldn’t get job. However, I ended up with the job proving my father right-a life lesson! This made me think of the “trying” that took place after the Emancipation Proclamation to become truly free.
Antebellum, Jim Crow laws, discrimination, sustained violence in the south, Montgomery bus boycott, Birmingham campaign, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Supreme Court rulings such as Brown v. Board of Education, Civil Rights Act of 1964, The voting rights act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, March on Washington, and many more efforts trying to be truly free. The effort goes on today. There are many examples in the news every day that lets us know we must keep trying to reach that goal. We must seize and recognize opportunities in our path. I asked my Nigerian barber why Nigerians seem to do well in our schools and starting businesses. He told me African Americans focus on the injustice while Nigerians see the opportunity. It is obvious that our focus should be on both in order to be free. We celebrate Juneteenth today and we have come a long way but there is still a lot to be done before we are all free.
Speech written by: Chuck Gary
Video credit: Milpitas Unified School District