By Angela M. Coggs
How often can someone say they attended an event in their own backyard where the current sitting Vice President of the United States was a speaker? Most people can go their entire life without having such an opportunity. But two students from the San Bernardino County Unified School District had the chance to do just that. On Saturday, November 1st at a “Get out the Vote” Rally at Colton High School, Yonathan Habtemariam (8th grader- Richardson Prep Middle School) and Jonathan Rodgers (9th grader- Cajon High School) were two students in a sea of several hundred adults in the Colton High School gymnasium. Both young men attended the event with their respective mothers, both whom are officers of the SBCUSD District African American Advisory Council (DAAAC), whom were also elated to see history up close and personal.
Vice President Biden was on the campaign trail for then candidate Pete Aguilar. Aguilar, the former Mayor of Redlands, went on to win his election bid for the 31st Congressional District seat held by the retiring Rep. Gary Miller, R-Rancho Cucamonga. The 31st district stretches through San Bernardino County from Rancho Cucamonga to Redlands.
During the rally, Biden referred to Aguilar’s childhood and being raised in a working-class family in San Bernardino. He also mentioned how Aguilar paid his way through college with two jobs and federal grants and loans. Biden urged the attendees in the Colton High School gymnasium to “pick a son of America who understands what it’s like to work hard, who understands what it’s like to put a family together, who understands what it means to struggle and get through school, who understands that every single solitary child out there deserves the same chance he had.”
“I never thought I would have an opportunity to see the Vice President in person. I didn’t believe it was really happening until he walked on stage. We were so close,” said Yonathan Habtemariam, who was taking pictures on his phone for proof. “Nobody will believe I was actually here. I can’t believe that I’m in the same breathing space as the Vice President”. When asked what he remembered most about Biden’s speech he stated, “It was sad to hear how he had to move in with his grandfather and his father had to leave the family for a year just to find work. He also could not get a loan to send him (Biden) to college. Even though he was really good in baseball and football, it wasn’t enough to pay for school. That’s why he (Biden) is in favor of Pell grants. Having a Pell grant helped him get through college and he said everyone deserves an equal chance.” Hearing the speakers talk about the future in regards to making college an equal opportunity reality really resonated with Habtemariam who will be a high school freshman next year. “Anyone who wants to go to college should have the opportunity. I look forward to going to college, like my sister, in a few years.”
For the self-declared future civil rights attorney Jonathan Rodgers, having an opportunity to see Vice President Biden at this time in his life made him think about what more lies ahead. Rodgers was equally impressed with and motivated by what was said during the rally. He had the chance to hear firsthand what the Aguilar political platform was and how Aguilar plans on achieving it. “It was a once in a lifetime experience. Knowing that I’m 15 years old, and I got to be in the same room as the Vice President. I think waiting in the rain was worth it for the reward.” Rodgers is planning ahead because he knows that college is in his future. “I’m grateful to have that moment at such a young age.”
Another student on the scene was 10 year old Izaiah Frazier. He was given a “special assignment” from his grandmother, Cynthia Frazier, to figure out where to position himself to get pictures of Biden’s motorcade. After strategically studying his environment, he decided to stand on the corner of Valley Blvd and Rancho Avenue across from the 10 freeway exit ramp. Although he did not know what direction the Vice President was travelling to the event, he believed that the corner he stood on would allow him an opportunity to get a good picture. Frazier was baffled and bewildered that local residents had no idea that the Vice President of the United States was due to arrive in their neighborhood. “It was awesome to see the Vice President and his motorcade. It is something that I will remember when I grow up,” Frazier said. Frazier was correct about is location. Minutes later after an initial police escort, the official motorcade exited the freeway and Frazier was able to take a few good pictures as he waved at the limo in hopes that Biden would see him. Even at such a young age, he knows the importance of voting and that he had a rare opportunity to see a Vice President in his community.
A valuable lesson these three young boys learned is the importance of getting involved in community events no matter what one’s age is. Another lesson they learned is that it is important to allow one’s voice to be heard at the ballot box. Although the opportunity to attend the rally was not available to many young students, the message conveyed clearly resonated with these three.