When the City of Los Alamitos makes the news, it is often portrayed as a small-town, suburban community with great schools that is plagued with systemic racism and white supremacy lurking just below the surface. There is some truth to this image, yet the real story is how students, parents, teachers, and school administrators are transforming the community by advocating for Ethnic Studies and Social Justice Standards within the Los Alamitos Unified School District.
At the recent School Board meeting on April 27, a small minority of disrespectful anti-Ethnic Studies agitators were vastly overshadowed by a coalition of courageous community members wearing purple. One student explained that they wear this color in support of military families, and to represent unity, since “the color purple cannot be seen in the visual spectrum, yet it is present in every rainbow.”
This symbolism inspires me because I serve as pastor at a church in Los Alamitos that embraces the diversity of God’s rainbow. The rainbow is a Biblical symbol of God’s promise to protect creation from destructive human behavior. Our church flies a LGBTQIA+ affirming “pride progress flag,” which includes the colors black and brown representing Black, Indigenous and People of Color, as well as light blue, white and pink of the trans community. Because we proclaim the extravagant welcome of Jesus, particularly to oppressed and marginalized people, we have been targeted by hate groups that seem to feel threatened by our sacred rainbow. Nevertheless, we persist in building a diverse living sanctuary and working for a just world for all. With God’s help, next year we will celebrate 125 years as a congregation serving the community.
Our official name is the Community Congregational United Church of Christ of Los Alamitos, but many people know us as “The Rainbow Church.” We trace our roots back to the pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower to the New World seeking religious freedom. Many of our spiritual ancestors also helped establish representative democracy as our form of government and supported the abolition of slavery. We are proud that our history includes the first mainline Christian congregations to ordain black men, women, and openly gay pastors. To this day, the United Church of Christ is a progressive, informed denomination that is on the forefront of issues of social justice. To continue this legacy, we must challenge ourselves to embody social justice standards and use our privilege to uplift the ethnic diversity in our community.
Members of my congregation with children in the Los Alamitos Unified School District asked me to speak in favor of the proposed Ethnic Studies course and K-12 Social Justice Standards. Even though I am a white, heterosexual, Christian man who benefits from the status quo, I support these much needed changes within LAUSD. From my perspective, these policies will help our students and teachers practice Christian values of loving our neighbors, especially those who are different from us, those who are hungry, unhoused, incarcerated, or immigrants.
The community of Los Alamitos has grappled for years with tension between a conservative mentality that is comfortable with racial slurs and white supremacy and a younger generation that is more diverse, open-minded and unwilling to tolerate bigotry. In 2018, the former mayor of Los Alamitos invited some of the same right wing extremists that are targeting the school district to amplify his self-serving ambition to opt-out of California’s Sanctuary laws. This anti-immigrant policy was reversed two years later after a lawsuit brought by myself and a local community group called Los Alamitos Community United convinced a newly configured City Council to change course. The City of Los Alamitos is learning that our community is stronger when we are united in our diversity rather than polarized by divisive politics.
We must stand united with Superintendent Pulver and members of the School Board who are honoring the wishes of students and parents to approve the Ethnic Studies curriculum and adopt K-12 Social Justice Standards. We will not be intimidated into accepting a curriculum that only tells the dominant narrative of history, or allow students to endure bullying without tools to challenge systemic injustice. Those who aim to undermine public education by stoking fears of racial equity and change do not reflect the true beauty of Los Alamitos.
When you scratch beneath the status quo of Los Alamitos, the emerging generation is showing its true colors: a rainbow of diversity that becomes visible when everyone is given the opportunity to shine!
Rev. Samuel Pullen, Pastor, Los Alamitos Community Congregational United Church of Christ
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