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Showing Up: Transforming into a Civic Actor
When people ask me why I support community colleges, I answer, “Because they are transformative.” Good community colleges change the lives of their students.
Entering Temple Community College in Temple, Texas, at age thirty-two as a divorced mother of two and a survivor of an abusive marriage, I began my transformation into a civic actor. A speech professor, whose class I had hoped to avoid because of my fear of public speaking, inspired me to win national speaking awards, and a history professor motivated me to major in history. After earning an associate of arts degree, I transferred to Baylor University, where I met a graduate student who wholeheartedly supported my goal to become an attorney. That student and I married three and a half hours after I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. After taking a year off for the birth of our child, I began law school at age thirty-six and graduated three years later.
I chose to specialize in poverty law, centering on family law and Social Security disability claims. For more than twenty years, I have addressed the legal needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities.
While I engaged in public service one client at a time, my husband pursued an academic career at Lone Star College in the Houston metropolitan area. His campus, Lone Star College–North Harris, is the most ethnically diverse of Lone Star’s six campuses and serves the highest concentration of first-generation, limited-English-proficiency, and low-income students. At times, he referred students to me whose legal needs threatened their college success. I also took every opportunity to direct my clients to community college programs where they might achieve their goals.
I became involved in local politics, reviving the Montgomery County chapter of Texas Democratic Women and serving as delegate to the state Democratic convention, among other roles. When I began my political work, the Democratic Party barely existed in Montgomery County, arguably the most conservative county in Texas. But the county chair made an offhand comment that has stuck with me: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” Being civically engaged is showing up. I learned how small, organized groups can effect local change.
In 2010, I ran for the position of trustee on the Lone Star College Board. My community college experience with public speaking, my knowledge of US history, and my legal training came together as I won 53 percent of the vote in a three-person race on a shoestring budget. Four and a half years later, my colleagues elected me chair of the board, a position I held for two years.
On the board, I continue to promote transparency, equity, and due process. As a lawyer, I know due process makes it harder for the mighty to trample the rights of the less powerful. The board of trustees does not “run” the college; we govern it, setting its tone and vision, assuring its fiscal health, and empowering employees to provide a transformative learning environment. Community colleges are uniquely positioned to serve students who are terrified they cannot succeed while also providing honors programs for high achievers and lifelong learning for mature students.
Dr. Steve Head, chancellor of Lone Star College, has championed a system-wide Center for Civic Engagement. As I have learned, going to college is about more than getting a good job; it is also about transforming into an engaged citizen who can effect change. Educated citizens can better realize their personal potential, build strong communities, and bolster our democratic institutions.
Linda S. Good is on the Board of Trustees at Lone Star College.