The older you get, the more you realize young people are running the country. I realized this quite clearly when I visited Capitol Hill a few weeks ago as part of the California delegation for Humanities on the Hill — a national advocacy day for the 56 state humanities councils across the country.
Each state and territory council sends representatives to lobby representatives and their (seemingly very young) staffs about the importance of national humanities funding and the good work being done in their respective districts.
In Kern County, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently has invested funds for a variety of programs. At Cal State Bakersfield, the NEH funded the development of the university's new ethnic studies program. At Bakersfield College, the NEH funded a family and community history digital archive project in Delano — one particularly noted for its emphasis on reaching a rural, under-served community. Bakersfield College also received funds for a three-year professional development program for faculty focused on increasing competency in place-based pedagogy and interdisciplinary humanities in the San Joaquin Valley.
At the state level, California Humanities, our state council and NEH affiliate, receives a majority of its funds through NEH. California Humanities has made recent grants throughout the San Joaquin Valley, including funding a documentary film project focused on students from migrant labor backgrounds matriculating through university, a civil rights and social justice oral history project, and a project in Fresno focused on the city's unique contributions to the history of West Coast hip-hop and dance culture.
President Trump recently nominated Jon Parish Peede to be NEH chairman. With a background as a scholar of Southern literature and administrative experience at the National Endowment for the Arts, Peede's nomination is being well-received by humanities advocates. He is an ardent defender of both arts and humanities funding. As chairman, he is committed to expanding access to humanities programs in rural communities, as well as leveraging the endowment to promote public-private partnerships across the country.
I encourage readers to call their congressional representatives and encourage support of humanities funding. Tell your representatives what the humanities (reading, cultural heritage, books, documentary films) mean to you and your family. Also tell them why you think it's important that Congress support funding humanities in communities like ours that are underserved compared to more populated urban areas like Los Angeles or San Francisco. Your voice matters.
Tell Congress that you support the requested allocation of $155 million to the NEH, of which $48 million filters back to the 56 state humanities councils. Of the latter amount, about $2.2 million comes back to California. From there, pick up the phone and call your state representatives in Sacramento and encourage them to support state funding for California Humanities, which currently receives no state funding.
As an advisory board member to California Humanities, I can assure you that there is a demand for humanities programs that far exceeds the amount of funding that the organization currently has the capacity to meet. Last fiscal year, for example, California Humanities received more than $9 million in funding requests for humanities projects, but could only fund about 10 percent of all applications. Many of these applications came from the San Joaquin Valley. It's important that we maintain a robust National Endowment for the Humanities, while at the same time mobilize voters to support state funding, as well as opportunities to increase public-private partnerships.
The demand for humanities programming is high, but we all need to mobilize and ensure that funding the humanities is a top priority for our national and state representatives, as well as our philanthropic community.
Oliver A. Rosales is professor of history at Bakersfield College and advisory board member to California Humanities.