Love Letter to Community Colleges

Why we need them now more than ever.

Jenara Nerenberg
4 min readDec 28, 2020

The cold linoleum floor was a comfort to my pale, frail, freckly 16-year-old legs, a place to ground my overwhelm and confusion as a sensitive youngster.

My black hair always pulled back, my ears adorned with something, a long necklace draping my chest.

Cement pathways etched the wavy hills of a foggy campus; heavy textbooks weighed me into my body. I took long steps looking out at what felt like a big world. An open sky, a few buildings dotting the horizon, and us students.

My first friend was Aiko; an 18-year-old student from Japan, who was in my Afro-Haitian dance class. My high school down the street didn’t have p.e., only dance, and so I had already studied the art form. I was a skinny white kid but I could move.

My goateed brother, six years older than I, wandered the cement pathways as well. I’d run into him after yoga, flirting back with all the girls who regularly followed him out of class.

The boys I met were from other countries. Occasionally an old high school flame would walk by, we’d greet with a hug.

My political science professor’s daughter was named Liberty. My brother’s name is Justice, so we all hit it off.

My African Studies professor welcomed me and the one other white kid in a room of 30 Black students.

My Religious Studies professor compassionately observed my autistic classmate pace near the exit door of the room.

My English teachers taught me to write.

Those days feel like a microcosm of the world I want to live in, the world I thought I would encounter in the world beyond City College of San Francisco. Everything was nuanced and layered and complex, hierarchies torn asunder. My classmates had AIDS and were veterans and dropouts and the widows of motorcycle murders. I was a child and mentally ill and strange. Our teachers cared deeply.

Every institution should be like this.



Jenara Nerenberg

Author, Divergent Mind (HarperCollins). Journalist at UC Berkeley & Garrison. Founder, The Neurodiversity Project.