The State of New Orleans Charter Schools: How do we build quality schools and communities?
Join community and education leaders for informative panel discussions on the current charter school landscape in New Orleans on October 3, 2018! This event is free and open to the public.
Hosted by: Chris Stewart, Citizen Education & Wayfinder Foundation
Founder and Head of School
Élan Academy Charter School
Chief of Schools
New Schools for New Orleans
Louisiana State Teacher of the Year
Warren Easton Charter High School
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
KIPP New Orleans
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Crescent City Schools
Dr. Wylene Sorapuru
Chief Academic Officer
InspireNOLA Charter Schools
Representative Gary Carter, Jr.
House of Representatives
District 102, State of Louisiana
Warren Easton Charter High School
The Education Trust
Our Voice Nuestra Voz
100 Black Men of Metro New Orleans
In the last couple of years, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to connect with one’s roots and heritage as a means of resistance. I reflect on Alice Walker’s famous quote that “resistance is the secret of joy,” and in the context of heritage and culture the meaning of her words is clearer to me. To be more fully who I am and to be less of what society expects me to be is joyful. To go deeper into the music, dance, and expression of my identity as a Latinx woman is a form of resisting dominant social norms.
As I deepen into this lesson, Hispanic Heritage month has also been more joyful. As an activist, in the past, I often wondered if it was as a waste of time. I equated it with some of the policy work I did where my colleagues and I would use the month to try to educate others about Latinx people and culture. We’d often start the education process with clarifying that the dedicated month starts on September 15th because this is when many Latin American countries, including Mexico, gained independence. We’d try to dispel false beliefs that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day.
I’d also create newsletters and write articles explaining that many of us prefer the term ‘Latinx’ to ‘Hispanic’ because ‘Hispanic’ was a term given to us because of the census; whereas ‘Latinx’ is a chosen term. More recently I find myself also describing the gender dynamics of the language and why we are substituting ‘x’ to make ‘Latino’ or ‘Latina’ gender neutral. During the month, I’d also focus on reminding people that Puerto Ricans are U.S. Citizens, which is a surprisingly little known fact that seems all the more important due to what happened in the midst of last year’s celebration, when Hurricane Maria pummeled the island. Basically, for a long time I thought Hispanic Heritage month was a time to try even harder to increase awareness, which often only increased my frustration and burnout and left little joy for me to celebrate.
But a couple of years ago, the need for self-care became more apparent as the external stressors for social justice and education workers grew exponentially with the change of government administration. I knew I had to find something to keep me sane as I listened to the threatening rhetoric about building a border wall. With some of my loved ones who are undocumented in danger, I knew that I would need to find the strength for activism somewhere other than in my anger. I saw that the anger would destroy my joy, so I sought out joy more than ever before. And one of the places I found it had been there all along, in the richness of my own culture. Since then, I’ve been better at releasing the sense of responsibility to educate others and focusing on my own joy and healing.
Recently, I went home to visit my mother. She was excited because she had just discovered a new recipe for corn tamales that she’d tried. My sister had made them with her, and when I arrived, I felt the love they had put into each tamale as I unwrapped the cornhusks and ate them. We also watched the Disney movie “Coco” together and delighted in how the creators had so perfectly captured some of the aspects of Latinx culture, like when Miguel’s grandmother subtly coerces him into accepting more food on his plate. A couple of days later, I helped my niece with her Spanish and we listened to some of the latest Latin hits on a car ride.
During this Hispanic Heritage month, I will still probably post a few articles on my Facebook page about Latinx culture. I can’t help it. The inclination to want to be seen for who I am—who we are as Latinxs—seems pretty natural to me. Living in New Orleans, I feel the social justice narratives, in particular in education, sometimes overlooks the shades of Brown in between the White and Black. This month is a good opportunity to gently highlight some of the challenges and joys unique to Latinx people and students while also grounding our work in our common struggles and anti-Blackness. One way to do this is to try to foster Black-Brown relations among young people by discussing those common struggles as well as unique challenges. Another way is to recognize how anti-Blackness shows up in our Latinx culture. But for me, Alice Walker’s quote also serves as a reminder that it’s not always my job to teach everyone. It’s my job to be the best expression that I can be of the joys and culture of my ancestors. This is resistance and this is joy. With this in mind, Hispanic Heritage month can be a time where I can be an activist simply by being me.
Throughout my years of watching sports, I’ve witnessed men fight on the field, harass referees/umpires, slur officials, and even throw balls across the court when they disagree with a call, but when a woman, who is just as passionate about her athletic craft as a man, merely says to an umpire “You stole a point from me, and you are a thief,” she is penalized and as a result, loses a game.
On this past Saturday, Serena Williams competed against Naomi Osaka in New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium for the Grand Slam title. Umpire Carlos Ramos accused Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, of giving her hand signals during the match which is deemed illegal coaching. Williams was offended by the accusation and immediately checked Ramos by saying, “I don’t cheat. I’d rather lose!” Serena was livid, and rightfully so. But even during her rage, she never once used profanity (in earshot at least), she didn’t throw her racket across the court at anyone, nor did she call the umpire names or attempt to fight him. But because she is a WOMAN who had the audacity to voice her opinion in an assertive manner, she was robbed of a point which caused her to lose the match, costing her the Grand Slam title, and she was fined $17,000 by the US Open.
While witnessing the blatant biases that Ramos displayed against Serena, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking, “I bet this would not have happened if she had a different set of genitals.” And from doing a little social media digging, apparently, my thoughts were being shared and validated. Since this incident, two male tennis pros have confirmed the sexism which resulted in Serena losing the match.
I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized. And I’ve also been given a “soft warning” by the ump where they tell you knock it off or I will have to give you a violation. He should have at least given her that courtesy. Sad to mar a well played final that way.
I’ve regrettably said worse and I’ve never gotten a game penalty
And some people wonder why feminism exists. Before I go off on a brief tangent about that, let’s examine another case in the same realm of bigotry. Just last week, tennis player Alize Cornet was handed a code violation for taking off her shirt to switch it around because she had it on backwards. Underneath her shirt, she wore a sports bra. In case you’re in the dark about sports bras, it’s one of the least provocative bras a woman can wear. The purpose for it is not to expose anything, but to keep everything intact while one takes on vigorous activities. But because she was a woman who, according to society’s rules, should have been taught at youth to cover up and keep quiet, she was fined.
If time permitted and space was unlimited, I could name countless of other incidents that show why feminism exists. However, these two recent events clearly depict the prejudices that we women face in this world. It’s inhumane to treat anyone less than or to put someone in a box because of how they were born. If a woman can hit a ball, fix a car, drive a bus, preach a sermon, or run a political office as good as or better than her male counterparts, then she should be treated with the same respect as they are treated. Women are not asking for favors, or to rule, or to be singled out, we are asking for a fair chance. We are asking to be seen as humans first and women second. We are asking to be able to dictate our own existence, govern our own bodies, not be treated as objects, and to be heard and not considered a b$%^& when we speak up for ourselves with confidence. We are asking to be recognized as the powerful human beings we are, and not be stripped of a point or title when we have the courage to defend our honor. Equality is what we seek, but partiality is what we get…and that’s why feminism exists.
P.S. – In the midst of the Serena debacle, shout out to LeBron James and Essence Magazine for teaming up and publicly recognizing and celebrating women of color from a place of positivity. The Strongest, the name of the powerful social media campaign birthed by James and Essence, highlights 16 black women who exemplify strength to the NBA star. This campaign follows LeBron’s reveal of his exclusive Nike signature shoe collaboration designed by three African American women. See a few pictures of LeBron’s honorees below which includes our girl Serena. Thank you LeBron and keep shining ladies!
By Felicia Simpson
This article was first posted on www.feliciatsimpson.com
Since the beginning of time, black women have helped to contribute to the growth and evolution of the world. Often minimized, our influence can’t be denied. From Dahomey warrior women who fought to defend their villages to abolitionists like Sojourner Truth who fought to defend their freedom; black women have demonstrated their ability to rise in the face of adversity.
Our talents are vast and can be seen in the literary works of Maya Angelou and her predecessors Phillis Wheatley and Lucy Terry, two women who were sold into slavery, acquired freedom and became notable writers. Our artistic abilities are apparent as evidenced by the masterpieces of our foremothers, Edmonia Lewis and Elizabeth Catlett, who were both accomplished sculptors.
In the fields of social and political activism, we proudly claim Angela Davis and Shirley Chisholm. Even though we are a force to be reckoned with, we stand not only as fighters but as healers. Marie Laveau and Queen Nanny, African Spiritual leaders, sought to enlighten their people as did Henriette Delille, a Catholic who opened her heart to anyone who needed a helping hand. We can’t minimize the strides we’ve made in the world of science with Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, or Katherine Johnson, physicist, and mathematician. Nor can we ignore the pioneering performing artists such as Dorothy Dandridge, first black woman nominated for an academy award for best actress, and Nina Simone, an illustrious singer, composer, and trailblazer.
In addition to the strides we’ve made in the areas mentioned above, we are nurturers, protectors, wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends. Black women continue to make an impact not only within the black community but in the world at large.
Welcome to the month of September!!!! This year is moving by so fast. As we enter into the final month of the third quarter, I really want to focus on women so I reached out to my friend and this posts, Guest Contributor, Kenetha Lanee to provide us with that well written prelude above about African American women in particular, to kick off this month’s blog post.
I love being an inspiration to women of color and I am always inspired by the success stories of other women. Please take the time to read the histories of the women mentioned in the prelude, if you don’t already know HERstory. I am on a journey to becoming a better woman and creating safe spaces, for sisterhood in our society on my all of my platforms.
African American women have struggled and triumphed since forever, and there is no one better on this planet, than a strong African American woman! The African American woman is tenacious, fearless, beautiful, compassionate, purposed-driven, stable, confident, nurturer and this list could go on. From the pioneering women who created our history for us to the modern day trailblazers that we see today, African American women, are to be celebrated year-round. So many of us are creating our own paths, demanding equality from social and political injustices and stepping out from the shadows of other cultures and becoming the queens that we were born to be.
As a middle aged African American woman who is still growing and developing, I encourage each of you to carry on the legacies of the women in the prelude and the ones who you interact with every day in your life. Let’s continue to lift each other up and share more success stories about how we have overcome whatever obstacles, and survived whatever struggles to become the positive images that we see all around us today.
Climbing what used to be the confederate monument at the entrance of City Park in New Orleans, LA was more than just for a photo opportunity. It was a silent monologue that portrayed a snippet of the black woman’s struggle, the adversity we often face, and then….the exaltation we most definitely deserve. This picture goes beyond a black girl wearing all white while perched on a monument in the middle of a busy intersection. To me, it is a portraiture that depicts the plight of sistas.
When I was asked by Deorin Payne (the mastermind and photographer behind this shoot and the Enthroned project) to take this picture, I immediately accepted the challenge. I didn’t know which monument we would be shooting at, but I was open to whatever his creative brain had in store. When we got to the location, I got nervous. The stone is as tall as it looks in the pictures. Metaphorically, it represented the struggle we black women often face. Just like the tall stone, life can sometimes seem insurmountable to us. Not only do we have to deal with being a woman in America, we have to deal with being a black woman in America and all the push backs that come with that beautiful reality. However, despite the odds that black women often face, we always find ways to persevere. And with that in mind, I set out to climb that tall stone. In an ankle length skirt, I proceeded to mount a ladder and ascend all the way to the top. On my way up, I thought about Harriet Tubman’s fierce journey, Sojourner Truth’s fight, Assata Shakur’s braveness, Angela Davis’ audaciousness, Fannie Lou Hamer’s assuredness, and all my other dynamic foremothers who paved the way for women like me; I instantly got an extra boost of confidence.
When I finally got to the top, I figured the rest would be a breeze. I was wrong. Adversity reared its ugly head as it always does. People began honking, some recorded me on their cell phones, and some people were frowning while possibly yelling expletive language. But here I was, nestled on top of the tall stone, drowning out the noise and posing every time the camera flashed…..another example of how black women push through despite hardships.
While up there sweating with my legs shaking, I thought to myself….”this can very well represent the experiences of being black women,” – uncomfortable, unsure at times, constant noise, discrimination, voyeurism, shady judgment, and pressure. But despite the rubbish, we endure and rise. And when we look back, we are glad we stayed the course and grateful that we left no stone unturned.
To all my sistas, gracefully tackle any challenge that comes your way because you are built for it. Rise to the occasion, sit firmly in your position, handle your business, drown out the noise and wait for the beautiful picture to unfold – it will be all worth it.
Feelings, crown, soul, and pride are all words synonymous with hair for black Folks. Many of Our emotions, experiences, and expressions are intertwined within the embodiment of our hair. This sentiment was eloquently sang by Solange in the song “Don’t Touch My Hair.”
India Arie boldly details in the song “I Am Not My Hair” that her hair is not totally indicative of who she is even though her hair is an intrinsic part of her and her being.
Does the way I wear my hair determine my integrity
I am expressing my creativity
I am not my hair
I am not my skin
I am not your expectations (No)
I am the soul that lives within
As black people, we know these songs and situations surrounding our hair all too well. The emotions that come with them, the feelings they evoke and experiences they bring in celebration of us, our hair and all of our uniqueness. Each of these Sisters tell a story about their hair in a contrasting but similar way. What is evident though is that black folk hair is a central part of their existence, especially our sisters. On the outside of that is the unwanted and unwarranted fanfare that our hair seems to garner from other races especially white folks.
Black folks hair has been the conversation of workplace professionalism and whether it’s appropriate. Many Black people have not received jobs, promotions or partnerships because their hair was deemed too ethnic. For years, the military had strict rules regarding appearance and some rules specifically targeted black women hairstyles and how they could wear their hair. However, recently we have seen these two branches come out to revise those rules and be more open to different styles.
In 2017, the U.S. Army changed its rules on grooming and appearance which opened the door for many black servicewomen to embrace their hair in its natural state and in July of this year the U.S. Navy went on Facebook Live to describe updates to its hair policy, a move that positively and significantly changed the lives and gave new freedom to black servicewomen.
So one would think that with major institutions changing long-standing policies on hair and appearance that would signify that we as a country have made leaps and bounds when it comes to acceptance of different cultures, their ways and their appearances but wait here comes a select group of white folks, Christians and private schools to put an end to open-minded thinking and acceptance across the board and doing it in an institution of education.
Though there are a multitude of incidents that involve students being oppressed because of their personal appearance and specifically hair, (too many to try to mention), in the past few weeks two incidents have taken center stage. In one incident a young named Clinton Stanley Jr. was told that he couldn’t start his first day of first grade at A Book’s Christian Academy because he had locs as his hairstyle. His father Clinton Stanley Sr. expressed his dissatisfaction about the incident on Facebook. Closer to my home in Terrytown, a subdivision of New Orleans a Catholic school Christ the King suspended a young girl named faith because she had extension in her hair. She had been attending the school for several years but over the summer they changed their policy on hair which banned any hair but natural hair. I truly wonder who that rule was intended for.
The capacity of these type of incidents on a yearly basis brings me to question actions and to start developing thoughts around the consistency. Are incidents like denying students an education because of their hair a way to oppress and suppress enrollment of a certain group or demographic in a school?
Can someone tell me what does a child’s hairstyle have to do with an education? Clinton, Faith and any other child’s hairstyles have no bearing on their ability to learn.
Are white folks afraid, confused and so intrigued by black folks’ hair that they see the need to ban it but want to touch it at the same time?
As a people who are diverse, multifaceted and amazing we understand white folks being enamored with our hair but when it comes to our hair we are simply asking for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T and please Don’t Touch Our Hair!
“We just don’t want to be shut out…”
For a second time, I’ve had an opportunity to see a New Orleans school established post-Katrina initiate steps to establish a relationship with the alumni community of the school that previously held the space it now occupies.
But this time was different.
Perhaps this was because John McDonogh Sr. High School hasn’t necessarily received the best local/national media attention nor adequate resources from the city’s previously run school board.
Having grown up just blocks away from the school, I am even guilty of glossing over any glimpses of light John McDonogh’s students experienced, having intentionally sought out admission to another school outside of my neighborhood.
And unfortunately, longstanding, negative narratives were true for most of the city’s schools before being taken over by the RSD in 2005.
*scores out of 200 points according to Cowen Institute
Failing performance scores, a 2003 school shooting and the 2013 Oprah Winfrey Network(OWN)-produced docu-series Blackboard Wars all sealed the deal for a perception that wasn’t the best and still leaves it’s former staff and students upset to this day.
According to The Times Picayune’s description of the 2013 docu-series Blackboard Wars,
“A teaser trailer released a few weeks ago depicts McDonogh as a dangerous, dysfunctional institution.”
Via data, the televised documentary and news reports, sure, this synopsis may have held some truth, but now, as both an adult and educator with greater awareness of how gravely low-socioeconomic status oppresses black communities, the sad truth I’ve come to realize over time is that these situations were never solely the problem as we were led to think.
These situations were rather symptoms of a larger problem- SYSTEMIC POVERTY and NEGLECT OF A COMMUNITY.
And this is the message former students and staff want to convey.
They were not the problem.
“We are not what they say we are…”
As Bricolage Academy now prepares to occupy the newly renovated John McDonogh Sr High School building, their staff has connected with former John McDonogh High students and staff to identify ways in which a meaningful relationship can be formalized to provide what alumni and community members have wanted all along – someone to listen, and a place to call home once again.
This led to an organized opportunity for dialogue titled, “Listening to John McDonogh,” facilitated by Bricolage staff members who stressed the importance of the staff listening with the intent to understand each individual’s stories, because for so many years, those in positions of power, wouldn’t.
And for many community members, that is the greatest frustration. Despite attempts to assume management and be involved in the process post-Katrina, the school was essentially awarded to charter management operator Future is Now, drawing more contention between its current students/staff, former students/staff and community members than ever,
Through simply listening,
I felt the apprehension.
But I better understood their plight.
And although they may believe their feelings have been ignored over the years, I better understand the power of the voices of alumni.
Especially given my little to no involvement with my high school alma mater, who, unlike John McDonogh, was allotted more resources and support to thrive rather than suffer like the majority of schools. Survivor’s remorse maybe?
It’s so easy for these voices to be mistaken merely for overbearing complaints, but I was able to see past the surface. There was no arguing or yelling, but a deep need to be heard. There is so much unresolved trauma that needs healing. There is so much apprehension and fear about white leaders and educators overtaking spaces previously held predominately by black community members.
Despite disappointment with convincing Orleans Parish School Board/RSD to preserve their former building and school name, leadership at the now Bricolage Academy at John McDonogh have listened to what alumni need and are continuing to work and discuss greater opportunities for integration of the two communities.
The building that once housed the students and staff of John McDonogh Sr. High is going through its final finishes and touches to finally reopen its doors and more than ever, in addition to ensuring their school’s legacy is painted in a more positive light, alumni and staff want nothing more than the best for its current and future students served, even asking for ways they can be supportive to students on their first day of classes and thereafter.
The personal stories I had the pleasure of hearing, highlight memories of school pride, family, and support. Our guests didn’t deny that challenges existed, but what they took away from their high school experience was far greater than what any school performance score or reality show could ever accurately capture.
As former school principal, Dr. Thompson said about the community members during a scene of Blackboard Wars, “I don’t think they resist change, I think they resist the process of change.”
And if this is true for most, those moving toward occupying that space have a responsibility to work toward mending the broken pieces of a school that lost its way along the way because after all, John McDonogh alumni LOVE that place.
And their voices matter.