By Jada Monica Drew, MS
The core of inequity is engulfed in fear and ignorance. We are socialized to avoid conversations about race, politics, and money. Yet, these topics are what makes our country vibrant in its diversity of people, perspective, place of origin and access to wealth. Talk more about these topics! In the United States of America, school systems, whether private or public, are facing the reality of changing demographics and are asking the question, “What do we do?” That’s easy; create an environment where all students, faculty, and staff are successful. “How do we do it?” That’s the harder question to answer.
Many education models are moving in the direction of more diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) frameworks or curriculum that is culturally responsive. However, the reality is DEI efforts and initiatives are add-ons. Add-ons are extra to-dos added to your scope of work. No one likes more work. Teachers, administrators, and staff are busy with meetings, grading, coordinating, and making sure children are learning. If people do not feel like add-ons are immediately applicable to their work, they may not support DEI initiatives. You must find common links, access points, and time within the normal operations of your school calendar.
Note: Diversity, equity, & inclusion are all different, yet connectors on the continuum of ensuring belonging and equal opportunity.
Steps to Transformation
DEI has been advertised as a must to change or transform organizations because the population of the United States is changing, but teachers, principals, staff, parents, and board members are tired of talking about the problems diversity brings. Diversity was once a word that brought positivity and hope. Now it represents politically correct language patrol and nervous feelings prohibiting focus and fully engaged people ready to give their all. In tackling the task of creating equity, we need everyone at their best. How do we do this? There are four preliminary steps we encourage organizations to take to transform schools and communities. Each step looks differently at each institution.
- Analyze how you are collecting and examining data; qualitative and qualitative.
- Develop interpersonal skills through story-telling and story-listening.
- Create innovative solutions with the help of the students with fun tools.
- Accept non-closure and discomfort as indicators of growth.
Step 1: Analyze how you are collecting and examining data: qualitative and qualitative
The Social Designs formula is Historic Truth telling + Building Relationships + Creative Action = Social Justice. In order to build equity within an organization you must assess the history of how data has been collected and aggregated. Make sure there is a system in place to gather demographic information based on race, gender, and other determinants at every entry point possible. This data will help you to develop a historic and current picture of the impact of your work across lines of difference. Gathering qualitative information from people within the school, alumni, and community supporters is important as well to help you think critically about next steps.
Step 2: Develop interpersonal skills through story-telling and story listening
Many adults lack the soft skill of high emotional intelligence when it comes to being okay with being wrong. Yes, this happens in schools too. This is ironic because the purpose of school is to explore, think critically, and test ideas. Yet, when we get “diversity” wrong, some react as if it is the worst thing in the world. Grace has to be extended to each other when embarking on areas of diversity and inclusion. We all make mistakes, but we have built an unforgiving culture in diversity. We have all mispronounced someone’s name or used the wrong pronoun or even said statements others may deem disrespectful. Our goal is to help people understand the power of ownership and forgiveness. Leaders sometimes lack the character traits of accountability and compassion which hinders communal growth and mutual awareness building. Each meeting, orientation, and professional development opportunity can include intentional and challenging questions, prompts, queries, or activities to push your staff to share with one another. Be intentional about each person sharing equally and build relationships by telling stories of culture, challenge, and success. A great activity to use for this is the Culture Wheel.
Step 3: Include students in the process “The Spill Over Effect”
When we practice, we are more confident to practice in the classroom. Teachers we work with duplicate the tools and activities we teach during professional development training sessions into classroom practices and curriculum. In many cases, students are more excited and engaged to discuss difficult topics and to celebrate each other. As you are going through the process of learning more about DEI, add the same activities to your curriculum. You can do it! Teachers we’ve worked with have incorporated activities such as: Dialogue Principle Practice, the Culture Wheel, and Differentiating DEI to their lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school students. In turn, students have been given the opportunity to then lead conversations and activities with peers and other teachers.
Step 4: Accept non-closure and discomfort as indicators of growth
The same way we are encouraged to visit the doctor for routine checks or the grocery store to restock our refrigerators, DEI work is continuous and ever evolving. When you feel uncomfortable, this is the time to step into your growing edge. Pull on the notion of critically challenging perspectives and opinions in dialogue and debate form. Dialogue creates opportunities of deep learning, while debating helps us to sharpen our ability to test facts. Dialogue helps us to appreciate experiences and invites mistakes, while debating pushes our research skills a step further. The more questions you leave a DEI session with, the better. There is no ending solution for diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, there are policies and practices to examine and shift to create as much fairness as possible.
You have the skills to start or continue your journey to setting an environment of equity becoming the new normal. Set SMART goals and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Reach out to other schools to engage in masterminds and solution incubators. Connect with local economic hubs to align with investing in the vitality of your community’s economic future. We need to think outside of the box to find solutions.
The nation as a whole is being charged with the responsibility of school accountability. Agreement on how to succeed in this area, however, are few and far between.
“ESSA requires states to report much more detailed information about their schools, including teacher quality, discipline data, and school spending habits.”
Read more here
Ashé Cultural Arts Center’s luncheon, held on Friday, was a gathering place for local leaders to reflect on the legacy of King and Chavez. Jo Ann Minor, Ashé’s Associate Director of Operations and Administration, summed up the luncheon perfectly in her concluding remarks: “How wonderful to be inspired by the lives of Dr. King and Cesar Chavez. How wonderful to be inspired by each other.” The event was a reminder of our own strength and ability to build the beloved community.
Looking around the Ashé Powerhouse, one could find hope in the beautiful blend of African and Latin culture among the people, as well as the decor. The table runners were made of traditional African fabrics in bright colors and intricate patterns. Both sides of the room had a display of Latin skulls and figurines typical of Dia de Los Muertos. The event began with musical artists, and then highlighted the voices and work of two local changemakers: Erika Wright, Vice President for Global Philanthropy for JP Morgan Chase & Co.; and Lucas Diaz, City, Culture and Community Doctoral Fellow at Tulane University and Co-founder of Puentes, which addresses Latinx social justice issues.
Together, these speakers wove together a narrative of connection, purpose, and perseverance that we can all be inspired by.
Wright began by telling the audience about her own history and connection to New Orleans. Though she was raised in Chicago, her grandfather grew up in the Seventh Ward, and her husband is also from New Orleans. She assured the audience that her “future is tied to the future of this city. ”By tuning into ideas about cultural pride as a form of resistance, which is present in King’s concepts of “somebodiness,” she offered New Orleans as an example of resistance. Simply by existing as a city populated by a majority of people of color, New Orleans is an example of the strength and pride of resisting systemic oppression. She also reminded us that we are a part of that resistance before then sharing a quote from King that has influenced her perspective on racial justice work:
White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of a shift in the status quo. This is a multi-racial nation where all groups are dependent on each other…There is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity.
This quote has helped Wright realize that it is her job to question, challenge, and disrupt systems. She wanted to look at the field of philanthropy and see how it has undercut communities of color. So when she walks into a meeting and is the only person of color in a room, she is ready to ask her colleagues to think more critically about their intentions and decisions. Wright also touched upon the idea of multi-culturalism and offered statistics on the way we as a society have “closed ourselves off to prosperity” by hindering the advancement of people of color. An equity profile of New Orleans created by PolicyLink found that the New Orleans economy could have been $18 billion stronger in 2014 if its racial gaps in income had been closed. While citing this statistic, Wright also reminded the audience, that it’s not about the money.
“Economic justice is a foundation for human dignity,” Wright said. “People want to protest because they want fairness, not an advantage.”
Wright concluded with a call for us to continue the legacy of Dr. King’s work despite the difficulty and challenges by using one of his quotes to reaffirm her own commitment to justice.
“It’s not easy to hold that purpose. Sometimes I feel like I’m flying, sometimes running, sometimes walking, sometimes crawling. But I vow to keep moving forward.”
Lucas Diaz also spoke about purpose and connection. He began by talking about how we are all connected by a more extensive narrative of social justice. Though he grew up in the Dominican Republic and was not exposed as a child to the teachings of King, he still recognizes the way he has been called into the work of King. He spoke about a growing consciousness regarding social justice that began to emerge when he was fifteen years old, and his father was murdered in the Dominican Republic.
“I began to see the world as a complex place where people were constantly struggling to understand each other and hear each other and love each other and wanted to be loved and didn’t know how to do it,” Diaz said.
He began to ask himself why he was here and what was his purpose. He wanted to be a writer, but as he grew older was pulled into the navy reserves. Later, he felt called to start an organization that would serve the Latinx community in New Orleans, Puentes. He started paying more attention to the Latinx people he’d see in the different neighborhoods, and those waiting in front of the Home Depot and Lowe’s. He thought about their struggles as immigrants. As an immigrant himself, he related in many ways to the challenges of not knowing the language and trying to make one’s way to a new place.
He began to recognize the importance of community in the way that King and Chavez organized and built community. He talked about the idea of economic justice that Wright had touched upon. “This was King’s vision of the beloved community,” said Diaz. The beloved community is a community organized around the power of love, where race, ethnicity, gender, etc., doesn’t affect one’s access to opportunity or life outcomes.
“The beloved community is a place where all people can thrive.”
Looking around the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, where about one hundred people had gathered to reflect on their purpose, it was clear the beloved community, the community that Dr. King and Chavez had envisioned, was still alive. Jo Ann Minor’s words were perfect. We can all continue to be inspired by the legacy of these great leaders, as well as the leaders around us right now at this moment.
Delivery of ‘The Dream’ is part of all of our lives. The Dream offers the ultimate level of inclusion for each and every one of us. Regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or orientation, we all are part of the vision Dr. King so vividly imagined and portrayed to us with his dynamic spoken word. As I researched and studied the man who had the vision for The Dream, I discovered the immense depth The Dream embodied and the connection it offers to our teenagers and young adults dealing with identity and self-awareness while searching for their place in this world.
A young Martin Luther King found himself faced with some of the same obstacles many of our children encounter today. Biography.com describes a young Martin as a precocious child who entered Morehouse College at 15, but who was an unmotivated student who just floated through his first two years before finding his way. It goes on to say how young Martin initially questioned religion and felt uncomfortable with overly emotional displays of religious worship. And it wasn’t until his junior year, Martin began to pull it together and start on the road to becoming the iconic leader we know today. A passage from the article, “The King of Morehouse” by Brian McClure describes this occurrence best:
Although young M. L. was captivated by his academic discourse and classroom discussion, his transcript reflects his struggle with “book learning.” Records show he did not earn his first A until his junior year in 1946-47 school year, in a Bible class with Professor Kelsey. It was in Professor Kelsey’s class where M. L. learned the implications of the Christian gospel and their uses for social and racial reform. King became the president of the sociology club, a member of the debate team, student council, glee club, ministers union, the Morehouse chapter of the NAACP, and also stayed active by joining the Butler Street YMCA basketball team.
Those are some of the same sentiments that echo how many of our young people approach life today. Many of them are searching for themselves. They deal with emotional and mental stress. They are at times impatient and are often victim to this microwave society. Many of them deal with not knowing what they want to do with their lives and are uncomfortable with that uncertainty. Learning of these accounts about young Martin gives me great hope for our young people and our future.
I believe in and acknowledge Dr. King’s Dream, but I now know that it was birthed through a young man who had to come of age and find himself and his place both in life and education. Young adults need to know their life challenges are comparable to the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and their steps are not that far off from greatness.
Additionally, a major factor in young Martin’s life that our children can take advantage of are the adults who never give up on them and allow them time to grow, offering an unconditional period of learning and love. A young Martin enjoyed the support and tutelage from professors Walter P. Covers, George D. Kelsey, Samuel W. Wilson and the consistent guidance of Morehouse President Benjamin Mays. This is why we say Black Male Educators make a difference in young adults lives and 2% is not enough.
In closing, Dr. King’s Dream is always an amazing part of our history, but let’s make our young adults aware of the Beautiful Struggle that shaped the man who dreamed The Dream and articulated it so eloquently to us. They need to know they are in great and capable company.
“I could be using that money to buy them books or stuff that they actually need, rather than for just going to school.”
“There’s so much shame attached to it. Students constantly tell me, ‘I want to be at my right grade,'” said Jerel Bryant, Carver’s principal. “It’s a huge thing.”
By Cheryl Kirk
It’s no secret, that as parents, we are our children’s biggest and best advocates. The phrase parent advocate can be a bit overwhelming for parents. We have so many things to do and places to be, it’s easy to think we can’t be PTA president or room mom, but there are so many ways to advocate for your child.
My youngest son has struggled with his transition from elementary school to intermediate school this year. I have to be my son’s advocate. He has always performed well in school and it has been frustrating for my son and myself. Homework time went from being short and sweet to a several hour process. He was losing assignments and not arriving to class prepared. He was for the first time struggling to pass tests although I knew he knew the information. It wasn’t long before I realized that punishing him wasn’t the complete answer to this situation. It was obvious he was frustrated with himself.
I have had a lot of correspondence with his teachers. It was my job to make it clear to his teachers who were just getting to know him this is new for him, and not his normal. Most of his teachers have been great in helping my 5th grader adjust. He was in fact diagnosed with ADHD. Slowly through trial and error, we are finding the best plan for him and he is showing improvement.
Below are some suggestions regarding how a parent can navigate being a parent advocate:
Technology makes this one a little easier than it used to be. Most teachers have an email they check frequently. Send an email once a month just to check in. Always ask if there is anything your child can work on and remember to thank teachers for their help. If email is not an option, an old fashion phone call will do the trick.
Keep Track of Your Child’s Progress
I have access to my children’s grades via the internet and I check them weekly. If you don’t have internet access to grades, progress reports are a good time to assess your child’s progress and contact teachers if grades are not your child’s best.
Ask for Help
If you suspect your child is having a problem, talk with your child’s teacher. If you still have concerns speak with the principal. Don’t hesitate to look for advice outside the school system if you don’t feel like you received the answers or help you need for your child.
Let’s face it teachers and faculty are busy. They have a lot of children and families to deal with. Sometimes that email or call will ensure your child doesn’t fall to the bottom of the pile. Request a meeting with your child’s teacher. You don’t have to wait for report card or parent-teacher conferences time.
Remember being a parent advocate can just mean being proactive in your child’s education. It’s parents working with teachers to make sure children are receiving everything they need to be successful.
With the new year here, there is an opportunity to reflect on what we accomplished in 2017 and what remains to be done to advance educational equity in 2018. It is also fitting that the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday always starts off the new year. The legacy of this great leader fills us with a renewed hope and energy for what we might accomplish in the year ahead, and also provides a framework for our inquiry. We might ask whether we are any closer to fulfilling his dreams and the dreams of the civil rights movement. We might also ask what we still need to do in the months ahead.
Looking back at 2017, there have certainly been some challenges to equity. Early in the year, the Education Department rolled back protections for transgender students to use the bathrooms aligned with their gender identity, rescinded guidelines outlining the rights of students with disabilities, and scaled back investigations into civil rights violations at public schools and universities. However, the bright spot of 2017 is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which is a law passed by the Obama administration that seeks to provide support and resources to historically disadvantaged schools and students. Nationwide, states are beginning to implement the new law.
In Louisiana, we have seen the beginning of ESSA-related changes, which has provided increased access to critical information regarding students of color, and English as a Second Language and disabled students. Schools are now facing increased accountability for failing to serve those students and for disproportionate rates of suspension. Moreover, throughout 2017 the newly formed State Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline has been meeting and crafting recommendations for comprehensive changes to the school discipline code. They have been laying the groundwork for much-needed changes that will likely happen in the upcoming 2018 session. In summary, we see the state moving in the right direction.
However, 2018 will still require a lot of energy and a lot of work. Louisiana advocates need to remain vigilant in ensuring that the state stays true to its commitment to implementing ESSA. Additionally, while the Advisory Council is working on legislation, it also has not yet received meaningful public input. The advocacy community will have to watch the Council’s proposals carefully and provide feedback, as well as engage with any legislation introduced in 2018 to ensure they are in alignment with key principles of equity.
On a national level, we have to keep fighting for the rights of all students. Legislators promised to hold firm on passing a measure to renew protections for ‘Dreamers’—students and young immigrants who lack legal documentation because they were brought to the United States by their parents when they were very young. However, the legislators disappointed the immigrant advocacy community when they failed to keep this promise this past December. In January we must demand the quick passage of a bill with protections for Dreamers. We have to fight for their dreams of equity too.
Additionally, it seems the Education Department has its eye on a 2014 letter from the Obama administration about school discipline and race, which included instructions for schools to investigate complaints of discrimination related to discipline policies. The Education Department has said it will delay enforcement of a rule related to this guidance. We have to stand firm by pressuring the Education Department to remain committed to alternatives to suspensions.
We certainly have our work cut out for us in 2018. Thankfully we have the wisdom and insights of great leaders, such as MLK, to guide us into this new year and a new challenge. He reminds us we are “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” We have to continue to believe in his dream of equity for all and keep working toward it. In looking back at 2017, we see that change is slow, but it is happening despite the challenges we are facing from the current administration. We will hold steady and strong and put in one letter, one call, and one bill at a time. Then, at the end of the next year, we can look back again, and see that the needle has moved a little farther toward equity and that we are a little closer to fulfilling the dream.