The Second Line Blog

Into a Burning House

Melba. Minnijean. Elizabeth. Ernest. Gloria. Carlotta. Thelma. Terrence. Jefferson. We stand on the shoulders of the Little Rock Nine. Ruby –  we definitely salute you as well.

They were physically and verbally abused, spat on and called names. Melba had acid thrown in her eye and they attempted to set her on fire. Minnijean was confronted by a group of young men who assaulted her yet she was suspended for the entire year. Mobs shouted at them in attempts to put fear in their heart and minds. They were the subject of mass ridicule and torment.

I say this with high conviction and the utmost purpose; I don’t want my children around those type of white people! And any other children for that matter! A few weeks ago, in the affluent Upper West Side section of Manhattan, the seeds of those crazy, hateful, prejudice, and racist mobs were planted yet again and God forbid if we allow them to harvest. The city’s plan is to diversify the New York school population by bringing in students who have been affected by the city’s school choice policies. Policies that often lead to more affluent parents moving to and flooding certain parts of the city. Yes, gentrification at work once again. As a result, the resources and money follows those families and students. Lower income families and students get pushed out of neighborhoods they once occupied and pushed directly into schools with lower resources and money, a cycle some parents seem to be fine with just as long as their child is being served.

The city’s school officials and elected parent leaders identified want to make New York schools more representative of New York’s demographics by diversifying and desegregating the schools. They want to bring in children with economical and educational disadvantages to benefit from the advantages allotted to schools with an affluent student body. But at what cost?

We have seen the actions of parents, students and mobs of yesteryear when desegregation was forced on them. I don’t think that is something I want to send our beloved children into today. My hope is that the children of these school would be different from their parents, but middle school aged children are very impressionable and many may possess the soul and spirit of their parents by default. It has been 61 and 58 years since the Little Rock Nine and Ruby Bridges desegregation crisis respectively. It seems as if we are still battling the same issues decades later. I know gentrification, zip codes, and demographic games are being played, but I have to ask black folks these questions:

  • Why are we still trying to inhibit spaces where we are clearly not wanted?

  • How long will we continue to send our children behind enemy lines and into enemy territory to fight a battle that there is no chance to win?

In closing, this quote by the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King really hits home, “I fear, I am integrating my people into a burning house.”

When asked what should we do in this case, Dr. King replied we should become the firemen and put the fire out. But, I as a parent don’t have any interest in putting out any fires for American souls on American soil. I am not concerned with the feelings and white tears from white parents suffering from influenza. I am not comfortable in continuing to fight others at the expense of my child and especially when those others seemed to be morally, mentally, and emotionally bankrupt.

Dr. King also said, “Some of the old optimism was a little superficial and now it must be tempered with solid realism.”

As a parent, I realized this has been tried before and we need to find more innovative ways to educate our children and get them the advantages they need. We were enslaved and still managed to learn how to read and get educated. The early schools that educated us were amazing institutions of higher learning that were segregated and educated many of our great leaders. Why are we settling and sending our children into harm’s way? The time to re-evaluate these actions has come and I still say loud and with vigor, I don’t want none of our children around them white folks!

A Lesson Outside of the Classroom: A Visit to Whitney Plantation with Abramson Sci Academy Class of 2018

A transformative and powerful experience all because one teacher shared hers…

I had the pleasure of joining my colleagues and seven senior students on a tour of Whitney Plantation, located in Wallace, LA in St. John the Baptist Parish.

I’m glad I was able to learn about this hidden gem.

I’m thankful, this trip was brought to fruition all because ASA, senior English IV teacher, Ms. Neal shared her experience with her group of senior scholars and sought support from a few staff (Ms. Fontenot and Ms. Omosefe) with ensuring the students could get there.

As CBS News states in an interview with the historical site’ owner, John Cummings,

“About an hour’s drive from New Orleans, along the Mississippi River, sits a Civil War-era sugar cane plantation, the first museum in America dedicated entirely to slavery. The Whitney Plantation looms as a stark reminder: Our nation was built on the backs of slaves.”

The students who were moved by her experience inquired about how they too could visit the historical Whitney Plantation and hopefully embark on an encounter with their history unlike what is covered in their schools’ history books.

And that is just what happened.

Ms. Neal has a way of doing this often. Often effortlessly, which is important as a first-year educator in a field that we know is no stranger to burnout. .

Ms. Neal wanted to make this trip happen for those who wanted to experience it, but as we know, not much in life is free, so after taking care of the admission costs, Ms. Neal sent a warm text reaching out to a few to help fund the students’ breakfast and lunch to remove the burden of families paying the costs themselves with other senior budget commitments. Exhibiting teamwork and consideration as she often does.

The experience of being black in America is a topic of wrapped up in various emotions.

Not everyone feels pleasure in speaking on it, so I see a lot of avoidance for protective measures.  An opportunity to share this journey with individuals of my likeness is an opportunity I was unwilling to pass.

I personally was amazed at the insight that was shared after Ms. Neal suggested we all pause and debrief before leaving the site and driving an hour back into the city for lunch.

I appreciated this; their words gave me so much hope for their futures.

As high school educators, we are tasked with providing intervention to band-aid the wounds and often deficits from grade school while ensuring they are adequately prepared for life after high-school.  We get frantically wrapped up in GPAs, ACT scores, and college acceptance letters which are all important determinants in future pathways, but sometimes, looking beyond these benchmarks can indicate just how ready for the world our kids truly are because insight and discernment can’t be quantified.

I watched these teens get choked up in their words and emotions, while explicitly naming  they had been positively overwhelmed by the imagery and narratives illustrated by the tour guide.

Some of the students’ reflective statements I left with were:

“I’m glad that I was able to come out here!”

“This was my first time ever being able to do something like this.”

-D’Myron

“They weren’t willing to do this everyday.  They HAD to, to stay alive. I was just very overwhelmed.”

-Briana

“I’m leaving with a stronger sense of pride.

We need to understand that the people walking in America right now, we need to understand that we are descendants of the strongest of the strong.  People who made it through that hardship. People who made it through stuff that was unbearable. So I feel we should walk with our heads held high, no matter how tough life gets because we are descendants of people who were strong despite tough times.”

-Walter

“I’m excited to come on this trip because I was able to learn a lot more than I even knew about my history!”

-Desire

“I could FEEL the presence of our ancestors around me.

Nowadays, we make a lot of “moments”.  We watch Roots, you know, we watch these programs, but that’s a moment.  What I experienced today, was just what I said. It was an experience, something I’m going to cherish and hold on to for the rest of my life.  Something I can tell my kids about. I think the greatest power we can have, especially, me as a young black man, is knowledge. So by Ms. Neal taking me to experience things  like this, allowing me to soak up that knowledge, that’s something money can’t buy, I’m so grateful for that alone.”

-Tye

As tour guide Mr. Ali said during our final stop during the tour as a stark reminder:

“If we invest in good family structure and education, it pays off.”

Thank you Ms. Neal.

Martin Behrman Charter School to host 4th Annual Poetry on the Ave event!

Students at Martin Behrman Charter School work hard all year long to prepare for the school’s annual Poetry on the Avenue event.  The students dig deep to develop poems from their souls.  Their work is astounding and outstanding.

Poetry on the Avenue is a free family friendly event sure to both enlighten and entertain. In the past they’ve featured world renowned artists such as Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets, Jessica Care Moore, Chuck Perkins, Sunni Patterson, and Tarriona “Tank” Ball of Tank and the Bangas.

Thank you Miss Fish

I couldn’t let Teachers Appreciation Week come to an end without writing a little something about my son’s teacher, Miss Fish. Sheesh, where do I begin? When I decided to move my son from Nursery school to a “big boy school,” I was a bit nervous. Actually, nervous is an understatement. I was terrified!

My son had been at his Nursery since he was 17 months and I knew everyone over there. I knew when I dropped him off every morning, he was in good hands. I had everyone’s cell; I could pop up if I wanted too (yes, I’m that parent). He was learning and was feed well (When I say pop up, it was around lunch because somebody’s grandmother was in the kitchen cooking up something good).  So when I decided to move him from Nursery to PK4, I had anxiety.

After being disappointed with the whole OneApp process and my son not getting placed, I began to look at private schools. Unfortunately, this was my only option at this point because he had been placed on the waiting list for every school I chose and I couldn’t wait until the last minute to enroll him someplace. I was venting to a girlfriend one day, and she told me that when her daughter was in PK4, she had this amazing teacher Miss Fish and I should go check out the school where she taught. If I could get him in her class, I would not be disappointed. She went on to say how Miss Fish was so caring and was incredibly invested in her kids. She took teaching seriously and that she credits Miss Fish for her daughters love for learning.

Of course, I made an appointment with the school, and a week later I was meeting the popular Miss Fish. The moment I met her, I felt a sense of calmness. Parents know the anxiety that comes when it’s time to move your kid to a new school. You think about everything from will my child have friends, how will he adapt to his new surroundings, how does the school handle bullying… Lord the list goes on and on. Honestly, I can write about my anxiety and fears I have, but I’ll save that for another time.

From the first moment I met Miss Fish  to now, she has been amazing. I have seen growth and maturity in my son. I’m delighted to have been blessed with her as my son’s teacher. For a year, I’ve had no worries about him. She has made sure to love and nurture him as if he was her own. She has challenged him academically. I’m fully confident that he is ready for Kindergarten because of her. As the end of the school year approaches, I can’t help but to feel a bit sad, but I know her job is done. I thank her for all her hard work and a job well done!

It’s Time for Us to Buy Back the Block

By Lorraine Gil

What’s not to love about New Orleans? The architecture, music, food, genuine love received by locals captivates me and reminds me of the island my parents come from. The colors of the homes, the horns in the streets, and joy of the people is something I feel in my core when walking through the French Quarters. There is no doubt the spirit of New Orleans lives in the people. Still with all of its colorfulness, I can’t deny the discomforts of living in this American Gem. Crime, potholes, less than desirable public education, and the signs of gentrification can sometimes be a distraction from all of the beauty New Orleans has to offer. All of these issues deserve an individual blog post but I’m a realtor by trade, so I will touch on gentrification.

I’ve been in New Orleans five years. Yes I know, I’m not a native to the Crescent City, but check out my perspective. I see NOLA through new eyes, with admiration, love, fear and hope. Born in  New York City to Dominican immigrants, raised in California, outside of Los Angeles, I’m now a proud tri-coastal girl. My mother moved us to Echo Park in Los Angeles before it was “Silverlake” from Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan before it was “WaHi,” so I’ve experienced my share of urban revitalization.

My husband Lance was born and raised in the Fischer Projects; he had three sons before we met in college in California. We came back to his hometown to help raise the boys alongside their village. Since Lance had the opportunity to experience college somewhere completely new, it made him realize how uniquely beautiful New Orleans is. We want the boys to know their city and understand its historically rich culture. They’re gearing up for high school and we’re busy teaching them they can beat the odds by supplementing their school work with real life experiences and showing them through our actions what they can accomplish.

As a real estate professional, there are many avenues I can take on the topic of gentrification. There are pros, like long term homeowners benefiting from the new value of their homes and job opportunities.The cons list includes the displacement of New Orleans core and culture, its PEOPLE and that hits this city particularly hard. New Orleans’ history is documented in books of course, but have you have ever sat with an elder who’s shared some pre Karina stories?  You know that the history sounds much better in that NOLA drawl!!

Since Hurricane Katrina, many can see the gentrification happening in historically black neighborhoods throughout the city. Throughout the Marigny, Treme, Bywater for example; coffee shops, trendy bars and restaurants have emerged that don’t necessarily fit the needs of the original residents of the neighborhood. As the prices rise, it seems that what made the neighborhoods vibrant and culturally rich, the people, are being priced out. But what can we do?

In the words of Rick Ross, it’s time for us to buy back the block! Real estate plays a major role in gentrification. Financial and real estate literacy are important. Understanding that real estate is a tangible investment that can be leveraged could save many people from feeling pressured to sell their homes during times of need. Teaching our children from a young age that owning property they can pass down to their own kids will build generational wealth.

One way to combat the change that is happening in the city is to begin to benefit from it as we advocate and provide education for those that cannot.

Sometimes all it takes is to plant a seed. Financial literacy should be more accessible to underserved communities. You’d be surprised to know that paying a mortgage is often times less than paying for rent. Think about it. If it wasn’t, why would your landlord invest in the rental market? Topics such as finances and credit that should be “Adulthood-101”  often get ignored until we run into it later down the line. Those are topics that should be explored. Financial literacy needs to be talked about at the dinner table, put into curriculums at schools, shared at community churches.

There are non-profits in place like Project Homecoming, helping people rebuild what they lost after Katrina. Operation Hope, through Regions Bank offers financial literacy for low income communities. Other organizations put out grants to help bridge gaps in homebuyer’s market for first time home buyer’s lower income brackets. Currently, there’s a 65,000k grants up for grabs (let me know if you know anyone that would benefit). I would also suggest finding a real estate professional you trust and start asking questions. They shouldn’t mind walking you through the process from the very beginning.

I’m not saying these things to defer from the topic. Gentrification is real; it’s happening. I believe education for the communities gentrification affects can spark change of thought, thoughts which in turn get people investing in their neighborhoods when they reach a place in their lives to buy a home or when it’s their time to invest. I’m out there everyday. I see the changes happening. I see the black and brown owed construction companies, realtors and investors being apart of the change and growing in the real estate world and it’s a beautiful sight. I will continue to strive to be apart of a community of professionals who sparks change and who doesn’t mind passing on my knowledge, the best way I know how.

How Implicit Bias Showed Up in La. School Discipline Legislation

 

The recent defeat of a school discipline bill in the Louisiana legislature was a lesson in how implicit bias plays out not just in our classrooms but in the statehouse as well.  We already know that children of color are disparately impacted by suspensions and some studies conclude that implicit bias is likely a reason for the disparity. Implicit bias is when positive or negative attitudes affect our decisions and actions when we don’t even realize it. These biases occur unconsciously and can override our conscious stated beliefs and commitments. For example, a teacher will want to treat all students equally, but because of her implicit bias towards white students, she might give a white student less harsh discipline for the same misbehavior of a black student. She does this unknowingly and unconsciously.

So, it should not have been surprising to see this same dynamic at play last month in the Louisiana Senate in regards to a bill attempting to address school discipline. After all, a recent study found that the more poor Blacks and Hispanics support a policy, the less likely the policy is to be enacted. SB 465 would have stemmed the school-to-prison pipeline by giving teachers additional options as alternatives to suspension, such as restorative justice practices and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

The Senate committee members all agreed SB 465 was a good bill. In fact, three of them—Senators Appel, Morrish, and Wadsworth—had voted for a previous version of the bill, SB 67, that had passed through both the Senate and House in 2011. SB 67 was vetoed by then Governor Jindal. Last week, SB 465 had the support of the teachers associations, nearly twenty organizations, and a petition signed by over a hundred signatures. Over thirty parents and young people showed up and put in green cards.  Two experts testified on PBIS and restorative practices along with a parent and a student. With the exception of one expert, all of the supporters, including Senator Wesley Bishop from New Orleans who sponsored the bill, were people of color. Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, and Equity in All Places were the main organizations pushing the bill.

So what was the reason for not passing a piece of legislation that would stem the school-to-prison pipeline and help 70,000 students who are suspended annually in Louisiana? There were only three people, notably, three White people, who testified against the legislation and two more who put in cards against it. They were representatives of the school boards and superintendents, as well as an advocacy group founded by Betsy DeVos. What was it they said that was convincing enough to weigh against such an outpouring of support?  Their reason was that the Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline (ACSBD), a two-year old body of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) with very few advocates of color, plans to address the problem in 2019.

This was the reason, despite the fact that FFLIC and other advocates have been working on this issue and legislation for more than fifteen years. The 2011 legislation, which was replicated in the original SB 465, was largely the product of FFLIC’s hard work and advocacy at that time. Yet, when the ACSBD was created, FFLIC was not given a seat. So, in effect, the Senate Committee gave ‘ownership’ of the entire discipline code to the ACSBD in anticipation of a bill that might happen, but certainly is not guaranteed to happen, next year.

This really isn’t so different than the white teacher giving the white kid a break while giving the black kid harsher penalties. This is how implicit bias works. Imagine if all those parents and youth who had come in support of SB 465 had been white: the Senator, the organization representatives, the expert testimony, the parent, the student and the thirty supporters. Their opinions would have been given more weight against the opponents.  The advocates would have been given more credibility and received the credit they deserved for the decades of work they had put into the bill. Instead, the Senate Committee gutted SB 465 down to just one recommendation to add FFLIC, Urban League, Metamorphosis, Louisiana School Psychologist Association, and Louisiana School Counselors Association to BESE’s Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline. Essentially, the bill will now allow a few advocates of color into the room.  But it doesn’t take away the sting of the message that was sent by the legislators, even if they sent it unknowingly and unconsciously. Though it was heartbreaking and angering, it was not surprising. It was a reminder of what children of color face in the classroom everyday. It was also a reason to not give up on this work and to continue to fight, and fight hard, for those children who are pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.

OneApp didn’t give me the school I wanted. I still believe it’s a good system.

This article was first published on ednavigator.com

By Rameisha Johnson

I got the text as I was pulling into my driveway after work: My school choice results were available to view in OneApp, New Orleans’ universal enrollment system. I’d been waiting all week for them, refreshing the EnrollNOLA website at random intervals. Already prepared, I logged in, followed the links and, suddenly, felt like someone dropped a piano onto my car. My daughter didn’t receive any placement. We’d have to go through Round 2 of OneApp, when open seats at good schools are even harder to secure.

Every year around this time, my great city is awash with frustration. Here it is, another year where lots of students find out they didn’t get in to the schools that their parents believed were the best fit for them. All over social media and the news, you hear complaints about how awful the OneApp process is and why it needs to be done away with — presumably, so that all kids will be able to go wherever they want. Meanwhile, families who DID get the schools they wanted keep quiet amid the clamor.

I get the frustration. I feel it myself. If you’re not frustrated that families aren’t getting into the schools they want—the schools they’re depending on to give their children a good education—something’s wrong. But if you’re one of the people calling for pitchforks and torches about OneApp, I’m here to tell you that you’re pissing in the wrong pot. The problem we have isn’t OneApp, which seems to be working the way it’s supposed to, even if we’re not always happy with the individual results. The problem is, there aren’t enough great school options for the children of New Orleans.

A year ago, I was grappling with the news that my daughter’s school was closing. I understood the school board’s decision and her school’s closure alleviated me of the burden of pulling her from a school that hadn’t done right by her educationally for over a year. My husband and I turned our attention to finding a new school through OneApp. Having previously worked for EnrollNOLA, been an enrollment manager for a charter management organization, and helped plenty of other families with school choice as a Navigator for EdNavigator, I knew OneApp backwards and forwards. I figured it would be a cinch.

We decided that we were looking for schools that met a few key criteria. It had to have a letter grade of C or better, practice restorative discipline, do a good job of listening to students and families, have low teacher turnover, and—my personal top priority—not require girls to wear plaid uniforms (that’s a topic for another post but to sum up, they are gender discriminative and illustrate another form of “pink tax”).

There are 12 schools within a two-mile radius of my home. None of them has a state grade higher than a C. Only one of them is a school that I would recommend to other families. We ended up with four schools on our list: Arthur Ashe, Alice Harte, Morris Jeff, and KIPP Central City Academy. After some further debate, we reluctantly added Audubon Charter despite my mixed feelings about selective admission schools. My daughter would be prioritized for seats since she came from a closing school, so we saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to get her into one of the highest-demand schools.

Then, she didn’t get into any of them.

So what if we got rid of OneApp? How would things have been different? Most likely, I would have applied to five individual schools at five different times, waited for five individual letters back—and my daughter still might not have a school placement. This actually happened, pre-OneApp, seven years ago when I applied for her to go to pre-kindergarten. I applied to three different schools and she didn’t get a seat at any of them. At the time, a friend of mine called in a favor (without my consent) and lo and behold, she suddenly got a placement at a school that she was originally denied access to. Was that a fair process? Is that the way we want to go back to handling enrollment, with people with connections or resources getting an advantage—even if they don’t fully realize it?

OneApp has eliminated nearly all of that shadiness. Parents don’t have to take a day off work to leave their children’s personal information all over town, only to be denied a seat because their child has special needs, the family speaks a different language, or the lady at the front desk has a problem with the way you looked when you walked in that day. Shirley’s child isn’t going to get a seat because her third cousin’s coworker has an aunt whose brother-in-law is in the same fraternity with a man who’s married to the principal of the school she wants her child to go to. We all are guaranteed the same opportunity to get placed at a school that we ranked, from “this is the only one I’ll accept” to “I can live with it.”

I think this is a better way. But it can’t fix the larger problem of too many people wanting the same schools, because there aren’t enough great schools to go around. This year, schools like Edward Hynes and Alice Harte received as many as 14 applications for every 1 seat—about the same ratio as universities like Princeton and Yale. Most applicants are just not going to get in. And personally, even though I’m disappointed (and stressed, and anxious, and…), I’m glad there’s nothing I or any other parent could have done to cut the line.

So Teachers are kissing students now?

Yesterday, a teacher, Matthew Nesser, at Edward Hynes Charter School was booked on one count of indecent behavior with a juvenile. The allegations in this case, which took place in my own city of New Orleans, are sickening and as a father, hard to stomach.

This grown man is accused of rubbing this young 14 year old student’s back, kissing her repeatedly, and buying her gifts such as jewelry, chocolate, and cards for her birthday and Valentine’s Day. He allegedly confided in this 14 year old young girl and reportedly broke down crying in front of her several times proclaiming he loved her.

The incidents were reported to the authorities by the young girl’s mother and the 14-year-old has undergone a forensic interview at the Children’s Advocacy Center, but I say to you the damage has been done and her innocence has been compromised severely.

I cannot ignore news like this. As a father, protector and provider, I feel the need to address it head on and move some furniture around up in here to make something shake. Having a daughter brings out the tenderness in the hardest man, and I know if this were my daughter, I would probably take names first and ask questions later; there would probably be a physical confrontation.

Our children are all some of us have. I’m trying to wrap my head around how and why something like this is happening in our schools. The innocence of a girl in the prime of her life, who is about to enter high school, has been violated. Why is this happening in our classrooms? What could have been done to prevent it?

One child is one is too many and this situation needs to be addressed openly by Superintendent Henderson Lewis. Who knows where else these types of unacceptable, heinous actions are happening in our schools.

Every adult in that school building, including Principal Michelle Douglas, has failed this young lady. The school’s board chair, Alvin Miester III has failed this young lady and her family.  Board member Sarah Usdin and the rest of the OPSB have failed this young lady and her family. We, as a community, have also failed to protect and provide a safe space for our most precious of resources, our children.

The only recourse is action. The school board members should know of your concerns. The Superintendent should know of them as well. When Edward Hynes holds the next board meeting on Monday, June 4th, 2018, they should have an unprecedented packed house telling them how they feel. Those in attendance should walk away knowing what solutions are being put in place to prevent this from occurring again.

Yes, there will be an investigation and I’m not sure what the results will be. But, the fact remains that one of our daughters has been put in a situation that she should never have experienced in life. So, I say to you again one is too many!