The Second Line Blog

We Don’t Have a Justice System, We Have a System of Injustice

Gina Womack, the Executive Director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children said, “Everything that FFLIC stands for is because of what she stands for.” Gina was referring to Flora Watson, one of the founding members of the organization. Nearly twenty years ago Flora Watson joined with several other parents to form the organization and to demand changes to the juvenile justice system. The advocacy of her and other parents led to the closing of the Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth, the country’s most notorious juvenile prison, as well as the passage of a piece of legislation intended to reform the juvenile system, Act 1225 of 2003.

Yet, despite the years that have passed, it is still too painful for Flora to discuss the details about how she initially became involved in juvenile justice efforts and, in particular, what happened to her son. Suffice it to say, her son had ADHD, and his trajectory followed what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. 

“The schools referred him to FINS (Families in Need of Services), which led him to the courts, which led him to a group home about five hours away, and then he had a fight with another resident that propelled him into the system.” Flora calls that system “the injustice system.” “From there, it went even more downhill,” she says. Her son was abused in the system and beaten by a guard.

During the time she was fighting for her son, she sought out help and joined together with other parents with similar stories. When asked what she learned from that difficult time that she could tell other parents, she advised, “The courts are not your friend. They don’t have the kids or the family’s best interest at heart. It is a punitive system. It’s a fight and you just have to hang in there.”

That’s exactly what Flora Watson has done. Over the past couple of decades she has hung in the fight. But not just for her own child, but for other children as well. Through leadership training and parent meetings with FFLIC, Flora has learned to pass on her experiences and knowledge to other parents. Additionally, working as an educator, she was able to advocate on behalf of students being pulled into the justice system.

“In the process of fighting for my child, FFLIC came about and there were a lot of changes we wanted to see, like the facilities being closed, and young people not being miles away from home, and changing the conditions they were in. Those things stuck with me for a long time. It is still with me. And to know those things still go on, I feel compelled to be a part of changing it.”

Flora is still currently involved with FFLIC’s parent leadership training and is also supporting her two granddaughters’ participation in Black Girl Rising, a group of young women ages 11-18, who provide holistic peer mentorship and organize against the systems pushing young people into the justice system.

Flora pictured with granddaughters.

Flora’s dedication continues to inspire others to become involved. And yet, the fact that she and others like her have had to fight for so many years and continue to fight for justice for youth can feel a bit disheartening, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Gina Womack summarized this when she said, “Flora’s story is an example of how the system doesn’t make things right.” Recently, parents have sued the Office of Juvenile Justice because of the conditions, treatment, and lack of adequate care of youth in response to covid-19. There have been reports of children being pepper-sprayed, unable to visit their families, and with no masks, hand sanitizer, or social distancing.

Flora offered her reflections on the situation: “If I had a kid in there, I’d be very troubled. Because whatever harmful conditions already exist are being exacerbated, such as lack of physical contact with families.”

And yet, there is a glimmer of hope. As the country has grappled with the murder of George Floyd, more awareness about injustice and racism has led to calls for structural changes in the criminal justice system, including decarceration. Flora Watson is hoping that this moment of awareness is not just a passing moment. “It’s a good time to talk about [racism]. But it’s an even better time to get some real fundamental changes.” She is hoping we can shift towards community-based rehabilitative programs for youth and educational best practices that involve the community and parents and use an appropriate cultural framework.

“These are still children and we have to treat them as such. It’s not the kids that are broken, it’s the system. They are the product of the system.”

Flora also acknowledges that “change doesn’t always come easily and people are resistant to change.” She encourages advocates, especially parents, to not give up. For parents in particular, she wants them to know that they are their child’s best advocate and encourages them to start with educating themselves about laws and school policies to be able to empower themselves to be able to help their child.

“If you persevere, maybe years, and hang in there, you can make a positive difference. All is not lost and there is hope.”

Flora continues to persevere. She has recently encouraged FFLIC to host an event focused on mothers. She was moved when she read in the news that George Floyd had called out for his mother before dying. “What better group is there to get together than the mothers who bring life into this world? To stand against those who are taking life. Mothers have a different place in this society and maybe we will listen to them.” 

In regards to her own son, who is forty now, she says she doesn’t want to dwell on the past and what brought her to FFLIC. “The bigger concern is how to help our current generation and to make the world a better place and to make their future brighter.” 


The mission of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children(FFLIC) is to create a better life for all of Louisiana’s youth, especially those involved in or targeted by the juvenile justice system. As part of that mission, for the past nineteen years, FFLIC has been mobilizing families to raise awareness of abuses in schools and youth prisons.

As a Mom I’m Scared AF About Schools Reopening

With the reopening of school approaching, I can’t lie, I’m scared AF! As a parent, it is my job to keep my babies educated and safe. I’m very concerned about how my children will get the proper education they need inside a potentially unsafe environment. 

Even though New Orleans has decided to start the school year off in phase one, which is 100% virtual, I still have my concerns for when we hit phase two and they want our kids to come back into the classroom. How will teachers keep a class of 5-year-olds focused while wearing a mask? How will teachers keep them from wanting to hug their friends? How will they keep them socially distanced on the playground? There’s just so much uncertainty and until those questions are answered, I don’t feel comfortable with sending my babies back. 

I wanted to know from other parents in New Orleans how they were feeling about the possibility of sending their kids back to school. Here are a few responses I’ve received when I asked… “Hey parent, how are you feeling about this year?” 

My own answer: I’m already preparing my liver for the amount of wine I will be consuming.

L. Coleman, Mother of two, is very concerned about her kids progress during distance learning:

I am a parent of two kids and I am not sure if I am ready for them to return to school this fall. I have been thinking about this issue since COVID took over in March, and we are not ready. I attended a parent Zoom call which confirmed that the parents and teachers are not ready for schools to reopen. I have a daughter in a gifted program at Benjamin Franklin and I am concerned about her progress this year. 

The students really did not get any learning accomplished in the year of 2020. The distance learning did not work well for us. I was busy working and they were not focused on learning with all of the distractions in the house. Everything happened so quickly with COVID, I did not have the time to voice my concerns with the school. 

My back is against the wall right now because I am almost positive that I will have to return back to the office this fall full-time. If my kids go to school this fall, it is out of necessity for me to keep going with my career and the same for my husband.  

My three-year-old is on a waiting list to attend pre-K this fall. I am anxious about her wearing a mask at school. I just do not think it is realistic.. As an adult, I am unable to wear one for an extended period. We will not be ready to take this course of action until we get a vaccine. If a second wave hits, we will need to rethink the plan of reopening schools this fall. If distance-learning is their only option, I will deal with it. 

I hope and pray that our school systems make the right decisions. Today, we are facing a crisis. This won’t last forever. Educated and well thought out decisions need to be made by community leaders. The risk of exposure and more deaths should be a primary concern for the decision-makers in the school systems. 

At the end of the day, we are parents, teachers, guardians, aunties, uncles, and grandparents of the children. We are all stakeholders. The citizens should be of greatest concern when making decisions about reopening schools this fall. 

M. Bagneris is a mother and an educator. She is very concerned for the safety of others 

As an early childhood educator for over a decade as well as being a parent to a 6-year-old, I understand immensely that there is no substitute for in-person learning at this age especially. That being said, I don’t want to risk my health, my daughter’s health, or the health of the other numerous families I will come into contact with by returning to school too soon. We still have a very limited scope of understanding when it comes to this virus. Parents and educators need to be prepared and be understanding of the very real and perhaps necessary decision to delay school openings and begin schooling virtually for the sake of our public health that must take precedence. 

G. Deruise, mother of 3 boys who hopes for a hybrid model of learning

I’m definitely concerned that it’s too soon for the kids to go back to traditional learning. I hope the schools will at least keep things sanitized and hopefully try and push the hybrid model of learning, which entails having two groups of kids and rotate them in and out of the classrooms to ensure social distancing and if someone turns up positive, you can easily identify which kids have been exposed to that child or teacher. 

T.  King, mother of 3 boys plans to send her boys back to school in person (she does not live in Orleans Parish)

When I think about my kids going back to school I have such mixed emotions. I just don’t think there is one answer that is right for everyone. For us, we are sending our kids back to their school in person. I am unsure how this year will look or progress but for now, we are going to start the school year and see how it develops. We also have a plan B if in-person school doesn’t work for us.  As a mom, I feel like my job is to stay upbeat and excited as I know I set the tone for my kid’s attitudes toward school. We are hoping for the best and preparing as best we can for anything else 2020 is going to throw at us. 

T. Mole, mother of 2, has no choice but to send her kids back to school once phase one is complete. She will also be in the classrooms.

What do we do in such uncertain times? I want my kids to go back to school but I am very very nervous. The numbers of cases are steadily rising. The school has assured us that they are taking every possible precaution and I guess I have no choice but to trust the process because I am required to go back to work as well. Parents do have the option to keep kids home but that is not an option when mom is an educator as well. However, my kids will be wearing masks. I will also provide them with a small hand sanitizer and gloves for their pocket. I am going to teach my kiddos what to and not to do as well as what to avoid. I have invested in immune boosters and lots of prayers. I truly believe we will be back in phase 1 again but until then I am reluctantly sending them. 

A. Casborn is a mother of 2 who worries about the mental wellbeing of her kids during this stressful time. 

I would say that I’m actually torn about my kids going back to school. My worry is of course for their physical health and well being but I’m also concerned about their mental health. My kids need socialization, but I want them to be safe while socializing! There are so many factors that go into making these decisions as educators and as parents, I don’t really have a clear cut answer. My children are going back to school because their school has a plan that I’m ok with AT THIS TIME and I have to go back to work. Honestly, my thoughts and feelings about going back to school are just as fluid as this awful situation! 

As you can see we are all concerned about sending our kids back to school. I don’t think any of us are fully prepared for the challenges we will be facing this year. But, I know the love we have for our kids will help guide us.

White Progressives Have a Lot of Work to Do, and I’m Not Here to Help

When I ran for school board it was former Minneapolis mayor who was the first elected official to endorse me. She asked me a lot of questions, offered some straight talk about the political system, and spoke very clearly about what it takes to win in a whiter than white town like Minneapolis.

Later, after winning a seat on the board and facing white parents who came for my head and demanded I resign, Betsy was the first to call me and offer more advice. I can’t share what that was, but it was about standing firm in the good fight.

I hear echoes of her voice from back then in new a piece she wrote for the New York Times.

It opens with this:

DEMOCRATS HAVE LARGELY LED BIG AND MIDSIZE CITIES FOR MUCH OF THE PAST HALF-CENTURY. YET THE GAPS IN SOCIOECONOMIC OUTCOMES BETWEEN WHITE PEOPLE AND PEOPLE OF COLOR ARE BY SEVERAL MEASURES AT THEIR WORST IN THE RICHEST, BLUEST CITIES OF THE UNITED STATES.

That opening might as well be the preamble for a report my organization released early this year that showed racialized inequities in public schools are worse in the top “progressive” cities than in the top “conservative.” As proud as progressive democrats are of their hometowns, they are citadels of inequity.

I’m happy to see Facebook liberals accepting the message from Betsy because when our report dropped more than a few education lefties on Twitter hated on it. They challenged the methodology, the motives behind it, and it’s usefulness.

What they didn’t do is show the slightest curiosity as to why wealthy, college-educated enclaves like San Francisco and the Twin Cities were hosts to terrible gaps in education, home ownership, and economics for people of color when compared to whites. And that, in my eyes, was (and is) the actual problem. Liberal white people who subscribe to all the right periodicals, vote for the wokest sounding political candidates, and give money to causes that surely prove their stellar virtues also suffer from colossal blind spots that hide their contributions to the perpetuation of racial inequity.

That’s why it’s satisfying to say this in her piece:

AS THE MAYOR OF MINNEAPOLIS FROM 2014 TO 2018, AS A MINNEAPOLIS CITY COUNCIL MEMBER FROM 2006 UNTIL 2014 AND AS A WHITE DEMOCRAT, I CAN SAY THIS: WHITE LIBERALS, DESPITE BELIEVING WE ARE SAYING AND DOING THE RIGHT THINGS, HAVE RESISTED THE SYSTEMIC CHANGES OUR CITIES HAVE NEEDED FOR DECADES. WE HAVE MOSTLY SETTLED FOR ILLUSIONS OF CHANGE, LIKE TESTING PILOT PROGRAMS AND FUNDING VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES.

THESE EFFORTS MAKE US FEEL BETTER ABOUT RACISM, BUT FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE LITTLE FOR THE COMMUNITIES OF COLOR WHOSE DISADVANTAGES OFTEN COME FROM THE HOARDING OF ADVANTAGE BY MOSTLY WHITE NEIGHBORHOODS.

IN MINNEAPOLIS, THE WHITE LIBERALS I REPRESENTED AS A COUNCIL MEMBER AND MAYOR WERE VERY SUPPORTIVE OF SUMMER JOBS PROGRAMS THAT BENEFITED YOUNG PEOPLE OF COLOR. I ALSO SAW THEM FIGHT EVERY PROPOSAL TO FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE HOW WE PROVIDE EDUCATION TO THOSE SAME YOUNG PEOPLE. THEY APPLAUDED RESTORING FUNDING FOR THE RENTAL ASSISTANCE HOTLINE. THEY ALSO SIGNED PETITIONS AND BROUGHT LAWSUITS AGAINST SWEEPING REFORM TO ZONING LAWS THAT WOULD PROMOTE HOUSING AFFORDABILITY AND INTEGRATION.

She is speaking mostly about policing in Minneapolis, but she was there to see firsthand white parents who talked endlessly about social justice online organize privately to sabotage plans to change school boundaries and integrate our schools.

There were many parents who declared their principled support for public education until they didn’t get their way in a policy battle and then threaten to put their kids in private schools. (Those same parents, ironically, also railed against school choice – especially when it meant people of color might take their per pupil income from Minneapolis’ chronically failing schools that the city’s white families had abandoned years earlier to culturally-affirming charter schools).

I lost faith in white “progressives” so long ago that I scantly remember having it. Every now and then I go back and read the emails I received as an school board member just to remind myself how truly awful fauxgressives can be. As the target of their social violence on many occasions, as an audience to their massive eruptions of privilege, and as a witness to their duplicitous hypocrisy during a decade of negotiating with them, I’m tapped out. I’m not alone. Many people of color are tapped out. Disgusted. Tired.

I hope to see more Betsy’s take up the battle of finally confronting their friends, neighbors, and family to see their part in keeping too many faces at the bottom of the well.

I won’t hold my breath for an unlikely awakening, but I will cling to the nominal hope a merciful God put in my heart for these things.


An earlier version of this post originally ran on the Citizen Stewart blog here. 

I’m Only 11-Years-Old and I Already Make You Uncomfortable

I am 11 years old and I attend the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy, a charter public school in the Dorchester community of Boston focused on culture-based education. On June 7, 2020, I decided to speak at Boston’s “Be The Change” Peaceful Children’s March. I started my speech that day by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said, 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

This quote is also the reason I have chosen to speak beyond Boston and share my thoughts with our entire country.

It is important for young adults to be present to voice our opinions. There have been many protests going on recently all around the world due to the killing of George Floyd by police officers. Some have been peaceful, some have been very violent. 

I understand that people are upset, but I think that fires and looting aren’t needed. I think that with everything going on, children have enough to worry about. I speak all the time at different events about the trauma that my peers and I have to go through on a day-to-day basis. Whether it is violence in our streets or someone getting shot, someone shooting drugs up in front of us while we are walking to school, children living in a home where it is not safe or children witnessing the reality of police brutality, trauma is all around us. 

Just because we are children doesn’t make the police brutality invisible to us. Tamir Rice was shot and killed while playing in the park. Jordan Edwards was shot and killed while just sitting in a car. DeAunta Farrow was shot and killed while walking in the park. Police said he had a gun; it was a bag of chips.

No one deserves this treatment. The police officers or us. I know that not all police officers are bad. There is a girl in that police station right now that I have known since I was six months old. She is like a big sister to me. I know that she is going to be a great police officer. But because of her badge, she is also going to be labeled and I am scared for her. I’m scared to walk down the street as a young, Black, educated child. I’m scared for my mom and brother to get pulled over. I am scared that if my brother says or does the wrong thing to a police officer they are going to hurt him and I will never see him again. 

I understand that the police have hurt us multiple times. I understand that if we don’t do something it will keep happening. We are taught growing up that two wrongs don’t make a right. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that those who have wronged us should feel pain, but I don’t think that we should hurt them as they hurt us. We shouldn’t physically hit them. I believe after all the protests, sit-ins and die-ins, we need to continue to take meaningful action. Boycott non-Black owned businesses. We need to support and build up our Black businesses so that it can hurt them where it will continue to matter—in their pockets. 

My mother told me that when she was growing up if something were to happen she was instructed to look for a police officer for help. We are taught that if something happens run from the police. What happened to that? How do we get that back? I don’t want to be scared anymore. 

To the police officers that keep hurting us: I think I make you uncomfortable. I think you are scared—scared of who I am and who I am going to become. And because of that fear, you are trying to silence me. But you can’t! I am a force that you can’t hold back. I am young, I am educated and I am proud to be Black. So the only thing I have to say to you is this: 

Be prepared to be uncomfortable.

_______

This article was first posted on citizen.education

Isis: A Black Girl Rising, Despite Covid-19

Before covid-19, when Isis left school, she would “just get off school.” She knew exactly what she was supposed to be doing and her teachers and principal knew as well. But in the final months of her Senior year, everything changed because of coronavirus. 

Isis is eighteen years old and she just graduated as a member of the Class of 2020 from Frederick A. Douglass High School. As a member of Black Girl Rising, a project of Families and Friend’s of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, she agreed to share her story of what it was like to graduate in the midst of this historic moment of pandemic and to give us insight into what students experienced.  Black Girl Rising is a group of young women ages 11-18, who provide holistic peer mentorship and organize against the systems pushing young people into the justice system.

During her senior year, Isis was taking a number of classes in her first and second semester: Physics, AP Calculus, Computer Drafting, Art, English, World History, and Career Counseling. In her second semester, when covid hit, she needed to finish just a few of them. She said the school work wasn’t a whole lot harder, but it certainly wasn’t easy to finish it either.

“In the beginning, no one knew how to give us work. There was just a lot of confusion,” Isis says. But soon, her teachers and principal were able to organize the work online and decide exactly how much work the students should be getting. “After awhile they figured it out.” For example, in her AP Calculus class, the teacher was giving them work five times a week, but then realized it was too much, and began to ask for work only three or four times. Another teacher didn’t assign any work at all. Most of the time, she would have to watch a ten-minute video, and then answer a few questions about it.

Even without a computer, Isis was still able to complete the online assignments using her phone and the data from her cell service, but she also had to overcome some other barriers. 

 “At first, I would forget to do the work and I’d do it on the last day. I’d think ‘I can do it tomorrow’ and it was hard to find the motivation.” Isis said many of her peers also found it difficult to motivate themselves, but most eventually completed the work because they wanted to finish school. Finishing was their motivation. But even with motivation, it also wasn’t always easy to find quiet time to focus on the work because her sister has a baby. And when asked, she also admitted that she worried about her family and their health.

Isis hoped that soon she would be able to get out and see her friends but disappointed in all the regular teenage moments that she had already missed. Her eighteenth birthday was last month and she wasn’t able to celebrate it. The hardest thing for her though, was not being able to have a graduation ceremony.

“I’m not able to have the experience that everyone else had. It feels like I did all that work for nothing.”

Yet, at a time of life, when even without covid, most graduates are experiencing a lot of uncertainty around their next steps, she still sounded sure of her future. She will continue her education at the University of New Orleans, majoring in Education. She is interested in working as a teacher and eventually wants to advance into school leadership as a principal. She recognized the power that a principal can have in helping students succeed. Before attending Douglass, she didn’t like school because of the strict rules, but did better at Douglass because it had a more relaxed atmosphere.

“The rules were crazy. I couldn’t even wear a jacket with a hood. I want to make a school where people can do better.”

Even with all of the challenges and disappointments of the past few months, Isis is still focused on her goals. There is no doubt that Isis will continue to be a powerful force in making systemic changes. Her story not only helps others understand what students are experiencing, but it also gives hope and inspires others like her to not give up. #BlackGirlsRising


The mission of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) is to create a better life for all of Louisiana’s youth, especially those involved in or targeted by the juvenile justice system. As part of that mission, for the past nineteen years, FFLIC has been mobilizing families to raise awareness of abuses in schools and youth prisons.

Even a Pandemic Didn’t Stop My Daughter’s Charter School From Building Our Community

When developing your playbook as an educator, you learn very early on that only two things matter:

  1. You are strong in establishing a well thought out plan for delivering differentiated instruction of which you are knowledgeable, 
  2. That you are even stronger at being flexible on the fly when that original plan must be completely thrown out for some reason or another. 

In 2020, every aspect of our national education system from the department of education to the local classroom teacher in your city or town was thrown the curve ball of all curve balls. It tested our strength, ingenuity, and commitment to continuing the advancement and education of our children in the face of something there was simply NO PLAN FOR.  

For the most part, school districts and systems individually banded together and found a way in the midst of it all to strive for a new standard of excellence and deliver for our students. As a nation, that alone should be applauded.

I would like to personally commend and express my admiration and appreciation for my daughter’s school. This year was significant for my daughter in many ways. It was her first year at a new school, her first time attending a charter school, and it was also her kindergarten year. Through the One APP process we got lucky enough to receive one of my top three choices at a First Line Charter School of excellent reputation that they have more than lived up to throughout this year. 

As a parent, I was pleasantly surprised in their outreach communication, sense of community, as well as the faculty as a whole’s involvement and investment in individual student character/academic growth. As an educator, I believe they went above and beyond in their ability to continue this level of commitment even in the face of a pandemic. 

From March to May, there was daily virtual instruction, in addition to enrichment offerings such as garden class, art, dance, etc.  To encourage continued student learning they mailed out workbooks and readers, and motivational incentives to encourage students to continue independently accessing the portals to their reading and math gaming programs. The staff was also a great support to the parents in this time by being available for daily office hours (via phone), calling to check in b-weekly, and emailing a report at the end of the school year with a detailed description of my child’s grades and academic standing. 

While all of this is impressive, the thing I appreciated most as the mother of a kindergartener was the way they continued to connect with their students. For many students, a commencement or promotional exercise will either be done in a new drive-by or virtual form, and sadly some will not be done at all. I was glad my daughter had the experience last year when leaving her preschool of having a cap and gown ceremony in which they were honored and celebrated, but was overjoyed when her charter school sent out messages with invites for their virtual last day celebration. 

They virtually ate breakfast with their teachers and individual kindergarten classes, sharing memories and sentiments of how they missed their teacher and their friends. This was followed by one large meeting of all three kindergarten classes together in which one teacher read “Oh the Places You’ll Go” By: Dr. Seuss, another played guitar and sang “You’ve Got a Friend In Me,” and the final teacher thanked and praised them for all their hard work before ending with a slideshow of memories captured over the course of their year. 

What this experience has taught us all, is that one’s ability to be able to adapt to unforeseen change is invaluable. Looking forward to the upcoming school year, teachers across the country will no doubt be preparing differently in many ways. My daughter’s school is offering virtual summer classes throughout the month of June. There is also talk in educational circles of possibly implementing district wide preventative  measures such as smaller class sizes, social distancing of desks, a later starter to the year with perhaps a later calendar ending in order to alternate school days, etc. 

In this new age of social distancing, my daughter’s school found a way to keep their school community together and provide a sense of connection and support for our children and I am so grateful. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to First Line Charter Schools for all that you did in the face of this historic moment in time. Can’t wait to see you all next year!

_______

This article was first posted on citizen.education

Imagine Being Free and Not Getting the Memo. It’s Still Happening Today.

Imagine this.

Working. Toiling. Being oppressed and enslaved in Texas in June 1865. More specifically, on June 10, 1865.

In that moment in time, you had no idea what was to come in 9 days, nor that others had been “enjoying” the sweet taste of freedom for almost 900 days.

900 days.

On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, Major General Gordon Granger delivered the news that the Emancipation Proclamation that went into effect January 1, 1863, had indeed freed all enslaved. 

Imagine being free…and not getting the memo. 

And I put “free” in quotes here. 

Fast forward 155 years.  

I can honestly admit that I didn’t know about Juneteenth until I was in college. Imagine it – a Northerner who learned of this bittersweet celebration attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a higher institution of learning in the same place a church was bombed and  4 little girls died. I spent 19 years of my life not seeing June as anything more than the month of the end of the school year and the precursor to the turn up on the 4th of July. 

Yet, today.

It’s like being free and still being enslaved. Having the papers that designate my ability to be without the rights attached to it that allow me to be seen. 

Today, it means so much more than the festivals that I have frequented in the last 20 years since my acknowledgement. Starting in 2001, when Juneteenth would come around, it became my tradition to celebrate like I had my first year of college. I made it my business to “buy Black” that weekend, eat “authentic” food and listen to the horns blow in the bands, the blues bellow from the singers and the spirit of “freedom” in the sway of the dancers. After having my daughter, I wanted to continue the tradition, void of the history and meaning. I would take my daughter to festival after festival in different cities, operating on autopilot, being conscious enough to know I needed to be doing something Black that weekend, but not enlightened enough to know why. 

Then, last year, something shifted. It wasn’t just my move from Memphis back to Chicago—it was the shift in the atmosphere, a collective energy that moved me from autopilot to manual manipulation of my mindset to see the injustices, inequities and the sheer inequalities that existed for me…still. 

I began to seek my own life’s Juneteenth. 

And this year, today, it just hits differently. 

As I sit in the triad of my essence, being Black, a woman and a mother, it is not just my duty to acknowledge but also to overstand and influence. 

This year, there is a separate awakening that complements this holiday, a day that is part celebration and part mourning. A day where I no longer see it as another reason to just spend time with my family in remembrance but to plan for my legacy in preparation.

 Void of the festivals and the “noise”, I’m compelled to stand face to face with the reality that we still aren’t free. We’re still fighting. Still working. Still toiling. Still waiting on our General to ride into the land with the message we’ve been praying for.

________

This article was first published on citizen.education

Join Us for a Virtual Town Hall on #SeekingChildJustice

Justice for children sounds simple enough, but it’s not. It requires families, communities, nonprofits and others to come together. Education is a key pillar of this platform, but providing a proper education means holding leaders accountable to invest in it. 

In that spirit, brightbeam (the parent organization of Citizen Ed), in partnership with Forward Promisethe Wayfinder Foundation and the Opportunity Institute, are hosting a virtual town hall called “Seeking Child Justice and Reimagining Whole Child Education in COVID-19 and Beyond.” Hosted by brightbeam National Director of Activism Zakiya Sankara-Jabar (follow her on Twitter if you don’t already), the June 10 Facebook Live-YouTube live stream will discuss the ins and outs of how to address the whole child in education, and how that affects students for the rest of their lives.

WE MUST HAVE AN URGENT CONVERSATION ABOUT CHILD JUSTICE AND EMPOWERMENT FOR BLACK AND BROWN COMMUNITIES. JOIN THIS…Posted by Citizen Ed on Thursday, June 4, 2020

Guest panelists include brightbeam CEO Chris Stewart, Wayfinder’s Nekima Levy Armstrong, the Opportunity Institute’s Kedda Williams, Forward Promise’s Rhonda Bryant and “Black Boy Poems” author Tyson Amir

Discussion topics include the social determinants of health, how schools can work to improve children’s overall health and more. The discussion goes live Wednesday, June 10, at noon Eastern. We’ll see you there. 

LEARN MORE ABOUT…

brightbeam
Brightbeam is a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and a brighter future for every child. 

It is the umbrella organization for the platforms known as Citizen EdEducation PostProject Forever Free, and more than 20 other local and regional sites that spotlight education issues nationally. 

One of brightbeam’s primary concerns is that, in many of America’s most progressive cities, hidden in the shadows of all that prosperity are too many children who will never enjoy all that their city has to offer. See brightbeam’s report, “The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All,” by clicking here

Zakiya Sankara-Jabar is the National Director of Activism at brightbeam. She is the co-founder of Racial Justice NOW! and most recently served as the National Field Organizer at Dignity in Schools Campaign. Zakiya came to organizing, advocacy, and policy work organically as a parent pushing back on harmful school discipline policies that disproportionately impact Black students and their families. Zakiya’s organizing and advocacy acumen has led to significant policy changes at the local and state level in the State of Ohio. Since then, Zakiya has worked in communities all across the country sharing tools, strategies, and skills with Black parents to shift education policy and practice.

Zakiya has been named to the inaugural #Power50 leadership fellowship for women of color with Community Change and the Community Activist Fellowship with Wayfinder Foundation. Zakiya is a preeminent thought leader in racial and education justice and has received numerous awards. In her free time, Zakiya enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and 2 children.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of brightbeam. He was named CEO in April 2019, after formerly serving as chief executive of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. In the past, Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education where he was radicalized by witnessing the many systemic inequities that hold our children back.

In 2007 Chris was elected to the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education. In that role, he helped establish the Office of New Schools, an area of the Minneapolis Public Schools to implement school reform strategies. At the same time he created the Equity and Achievement Committee, authored a board-level “Covenant with the African American Community,” and advocated safe, orderly, and rigorous schools that prepare students for the real world.

Forward Promise
“Forward Promise is a national program that seeks to build and strengthen the villages that raise and empower boys and young men of color to heal, grow and thrive.”

Dr. Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant is President and CEO at The Moriah Group, an international consulting firm, based in Huntsville, Alabama. Dr. Bryant has over 20 years of work experience focused on issues of children of color across the age span of birth to young adulthood in the areas of program development and public policy advocacy. Her expertise has been integral to advancing the national work on BMOC through her prior work with Forward Promise and other initiatives. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Services, a master’s degree in Urban Affairs & Public Policy, and a doctorate in Education Leadership.

The Opportunity Institute

“We work to increase social and economic mobility and advance racial equity through partnership and collaboration with those seeking to promote systems change.”

Kedda is the Deputy Director of the Opportunity Institute’s P-12 program where she holds an internal leadership role focused on organizational strategic planning, fundraising, and administration. Kedda continues to act as Senior Program Director of State and Local Networks where she leads the development and implementation of national-level policy guidance that seeks to advance equity through meaningful stakeholder engagement at the state and local levels.

Related links:
PAVE Parent Leaders’ Statement of Beliefs – A Family-Centered Response to Coronavirus in DC 
LEARNING HEROES Parents 2020 COVID-19 Closures in English and Spanish 
COVID-19 Comprehensive FAQ for FamiliesCOVID-19 Comprehensive FAQ Summary in English and Spanish and individual sections with DSC and NAACP LDF

The Wayfinder Foundation

“Our strategy is radically simple: Invest in women. Change the world.”

Nekima Levy Armstrong is a civil rights attorney, activist, and the Executive Director for Wayfinder Foundation. She previously served as a Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas Law School for thirteen years, where she founded and directed the Community Justice Project, an award-winning civil rights legal clinic.

Black Boy Poems

Tyson Amir is a rapper blessed with a poignant message, electrifying cadence, enlightening lyrics and it all combines to form a music with enough heart and soul to move a generation. Tyson is also a poet, emcee, educator, author, activist but if you ask him he’ll say he’s “a freedom fighter”. His fight is born out of love for humanity, justice and peace for all. Each one of these layers are intricately woven into his praxis and practice.