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.
When developing your playbook as an educator, you learn very early on that only two things matter:
- You are strong in establishing a well thought out plan for delivering differentiated instruction of which you are knowledgeable,
- 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
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.
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.
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
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 Promise, the 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.
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 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 Ed, Education Post, Project 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 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.
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 Families; COVID-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.
I share this in a moment where I am balancing feelings of intense rage and hope for a new future where BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are able to survive, thrive, move, laugh, live, exist, make mistakes, and just be. This is an invitation for you to do your own work in unpacking how white supremacy and anti-Blackness manifests and how we all need to engage in the deep, personal work of unraveling how this beast is burrowed into our collective psyches. Again, this is an invitation for you to do your own work, just like I’ve had to do and continue to do as a mixed-race, non-Black, Latina. Lastly, this is an invitation. You can join or not join, but please know that by not joining you are choosing to feed the beast that is white supremacy. Let’s get started.
White supremacy and anti-blackness is a beast that since the beginning of our history as a country has burrowed its way into every facet of American life. The beast is a violent one, a sometimes silent one, but it is ever-present and always ready to pounce on anyone or any concept that threatens its predatory way of life. White supremacy lives in our education system which produces inequitable outcomes based on race, sex, gender identity, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, and any other and all identities who dare to challenge the beast that whiteness is the standard that all others should be compared/strive to/concede to. White supremacy lives in our health and economic system which was built on the forced enslavement of African and Indigenous peoples. The violent enslavement of human beings, who had souls, families, and homes, who were traded and sold into bondage for profit. FOR. PROFIT. Without any regard for human life, all based on false science, fake news if you will, that stated that blackness meant inferiority and therefore you, white person, don’t have to treat them like a human being. Here is what the beast said and continues to say,
“You, White Person, Don’t Have To Feel Bad About Your Racist Thoughts, Actions, And Beliefs Because Science Says That You Are Better! Drink This In! Believe This! It’s Fact-Based” The Beast Also Says, “We’re Living In A Post-Racial Society. Just Be Kind. Colorblindness Is The Way To Go. But, Deep Down, Remember That You, White Person, Are Superior.”
This spewing of anti-blackness is the putrid meat, the spoiled fruit, that keeps the beast sustained. And so, when we sit and wonder why our country’s industries prioritize human health and well being over profit, THIS. IS. WHY. When we sit and wonder why our Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community members are slain in public daylight by white people and police officers and then those same white people and police officers are able to return to their lives, return to their families, return to their homes. THIS. IS. WHY. When we see the differentiation of treatment in white people wielding guns to protest stay-at-home orders and wearing masks in the midst of a pandemic that is disproportionately killing BIPOC vs. the BIPOC protestors who are demanding justice for the murders of Black people by the police. THIS IS WHY. This beast, white supremacy and anti-blackness, is real. It can be both covert and overt, but in both of its forms, the beast is violent.
The recent police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The recent murder of Ahmaud Arbery, while exercising, by two white men. The threatening of Christian Cooper’s life by a white woman who was offended that he (a Black man) asked her to put her dog on a leash, is violent. All of these manifestations of the beast are violent, and they are also examples of how overt white supremacy and racism manifests. But what about the covert ways? What about the insidious, silent ways that the beast crawls through our biases, beliefs, organizational practices, business policies, educational pedagogies, healthcare systems, and government. It is no accident that when you google any outcome that white people are still succeeding at higher rates than people of color, specifically at higher rates than Black community members. Try it: Google these phrases:
- “Racial wealth gap”
- “Educational attainment rates by race”
- “Housing disparities by race”
- “Life expectancy rate by race”
- “Maternal and infant mortality rates by race”
These covert ways that the beast moves are just as violent as the overt ways. Take a look at the pyramid below. Read through all of the ways that white supremacy moves, and especially take stock of the covert ways. I want you to read through every single one of the phrases on the covert part of the pyramid. I implore you to unpack them, digest them, take stock of ones that you have said, believed, continue to believe, or have assured others that they are ok to say and believe.
In conclusion, please: Do. Your. Own. Work. A common way that white supremacy manifests is by expecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) to teach you, white people, about race. As if we were the ones that invented the fake science around it in the first place. As if we were the ones who spread this fake news across the globe. As if we were the ones who used race as an excuse to decimate and subjugate entire populations of people from this earth. Asking a BIPOC individual to teach you is a violent act. It is unpaid, traumatizing labor. It is painful. Ultimately, it is lazy of you and an act of white supremacy to engage in anti-racism work in this way. I started this blog piece as an invitation, and I will end with one. You are invited to research, read, journal, discuss white supremacy and anti-Blackness with other white people if you are white, discuss white supremacy and anti-Blackness with other BIPOC if you identify as BIPOC, watch documentaries, dig-in, dismantle the beast. Will you RSVP?
- 1619 podcast
- Tema Okun’s “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture”
- Critical Race Theory
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed
- An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria
- White Fragility
- The Epidemic of Colorblindness
This article was first posted on wearebeloved.org
I woke up Tuesday morning and had no clue who George Floyd was. But, I heard him crying out, “Mama!” as he lay on the ground dying in my dream that night.
That morning I had no idea what awaited me — I did what I have done every morning since I can remember. I rolled over and thanked God for allowing me to see another day and reached for my phone to start my day by responding to dozens of emails.
Scrolling through my notifications, I noticed a friend of mine had posted a video with an angry reaction. Out of curiosity, I began to watch not knowing how a scene I had seen far too many times, a black man in handcuffs after committing some petty crime and onlookers conflicted as to whether or not they should intervene and face the same fate. I did not expect to watch the final moments of George Floyd’s life.
I don’t usually watch videos depicting police brutality because they have started to produce a type of trauma that makes being black in public feel like a death sentence. After seeing black men killed just for existing, it’s hard to think of a place where we are entirely safe except for in our homes. Even at home, “no-know” warrants put our lives at risk. Our very existence is criminalized, brutalized, and over-policed. Systemic racism, white supremacy, and police brutality seek to knock black men off of our throne from birth.
Black men make up the minority of America’s population but overpopulate jails and prisons. The same is true for schools, where you’d be hard-pressed to find more than one of us in most classrooms, yet we face significant disproportionality in discipline. It’s almost as if this country has assigned us to a status in life from birth and track us for prison labor or death when we don’t comply or conform — the new and pervasive form of slavery.
For AT LEAST 7 minutes and 54 seconds, an officer crushed #GeorgeFloyd‘s neck and throat with his knee as he laid on the ground handcuffed.
He laid there, unable to move, restrained pleading for his life. “I can’t breathe!” “My stomach hurts!” “Mama!” he screamed in agony.
The hubris-inspired ego of unchecked authority backed by a gun and badge disregarded, devalued, and stole the life of my brother.
I’m in no mood to play politics as usual — between this pandemic and police brutality, there is little room to debate the change this country, our schools, and our communities need. It’s easier now more than ever to choose right from wrong. It’s simple, Black people ought to be treated with the same dignity and respect that everyone else demands. This country never intended for people of color, especially black people, to have access to the inalienable rights it proclaims are free to all men — that is evidenced by the reactions we faced while merely trying to secure civil rights. Dr. King was not marching for Black superiority, but the lowest hanging fruit that had been denied to Black people since 1619 on this land, the dignity of truly being free.
Until people in power and privilege look upon the suffering of black bodies, dying in the street at the hands of police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy, nothing will change. Black people have been doing our part, but we are tired now and growing angrier and angrier as justice seems more and more out of reach.
What I have come to learn is that white supremacy is rooted in the idea, the lie, that every other race is inferior. This lie has given privilege to those who do not deserve it. On its face, that sense of supremacy is rooted in inferiority. If whiteness were truly supreme, why has it not been able to stand on its own be such without having to rely upon the power of racism to subjugate people of color?
Don’t tell me that all lives matter if you can watch a man be robbed of his dignity and see no wrong. Every officer who stood by and watched is complicit. Every American who has sought to learn more about any incident before deciding whether or not an unarmed black man deserved to die is complicit. Every media outlet that searched to find mugshots or dig up dirt from the past to make sense of what might have led to a violent police reaction has blood on their hands. Even every well-meaning white person who does not use their privilege to speak truth to power on and demand change is culpable.
As you watch the civil unrest in Minnesota, remember that fire cannot burn in every environment. The right conditions and material substances have to be present for a flame to burn. More so, something has to accelerate or ignite (spark) the flame. We cannot condemn the act of rioting or looting and be silent about the symptoms, conditions, substances that sparked the fire in the first place. Systemic racism, poverty, and police brutality were the substances — the murder of #GeorgeFloyd was the spark.
To reduce a grown-ass black man to cry out for his mother is beyond cruel, it’s evil. George Floyd’s death was a punishment that in no way matched his alleged crime, forgery, or check fraud. The officers who took part in this lynching being arrested is a start. Still, if this tragedy does not lead to arrests and convictions, then the erasure of George’s life is proof of the fact that America’s idea of liberty and justice for all is just meant for a few. America has to change, whether by power seeing the light or by feeling the fire. Enough is enough!
This article was first posted on citizen.education
May is the month of the year that every high school senior is waiting for all school year long because it’s filled with celebrations like awards banquets, prom and graduation. For the class of 2020, May has been filled with disappointments because those and many other events have been canceled amid the statewide stay-at-home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Orleans lifestyle influencer, mom and wife Tracey Wiley is giving prom a reboot for those seniors missing amid this challenging time. She is enlisting the help of friends, colleagues and supporters to host a savage themed prom called “PROMVID-20.”
“I really wanted to do something for the senior class of 2020. After talking to my godchild my heart broke for these kids. I couldn’t imagine dealing with the roller coaster of emotions. These kids have worked so hard for four years,” Wiley said. “Since we are put on this earth to serve others, I thought about how I could help and maybe put a smile of these kids face even if it’s just for an hour and a half.”
Wiley, who did not have a senior prom herself, will host the virtual prom on Zoom from the New Orleans Jazz Market on Thursday, May 14 from 7 to 8:30 pm. She is encouraging ladies to come “classy, bougie, sassy, glamorous or just doing you,” and guys can dress “like a classic man, fly, trendy, laid back or just doing you.”
“We want to celebrate you by reminding you that PROM IS NOT CANCELED! This is just a remix,” Wiley said. “There’s no right or wrong way to do this! We want to see you laugh, dance, twerk, and just feel good just as you are!”
Students who want to attend PROMVID-19 can register for free on eventbrite.