This post is for those who are tired of asking for people to acknowledge 400 years of black pain in America.
This post is for those who know that our education system works in tandem with our criminal justice system to devalue black lives.
Our school leaders and policymakers shouldn’t have needed to see George Floyd, Ahmaud Abery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others murdered before they started to address the racism and inequities in our schools.
But this is where we are and it’s our time to capitalize on this window of widespread white consciousness.
1. SPEAK YOUR TRUTH
Your school and district should have said or done something to acknowledge the pain you’re feeling and to affirm that black lives matter. They should have acknowledged systemic oppression and recognized the ways they have been part of the problem. Without prompting, they should have outlined the actions they are going to take to make things right. They should have provided very clear opportunities for black students and other students of color to speak their truth.
Most schools likely did none of the above. Some did or said something that was worthy of serious side eye. But speak your truth anyway!
Do not let this moment go by without making policymakers, administrators and educators confront the realities of racism in our schools and classrooms.
If you feel comfortable, send them an email sharing your story along with actions you think they should take.
If it makes it easier to speak your truth, get a few other students or parents to work with you and send an email as a group.
Delaware students have also created Instagram accounts that allow you to share your story anonymously.
- Delaware Public Schools Speak (all schools)
- New Castle County Votech School District Speaks
- MOT Charter School Speaks
- Black at Newark Charter School
- Wilmington Private Schools Speak
- Red Clay Voices
- Sussex Speaks SD
If these don’t work for you, create your own Instagram account or come up with another way to make sure school leaders hear your truth.
You could even share your stories with local media reporters who have been covering issues of race and racism in Delaware’s schools. If you’re not in Delaware, you should be able to find contact information for local journalists covering education with a quick Google search.
2. MAKE YOUR DEMANDS
It is clear that our suggestions, requests, and pleas have fallen on deaf ears in the education system. It’s time to demand that our schools fully recognize, affirm, and support black students. After you speak your truth, it is critical that you share clear actions that you need to see from your school and district leadership.
This is not the moment to be modest. Ask for everything that you need!
Your list of demands needs to be clear and specific enough that it will be obvious whether the school has completed the specified actions or not.
Here are some examples of lists of demands from students in a few Delaware schools (feel free to modify or adopt some of these!):
- Demands for Caesar Rodney School District
- Demands for Charter School of Wilmington
- Demands for New Castle County Votech District
- Demands for Sussex Tech School District
- Demands for MOT Charter School
These are a great start but I’ll update this post soon to include other suggestions for actions you can add to your list of demands. Readers can also submit ideas in the comments.
3. HOLD EDUCATION LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE
After you’ve created your list of demands, send them to leaders in your district and request a meeting to discuss their response. But don’t stop there! Make your demands widely known to other influencers and leaders to increase the likelihood you see results.
You should definitely send the demands to school board members. You probably should also attend a school board meeting (many meetings are on Zoom during COVID-19) where you can read your demands during the time allotted for comments from the public. Here are some tips for getting involved with your local school board and here’s a resource for how to speak during a school board meeting.
Find out which legislators represent you and send the demands to them too. They might be able to support your efforts with the school district. They also should be thinking of policies to pass at the state level to address the issue.
The Delaware Department of Education just named its first Chief Equity Officer. So why don’t you send him a message too?
You should know that education leaders have perfected the art of distraction, deflection, and delay. So you’ll need to be organized and diligent to make sure they commit to taking actions in writing and then they deliver on those promises. Make sure to schedule a recurring meeting with district leaders to review the progress made relative to your list of demands.
Here’s a running list of Delaware districts and charters who have publicly committed to certain action steps. If you know of others, please send my way.
- Charter School of Wilmington
- Caesar Rodney School District
- MOT Charter School
- Red Clay Consolidated School District passed an equity policy a few years ago (see here)
4. KNOW THE DATA
Education leaders make tons of decisions without data but when someone proposes a course of action they do not support, they love to ask for the data or research that supports that position.
You shouldn’t feel like you need a bunch of data or research before you can begin to advocate (your truth is powerful enough!). But, over time, it is good to begin to arm yourself with facts about inequities in the district.
Here are a few sources you can reference:
- Report cards for public schools in your state (see Delaware School Report Cards) – You can find data on the academic performance at each school in the state and compare it by race. You can also find teacher diversity data for your school.
- US Dept of Education Civil Rights Data Collection – Find data on potential racial inequities in your school.
- ProPublica Miseducation project – You can look at ProPublica’s interactive version of the Civil Rights Data Collection
- College Remediation Rates by Race (Delaware-specific)- Check out what percent of black students graduating from your school need to take remedial courses in college.
- Teacher and Administrator Diversity data (Delaware-specific)- Check out how diverse the teacher and administrator workforce is at your school compared to the student diversity.
- Diversity of local school boards – Check out your district or charter school’s school board page to assess the racial diversity of your school board. You can learn more about the diversity of school boards in Delaware here.
Here are a few other studies that might come in handy:
- Schools with predominantly black students get much less money than predominantly white schools
- Research showing the impact of black teachers
- Research showing racial bias in school discipline
- Research showing black students are more likely to get less qualified teachers
- Research showing black students are less likely to get assigned to advanced or gifted courses
- Research showing black students are less likely to get rigorous coursework
- Research on the impact of police in schools
- Research on the need for effective guidance counselors for black students
5. KNOW CHANGE IS POSSIBLE AND THAT YOU’RE NOT ALONE
You’re going to get frustrated and tired while trying to upend systems that seem impossible to change. We can’t afford to have you give up so it’s important you do a few things to stay focused and fired up:
- Connect with other advocates – you’ll need a community for support and encouragement. If you’re a student in Delaware, you can join DelawareCAN’s Youth Advocacy Council. If you’re a parent, you can join DelawareCAN’s Mobilizing Our Voices for Education or Juntos Delaware programs.
- Stay inspired with stories of advocates- know the stories of past and present advocates who are taking major risks and getting results. Learn about Ella Baker, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Sal Castro & the 1968 East LA Walkouts. Check out Teens Take Charge in NYC or UrbEd and the Philadelphia Student Union in Philadelphia. Watch Selma, Just Mercy, or Becoming and tap into the rich legacy of resilience and activism.
- Don’t lose your joy – lean into the things that give you joy and keep you uplifted. For me that might be playing bass guitar, dancing to Kidz Bop with my children, listening to my Fired Up and Ready to Go playlist, or listening to the Kirk Franklin v. Fred Hammond Verzuz on Instagram. Whatever gives you joy, make time for it!
I am honored to work alongside you in the fight for racial justice and equity. Please let me know if there is anything else you want me to address or answer in this mini toolkit and I’ll make updates.