Wednesday Reading List: Getting Off the Sidelines

The most important thing I read yesterday was this statement from Layla Avila and Sharhonda Bossier, executive director and deputy director respectively of a newly formed organization called Education Leaders of Color:

The events of the past week make it clearer than ever that the sidelines have disappeared; that we need all of us to use every bit of access and privilege we have to make clear to the children and families we serve that we believe their lives matter. Because we believe the work we do to educate Black and Brown children across the country is in service of a more just and equitable tomorrow, that means our work must extend beyond the school building. As people of color who work in education and who have grown up in the communities like those at the center of these events, we know firsthand the ways in which the intersections of race and class impact our children and communities.

Regular readers of this blog will remember Bossier from both the interview Monday, and from our long conversation a year ago. It will be exciting to watch how this organization's work develops in the coming months, as this idea of getting off the sidelines seems prevalent right now. Folks are realizing that neutrality is no longer an option. Chris Stewart is characteristically unequivocal:

The St. Paul school district where [Philando Castile] worked has recently paid its superintendent Valeria Silva nearly $800,000 to walk away after a successful union-driven campaign to oust her over her racial equity plan. Teachers even circulated a petition stating openly their objection to her working with Black Lives Matter ... When that beautiful little black girl who watched Castile die enters St. Paul Public Schools next year she’ll face teachers who are quick to be justice activists when it suits them, while also defending anti-blackness when it doesn’t. Nearly three out of four black girls in St. Paul Public Schools are not proficient in reading. Less than one in four is proficient in math. It would be easy for education reformers to focus on those damning stats and make an appeal solely on that basis, but to be successful they need to show good faith by rallying on the issues of justice so germane to black existence. They should stop grasping stubbornly and foolishly to the idea reform only works if those other issues are sidelined.

Stewart's final line is a direct rebuke to a misguided idea that, if we just fixed schools, all of the other issues would fix themselves. If you still believe that, I cannot help you.

President Barack Obama, in his eulogy for the police officers who were killed in Dallas, acknowledged these intersections:

So much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves As a society, we choose to under-invest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book. And then we tell the police, “You’re a social worker; you’re the parent; you’re the teacher; you’re the drug counselor.”

The Washington Post's Wesley Lowery reacted on twitter:

There's a remarkable symmetry between Obama's statement, what Lowery says he hears from police officers, and what I hear from educators. There's a sense both among communities, and among the professionals in the public sector institutions designed to serve those communities, that every link in the chain is broken. I've seen a lot of headlines about police departments needing to "rebuild" trust with communities, but sometimes that trust was never there in the first place. John Eligon and Nikole Hannah-Jones from the New York Times went to Dallas to explore whether the police there had built inroads with communities, as has been the media narrative:

While the Dallas Police Department has gained national acclaim, the extent to which these reforms have changed how black residents view the police, and the extent to which they have altered the way the city’s most marginalized residents interact with the police, depends largely on whom you ask. A 2014 survey by the Dallas-based Embrey Family Foundation found that black residents had a dimmer view of racial discrimination than white residents did. While 67 percent of Dallas’s black residents found that the city’s black men received a lot of discrimination, only 37 percent of white people thought the same.

There's some stellar reporting and storytelling in this piece, as Eligon and Hannah-Jones talk to Black residents in Dallas on both sides of the question of whether or not policing has improved. Perhaps the most indicting thing here is that, even the folks who think that things are much better still fear, on a daily basis, for the safety of their children. The Times also shared a tracking graphic for police accountability in shooting deaths.

Elsewhere on the internet, Jerelyn Rodriguez is in Forbes explaining why she did not "#CallInBlack" last week. If her name sounds familiar, that's because blog readers met her last year as well. Goldie Taylor is in the Daily Beast explaining that "Black Lives Matter" is this generation's Civil Rights movement. Erika Sanzi wants White religious communities to be more effusive in their support for Black lives. W. Kamau Bell reminds us that race and profession are two TOTALLY different things.

Finally, Naomi Nix went to Camden to chronicle the ongoing changes in both the schools and criminal justice systems. Schools Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard is pursuing a reform-oriented agenda:

Rouhanifard inherited a legacy of poor budget practices that led to persistent deficits and classroom cuts ... As a consequence, the district started each year facing a budget crisis. When Rouhanifard arrived, about one-quarter of the city’s 15,000 students had moved to charters, leaving a $72 million deficit in a then-$330 million budget, according to figures provided by his office. He laid off more than 200 teachers and 94 central office staff in 2014 — a move he called “devastating but necessary” — and laid off or discharged more than 150 teachers and staff in each of the past two years ...Even critics admit that Rouhanifard continues to engage families and activists around the district’s agenda; his ongoing participation in community, parent, and teacher meetings appears to be making a difference. “I always feel like he’s taken the school reform playbook and thrown out all the things that were horrible and didn’t work with Cami in Newark,” said Sean Brown, parent and former Camden school board member, referring to the stormy tenure of that city’s former superintendent.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was born and raised in Camden County. I also spent a week reporting in the city last fall, for an unpublished project. The scene Nix describes resonates with me, and the fact that the city has tackled policing reform, school reform, and economic development simultaneously is critical to the sustainability of what the city leadership is trying to do. Read the whole piece, because it's some of the best on-the-ground reporting I have read about systemic reform in progress.