Our fight for public education is only good if we fight for social justice.
– Denisha Jones, SOS, United Opt Out, BATs, DEY, Howard UniversityClosing schools is a hate crime. – Irene Robinson, Dyett Hunger StrikeWhen you undermine the dreams of the children, you undermine the future.- Rev. Barber IIThe best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is right now. – Tanaisa Brown, student organizer from Chicago (quoting a Chinese proverb)
Even if we don’t succeed in righting the moral wrong, the children have to see us trying. – Rev. Barber II
My head and heart are spinning as I reflect on the overwhelming weekend in Washington D.C. – the Peoples March and Rally on Friday, the Save Our Schools Coalition for Action conference at Howard University on Saturday, and the organizing meeting on Sunday morning. Folks came from all over the country–Seattle, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, New York, Florida, California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Connecticut and more.
The rally began on the Friday morning – as the news of the Dallas police shootings was still emerging. As the weekend unfolded, one thing became crystal clear. Our work to bring well-funded, high-quality schools to every neighborhood is inextricably connected to social justice, economic inequality, poverty, and racism. We can not work in silos in our efforts to reclaim public schools. Jitu Brown, the National Director for the Journey for Justice Alliance explained that we are working on many of the symptoms of the problem but we are not working on the root of the problem. “The virus is white supremacy.” And he is so right. Our country’s historic and systemic racism and the inter-generational trauma that it imposes on people of color – including the white supremacy of corporate capitalism – is the beast that we have to confront and push back against. That is the work of white people in our country today.
For DEY it means expanding our work on poverty, which has the greatest impact on the youngest children. And continuing our work on the growing issue of preschool and kindergarten suspensions – which overwhelmingly effect young black and brown boys. It means more white people must stop talking and begin listening to people of color. It also means getting more involved in local elections to help shift the power. For me, personally, it will also involve having intentional conversations about this with my white colleagues (other teachers). And in my home, it is having honest conversations about all of this with my two sons – 12-year-old white males.
This year, the Save Our Schools Coalition weekend was set up so that children were invited and involved. And it was a brilliant move on the part of the organizers. Students as young as 12 spoke at the rally and presented at the conference.(You must check out Asean Johnson from the Chicago Student Union on this video) High school students from Boston shared how they expertly organized student walkouts to protest budget cuts and how they are helping the campaign in Massachusetts to #KeeptheCap on charter schools. Even younger children marched, listened, made signs, sang, and inspired us. They are the future and they keep us grounded. They are watching, listening, and learning. And as Rev. Barber II said, if we don’t succeed, “the children have to see us trying.” Amen.
For those of you who could not make it to DC, please know that the speeches from Friday and many of the sessions from the conference were live streamed and are available to view on schoolhouselive.org. For me, to have shared the stage with the likes of Rev. Barber II, Jitu Brown, Jesse Hagopian, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Asean Johnson, Irene Robinson, the DC Labor Chorus and so many more on such an historic weekend is something I will never forget. Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol were there, as well. They are all champions for the cause.