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Reclaiming Brown v. Board, from the Grassroots and Beyond


My daughter shared with me that the trash pick-up at her middle school caused a loud bang during the school day recently. She and her peers flinched and ducked, preparing to flee or cower from a killer. That was never a reality for me. Those clanks and bangs that come with daily operation of a school were just that for my classmates and me. The possibility of someone on campus with a gun was simply not a reality with which we had to contend. Not so today.

While much has been made of the fact that schools have failed to evolve with the times, little has been said about what communities are doing to address that. The ways in which grassroots organizers and communities are pushing against the system of education that routinely slams doors of possibility in the faces, on the fingers, of Black and Brown children. The ways in which they are building their own systems to educate young people of color in their history, heritage, culture, and brilliance.

The United States system of education is failing and has been failed by a deprivation of resources and attention for and to the social, mental, and psychological well-being of the children it is to serve and the educators who are its workhorses. In the United States, it is no coincidence that schools have succumbed to a culture of drill and kill; get yours first, everyone else secondary; individualistic competition... to the death. The system ignores the developmental needs of young people on the front end and now focus is on the back end - hardening schools, arming teachers, increased police presence - when those students who have been ignored lash out.

Public schools have become simultaneously the petri dish of experimentation and the punching bag of the wealthy white elite, individuals who do not have children in the schools and do not have the best interests of the public school majority - Black and Brown children - top of mind.

This is a ship that we can right, by listening to communities of color. Mental health and wellbeing, success in relationship development, productive self-governance. These are the supports that young people need in schools. Particularly in middle and high school, these supports must be embedded in the curriculum; teachers must receive training in their own schooling, not just in one-off professional development sessions; parents and families must be engaged as partners in creating a holistic educational experience that meets children where they are.

Groups that CJSF supports - like Californians for Justice, Teachers Unite, RYSE Center - have solutions that don't entail criminalizing or excluding children. Power U, Gwinnett SToPP, BreakOUT, and so many other grassroots organizing groups have the solutions, the mold for creating healthy, safe, engaging school climates that protect and nurture and celebrate young people and all that they bring into the school environment. If we truly want to stop school shootings, we must be willing to change our culture, our assumptions, our way of being. Schools are the perfect place to start. They are a microcosm of our society.

If we are to create successful schools that help train and build young people who will represent, uplift, and carry this nation forward, we must eschew the usual tropes that have attached themselves to safety - cops, guns, metal detectors. Instead, we must look to the communities who see, feel, and taste oppression every single day for their leadership in building havens of love on the front end so that, on the back end, schools are releasing angels of leadership into the world rather than scenes of horror and trauma and the perpetuation of American 'hardening' that bring about such terror in the first place.


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