Education Equity or Else: The Danger and Opportunity for Public Schools in an Era of Covid

Education Equity or Else

Watch the highlights from the livestream here:

Watch the full livestream event here with musical guests >

The widespread closure of public schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic have put a spotlight on their importance not just in educating children, but providing nutrition, mental and physical health support, and critical services to the neighborhoods and communities in which they’re located. But just because they’re closed doesn’t mean they’re not under attack: as we’ve seen happen in places like New Orleans and Puerto Rico some policymakers are using this crisis to push privatization in a moment when it’s more difficult than ever to mobilize students, parents, and educators against such an agenda. And across the country, well before the disaster of COVID-19, many communities were already suffering from the crisis of underfunded schools, racist school discipline and policing, and a systematic disinvestment of public services. Our public schools aren’t failing: they’re being failed.

While we must be responsive in the here-and-now to the pressing need of mutual aid and the defense of our schools, this crisis is also an opportunity for us to reimagine public education from the ground up and build the social movements needed to make a more just and equitable public school system a reality. Every child deserves a well-funded sustainable community school that’s the beating heart of their neighborhood.

Join us for musical performances and a wide ranging conversation about the danger and hope of this moment from students, parents and educators, how people are forging new bonds through struggle, and what you can do to make sure we emerge from the crisis stronger than we entered it.

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Intro: Live set by DJ Sundance


  • Marianna Islam
    Director of Programs and Advocacy, Schott Foundation

Opening Conversation:

  • Jitu Brown
    Director, Journey for Justice
  • Zakiyah Ansari
    Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education

Response Conversation & Audience Questions:

  • Hasira "Soul" Ashemu
    Righteous Rage Institute
  • Ivan Roberts
    Youth Organizer, Baltimore Algebra Project
  • Dr. Monique Redeaux-Smith
    Chicago Public Schools teacher currently on leave

Performance: Grammy-nominated artist MuMu Fresh

Outro: Live set by DJ Sundance

About the Speakers:

Marianna Islam

Marianna Islam is the Director of Programs and Advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education where she works with the program team to develop and implement the Foundation’s resource delivery strategy. Marianna brings over a decade of experience in the philanthropic sector, having served as the Associate Project Director for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health Community Grants Programs at Community Catalyst and Vice President of Community Impact Initiatives at the United Way of Central Massachusetts. Marianna brings passion to her role as a philanthropic leader, youth worker and community organizer for racial, gender, economic and social justice.

Jitu BrownJitu Brown

Jitu Brown, married and father of one child, is the national director for the Journey for Justice Alliance, a network of grassroots organizations in over 30 cities organizing for community driven school improvement; and was formerly the education organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO). Born and raised in the Rosemoor neighborhood on the far south side of Chicago, Jitu is a product of Chicago Public Schools.  Jitu studied at Eastern Arizona College and Northeastern Illinois University, majoring in communications with a minor in Spanish.  

Jitu started volunteering with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) in 1991, became a board member in 1993 and for several years served as the organization’s board president. He joined the staff as education organizer in 2006.  He has organized in the Kenwood Oakland neighborhood for over 22 years bringing community voices to the table on school issues. He helped develop the Mid-South Education Association, a grassroots advocacy group made up of administrators, parents, teachers, young people and local school council (LSC) members to meet the needs of schools in the area. They were the first group to certify parents as LSC facilitators, which has become a model being replicated across the city of Chicago. KOCO has served as a resource for organizations nationwide, dealing with school closings and the elimination of community voice from the decision-making process. In 2015, Jitu was the organizer and participant in the historic Dyett High School Hunger Strike, which lasted for 34 grueling days; and resulted in the re-opening of Dyett as an open-enrollment, neighborhood school with over $16 million in new investments.  

For 10 years, Jitu taught African-American history at St. Leonard’s Adult High School, the only accredited high school in that nation that exclusively serves people who have been formerly incarcerated. A believer in working locally and thinking globally, Jitu has taken youth leaders from KOCO to the United Nations, to the Passamaquoddy Native American reservation in Maine and to the UN Conference on Racism in South Africa. He has been published in the national education magazine Rethinking Schools, the Washington Post, New York Times, appeared in Ebony magazine and on several talk shows, including MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry and The Ed Show, Al Jazeera America, WBEZ’s Community Voices, Democracy Now and CLTV’s Gerard McClendon Live. Jitu is a Public Voices Fellow for the Ford Foundation’s Op-ed Project.

Zakiyah Ansari

Zakiyah Ansari is the Advocacy Director of the New York State Alliance for Quality Education, the leading statewide organization that has been fighting for educational justice in New York State. Ansari is the mother of eight children and grandparent of three. She has dedicated almost 20 years of her life to the fight for educational justice and ending the oppression of Black and Brown communities.

In 2013, Ansari co-founded the national grassroots movement, Journey for Justice, an alliance currently composed of grassroots community-based organizations from over 30 cities across the United States representing constituencies of youth, parents, and inter-generational organizations who have been impacted by harmful education policies like school closings, turnaround, and charter expansion of schools in communities of color.

Ansari has been invited to speak before parents, educators, elected officials, and administrators about the importance of organizing parents and communities in schools. She is one of the parent voices in the film, Parent Power, produced by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

In 2017, Ansari was named one of City and State magazines 25 Most Influential in Brooklyn. She volunteers her time with NY Justice League and is a steering committee member Women’s March.

Soul AshemuHasira "Soul" Ashemu

Hasira “Soul” Ashemu born and raised in Northeast Denver, CO an East Angel graduate, attended Howard University “The Mecca” and later traveled lthe world spending a decade living in Africa raising his family in Ghana.

Hasira is a prolific writer, speaker, facilitator, communications professional who has been using his talents, experience and skills to create and support stimulating, engaging and innovative community initiatives that usher in social change.

Hasira is a Community Organizer dedicated to the pursuit for social, equity, and education justice for society’s most vulnerable children; Black, Brown, Indigenous, Special Needs and those living in poverty. He is the founder and visionary office for Righteous Rage Institute and executive director/co-director for #BreakingOurChains and #OurVoiceOurSchools respectively.

Ivan RobertsIvan Roberts

Ivan Roberts, born and raised in Baltimore City and is a youth organizer of the organization, the Baltimore Algebra Project, a youth-led youth-ran organization that addresses equities in education through community organizing and math literacy. Baltimore Algebra Project’s goal is for a combination of education, economic empowerment through knowledge work, and tough, person-to-person organizing to lead to real power for young people in Baltimore and across the country.  Ivan is a senior of the Baltimore City Public School System and attends Bard High School Early College. Ivan will graduate from high school at the end of the school year.

Dr. Monique Redeaux-Smith

Dr. Monique Redeaux-Smith is a Chicago Public School teacher currently on leave. She taught middle school Social Studies for over eleven years on the South and West sides of Chicago In 2011, while working as a full-time teacher, Monique received her doctorate degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in Educational Policy Studies in Urban Education. Monique transitioned from the classroom in December 2016 and currently works for the Illinois Federation of Teachers as a Union Professional Issues Director. In her current position, Monique continues her work as a youth, community and union organizer by advocating for policies and practices that will improve the educational opportunities and life outcomes of people of color.