Across the country, everyone is asking one question, “When will we get back to normal?” A cry similar to that of previous generations who often beckon back to the “good ole’ days.” If we are honest, the desire to get back to a place called “normal” is not because the past was better, but simply because it was familiar. The very fact that our past “normal” included a system where, in most school districts, you could identify by race and ethnicity which students were more likely to be suspended, expelled, or less likely to graduate says it all. Our past “normal” was actually abnormal (unless, for some reason which defies all science, you believe that intellect is distributed by race and ethnicity).
As we mark the Fourth of July and reflect on our nation’s promises of liberty and freedom, we must confront the fact that those promises are not equally fulfilled, especially for African Americans. If you ever doubted it, the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing acts of police brutality have made this extremely clear.
Patriotism is not a performance act. In order to create real equity and justice we must hold our country accountable for its systemic racism and long history of denial of rights to Black Americans. As Frederick Douglass declared on July 5, 1852, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.
The deliberate devaluation of Black-majority cities stems from a longstanding legacy of discriminatory policies. The lack of investment in Black homes, family structures, businesses, schools, and voters has had far-reaching, negative economic and social effects. White supremacy and privilege are deeply ingrained into American public policy, and remain pervasive forces that hinder meaningful investment in Black communities.
Demonstrations across the U.S. over the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others who have died at the hands of police brutality have further exposed our deeply racist and oppressive police system. The weight of this moment, created by a tidal wave of organizing and mobilization, has forced public school leaders to reevaluate the presence of police in public schools.
You’ve seen the videos of the devastating impact of police violence against people of color in the streets. As you express outrage — and take action, we urge you to look deeper.
Look within our schools.
On June 19, 1865, a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were read General Order No. 3, announcing the total emancipation of those held as slaves. Starting in 1866, Juneteenth has been celebrated annually not just for emancipation in Texas, but as a symbol of freedom from slavery across the country.
Realizing racial justice in public education is impossible when Black and Brown students are criminalized in their own schools. Students, parents and education justice groups have long known this, and while we've seen some inspiring reforms in school discipline thanks to tireless grassroots organizing efforts, the present moment offers the chance for serious leaps forward. Minneapolis is no different, with education justice organizers calling for structural changes long before the most recent uprising.
While COVID-19 is novel as a virus, the pestilence of anti-Black racism that dictates its disproportionate impact on Black communities is centuries old. Few things drive this point home more poignantly than the massive protests sparked by the recent killing of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade at the hands of the police and white vigilantes. The inability to breathe for Black people stricken with COVID-19 and George Floyd’s last breaths being stolen from him by a white police officer’s knee on his neck are profoundly painful symbols of the intersecting threats to Black life caused by the ubiquitous plague of anti-Black racism.
The Schott team is personally devastated by the brutal killing of George Floyd, yet one more tragedy that further exposes the deep systemic racism in America. We mourn for his family, and for all Black families who must continually face the fear of death at the hands of the police or, as we have seen during COVID-19, from inequities in our health care system.
The changes needed to truly eradicate systemic racism cut cross every sector, from health, to policing and incarceration, to housing and employment, to our public education system. We want to lift up one ray of hope in this dark moment: The Minneapolis Board of Education made an important step in that journey when it voted to sever its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), which until now had been the recipient of more than $1 million in education funds to put police officers in schools.
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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