To Continue My Fight for Educational Equity, I Am Walking in the Steps of My Ancestors

Every time I hear about students being “left behind,” I feel sick to my stomach. I am not talking about those who are falling behind. The students that I am talking about are the ones who are not passing their classes, and who are being labeled as “remedial” or “special ed.” I am talking about the students who are being put behind their peers, simply because of the color of their skin, their last names, and the zip codes they live in. I am talking about students who are not given the same opportunities as their peers. I am talking about students who are being denied access to the same resources as their peers, simply because their schools are underfunded. I am talking

From the early days of public school to even modern times, there have been walkouts and strikes by students and teachers protesting the conditions of schools and demanding reform. These events have inspired me to walk in the steps of my ancestors, those who fought hard for educational equity, those who took to the streets to fight for change. In particular, I find inspiration in the historic 1968 New York City teachers’ strike that began in the South Bronx and spread to all five boroughs. On April 23, 1968, nearly 30,000 teachers went on strike, shutting down New York’s public schools.

Today, I travel to a city in the South to walk in the steps of my ancestors. They were grandparents and parents who walked, rode horseback, and even drove caravans for days, sometimes weeks, to present grievances to the government and to fight against the injustices of the time. Despite the hardships they faced, they persevered because they knew their children and grandchildren needed better schools and opportunities. I walk in their footsteps today because I believe the same is still true for our children and grandchildren.. Read more about how to achieve equity in education and let us know what you think.It’s hard to describe what it’s like to live in the skin I’ve been in for the past two years. I can only say that after the death of George Floyd, in the midst of a global pandemic, I felt a deep need to answer the call. How can I be a tireless advocate for equality in education if I am not following in the footsteps of my ancestors and parents who shed their blood and risked their lives for me? In September 2020, I set off with seven black women to walk 116 miles on Harriet Tubman’s underground path from Cambridge, Maryland to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania to get as close as possible to Harriet’s soul and spirit.

In March 2021, our group, the Daughters of the Underground, traveled 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery to celebrate the 56th anniversary of the founding of the United States Army. For the 50th. Anniversary in memory of those who died and the victory of the March for Voices. Unfortunately, on the day we arrived at the Alabama Capitol, Georgia passed a series of racist and disgusting voting laws. As the officer in Alabama said, it’s still 1965. The experience of walking through farms and along the highway, in places where my people have been lynched and beaten, is too deep to fully express in a blog.

I came away forever changed as a black woman, fighting for equality in education and determined to honor their stories and life experiences by following in their footsteps. Walking in the footsteps of history reinforced for me the following: word-image-5326 word-image-5327

  • To do the work of educational justice, my soul’s mission and my work must be totally intertwined. There is absolutely no separation between who I am and what I do every day.
  • Those of us in education who are NOT in schools every day – funders, non-profits, politicians and advocates – have the least insight, knowledge and experience in changing education. We need to step back and make room for lived experience.
  • Let those with the most influence take the initiative. We do not grovel to students and families who have been victimized by racist and biased systems intentionally designed to perpetuate a false sense of meritocracy.
  • Education systems are inherently resistant to the conditions necessary to achieve equality. We must be willing to take alternative paths, less traveled paths. Set aside the strategic planning process. Engage with community at a level of depth and intimacy that will change you as a person.
  • Without relationships and trust, the Underground Railroad would collapse. Recognise that when people in schools and organisations resist equality and anti-racism, it indicates a lack of grounding in relationships, networks and community across differences. Find supporters in the community and build trust.
  • We have 400 years of solutions that have not worked for students of color. A solution can only be defined, created and validated by those who have experienced it, and new ideas will only emerge if your work is truly aligned with those who weren’t there before. Look for solutions made with you, not for you. Just look at the work of the RISE UP coalition, which I lead with my colleague Lydia Logan, to call attention to innovation based on cultural identity.

It is impossible for me to balance my life with the risks, sacrifices and lost lives of my people. But there are two actions I can take. I can honor my ancestors by continuing to physically walk the paths they took for justice and freedom, and by fervently advocating for the voices and experiences of disenfranchised students and families at the center of educational justice. And in any case, don’t stop until you reach the promised land.

Learn more about the RISE UP coalition and the Center for Inclusive Innovation. Photos reproduced with kind permission of the author.Because I’m a big believer in the importance of a quality education for every single student in America, I’ve long been vocal about the need to make sure that every student has access to equal educational opportunities. When I say equal educational opportunities, I mean the same funding for schools in every community. I’ve also fought to ensure that every student has access to a quality teacher, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make.

As a student, I know how important it is to have teachers who inspire you to learn. I owe my love of science to the teachers who inspired me in school. And I know that when we give teachers the tools they need through professional development, it makes a big difference.. Read more about racial equity in education and let us know what you think.


About the Author: Prateek

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