The Threat of Inequality

Educational and economic inequality continue to be an issue in Memphis and Shelby County Schools.  As students continue to pursue their education, these inequalities must be addressed to ensure that all students succeed.

“I think until we’re able to have real equity in education, we’ll never fully realize the promise of Brown.”

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Shelby County School Board Openings

As many as 14 candidates are vying for one of four seats on the Memphis school board in August.  Here, you’ll find the candidates running by district to help you make the most educated choice on Election Day.

“The election, set for Aug. 2, is likely to draw in hefty funds from organizations that favor charter schools and more school autonomy as the Memphis district decides how to bolster low-performing schools and manage several school types.”

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#EpicMoments #MLK50 listen up

One would assume on this morning, I’d still be on a high from the release of my freshman literary project as an e-book, “Facebook Statuses Turned Sermons” over the weekend. Though that did infuse an immense amount of excitement around the accomplishment (please go and check it out on Amazon)—the truth is, it wouldn’t come close to the joy beyond words for the encounter on Friday between Ms. Dwania Kyles, eldest daughter of the late Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles, noted Civil Rights Leader and Pastor, and me. Christians observe the Good Friday holiday to commemorate the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Calvary’s Cross.  During my conversation with Ms. Kyles, she explicitly illustrated the happenings of another crucifixion that happened not as long ago as Jesus’ crucifixion, right here in this county and in my own backyard of Memphis , TN. Our conversation took place at the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery (333 Beale St), only minutes and blocks away from the Lorraine Motel (450 Mulberry St.)-now the historical National Civil Rights Museum where this modern-day crucifixion took place.  

You have to know me to understand why the moment was epic, downright amazing, and unforgettable to say the least. Ms. Kyles is a history maker herself.  She was part of the Memphis 13 and was one of 13 first graders in October 1961 to desegregate Memphis City Schools. Ms. Kyles walked me through the happenings of April 3-4, 1968—no Google, no film, no book, a personal account through her lens as a 13-year old 8th grader.  She still remembers the excitement of a dinner that was to be attended by the leader at her home the evening of April 4th, the days and years after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the role her father played, and why economics should be our ultimate focus.

She spoke to and awoken something within me, me the student of history and movement, the history teacher, and . the nationally-certified Civil Rights Museum tour guide. I was geeked and totally inspired. As a  resident of this city, I took it all in. I’m a journalist, but this interview was nothing short of mini-documentary perfect. I thank you God for yesterday and orchestrating it all and ordering my steps accordingly. Thank you to Dr. Denise Lofton for making it happen.

To my city, I hope you all take a moment to take in the events happening today. #MLK50 Though the interview was a full 60-minutes, I captured the final 30 via Facebook live. These are moments that are forever etched. #grateful – so many nuggets in just 1-hour. I hope you’ll find the time to take a listen:

Just a few takeaways:

A. You don’t need to get permission to be present.

B. You have to love yourself first if we’re going to help and heal this country.

C. There wouldn’t be a movement without the black church and women!

 

Fuller: To Truly Honor Dr. King, Teachers Must Fight for Justice Beyond the Schoolhouse Doors for Their Poor Black Students

This article was first published at www.the74million.org

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968. Since that time, much has been written and said about this “drum major for justice.” In my view, there seems to be a conscious or unconscious process at work to create a sanitized notion of this great man.

We hear a lot about the power of his intellect, the man who spoke of his powerful dream, the man who believed in nonviolence, the man who preached about love. He was indeed intellectually gifted, but he was not abstract. He was a dreamer, but primarily, he was a doer. King was indeed nonviolent, but he was not passive. He preached about love, but he connected it to justice. He stated, “The Negro needs not only love, but also justice. Love that does not satisfy justice is no love at all. It is merely a sentimental affection, little more than what one would have for a pet.”

King did not just discuss the importance of justice; he fought for it. He was a man who could have lived a comfortable life. But, instead, he chose to raise his voice, to use his intellect, and ultimately give his life fighting for justice for black people, indeed for poor people of all colors.

If we are going to use the 50th anniversary of his assassination to recognize him or, indeed, to honor him, the only way to do that is to continue his fight for justice for the poor and the powerless in our society. Education is the area I have chosen for my work. In doing so, I recognize that the needs of all children are important, but I am concentrating on how to help our poorest children, and as a black man I have a particular focus on poor black children. Like King, I believe these children, in particular, deserve justice.

Martin Luther King Jr (1929 – 1968) bends down as he speaks with a group of schoolgirls in a classroom, January 1960. (Photo credit: Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

It is my firm belief that black children who live in communities where their lives do not matter to the police, politicians, or members of their own community will fall victim to traumatic circumstances that will have a tremendous impact on them for the rest of their lives. Children who are hungry cannot learn. Children who are abused and neglected will find it more difficult to concentrate in school. Children who have witnessed violence in their families and in their communities will not always be able to control their hurt and their rage.

As educators, to truly bring justice to the lives of these children, we must go beyond just fighting for parent choice, for charter schools, for new school designs, or innovative traditional school districts, new teaching and learning practices, etc.

We must recognize that true education reform does not begin or end at the schoolhouse door.

If we are truly going to honor King, we must be willing to fight for laws, policies, and practices that impact our students’ lives every day. We must not back away from: supporting the importance of mental health services for our students who need that help; fighting for living-wage jobs for the families of our students; advocating for decent housing; resisting efforts to curtail people’s right to vote; speaking out against racially motivated violence against black people by the police; standing with them as they fight for changes in the gun laws in this country.

If we are going to honor King, we have to do better at putting ourselves into the shoes of the students entering our classrooms. We need to respect these students and provide a caring, nurturing environment that will help them see the benefits of education and encourage them to want to learn. “No excuses” cannot and must not mean no empathy. If a student slept in a car the night before, that is not an excuse; that is a reality, a reality that will impact his or her ability to learn. Yes, we must teach them, but, if we are to infuse anything into our lives from King, we must approach all children with love and understanding to help them overcome the challenges of living in a world that often provides no love and no caring about their well-being.

We are all in this fight because we know our kids deserve better. We know that education is the only real lever of change they have to create a better life for themselves and, ultimately, their children. Trying to bring even a measure of justice to these children requires us to not just quote King’s words, but to rededicate ourselves to picking up the torch he passed on in the continuing struggle for social justice.

Dr. Howard Fuller is a distinguished professor of education at Marquette University.

When Your Child’s Teacher is a Permanent Sub

Nearly an entire year has passed and my daughter, along with about 100 other 5th grade students are without a permanent Social Studies teacher.

Now, why is this a problem? These students have gone far too long without instruction from a certified teacher. When asking Madison about her day in school, class by class, when she gets to Social Studies, she smirks and replies, “We did a packet.” I ask the same question, “Y’all still don’t have a teacher?” Her response is, “Nope! We have another substitute.”

This is so problematic on so many levels. This hits home the most for me because it speaks to why I desired to teach Social Studies many years ago. That same smirk I see on my child’s face is the same one I saw my classmates make during our years in high school when each year we would be placed in a classroom where one of our coaches would be the teacher. The class that was meant to teach us history, about ours and others’ culture, the foundations of this world and country, along with helping to prepare us to be productive citizens was now flanked with vocabulary tests and fill-in-the blank note-taking worksheets. There was no question about how ill-prepared I was in entering the collegiate level in the area of History but I also got to see the angst my classmates had against History and Social Studies – one I totally refuted considering on my own, I found a love for it. It’s that love that led me into my own classroom teaching Social Studies and History (grades 6-12) and why I refuse to allow another cycle of angst to continue with my own child.

Why hasn’t KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary found a permanent teacher in the area of Social Studies? In talking with one of the Assistant Principals this morning, I learned that they had been looking for a certified teacher and just couldn’t find an adequate match until this morning. How coincidental. However, my issue and concern remains.

It’s the end of March -near the end of the semester. This teacher (whom I feel somewhat sorry for) is coming into a school with about 60 days or less to provide…what type of instruction? It’ll probably take him or her at least 10 of those days (or more) to get acclimated to the school culture, its climate, not to mention sift through the inherited issues of coming into a school 60 days or less before the end of the entire school year? How unfair is that? Not just to that new teacher, but also to those students, my child included.

I did have the opportunity to speak with both Assistant Principals of the middle school and here’s what they shared as their plans of action in the absence of a permanent teacher:

  • The initial Social Studies teacher (Ms. Andrews) transitioned from the team during quarter 1.
  • Mr. Seay-Co principal (who also has Social Studies licensure credentials) planned the lessons for the 5th grade while the team searched for a teacher.
  • Those plans were executed by a long-term sub throughout the 2nd and 3rd quarters while a permanent teacher was hired for the 4th quarter.
  • The long-term sub received behavioral and instructional support from Ms. Frazier (the 5th grade Academy Principal) as well as school-level professional development. Ms. Frazier also serves as Social Studies Coach & Instructional Chair.

I appreciated the information shared by Mr. Seay in regards to what steps the school had taken to ensure that the students still receive some form of quality instruction. In preparing for the standardized test TN ready which will be administered in a few weeks, Ms. Frazier ensured me that students’ Social Studies test scores would not count and that conversations have been had at both the state and district levels.

Even with the assurance and the methods, I stand firm in the belief that this still did not erase the reality of students being without a permanent and effective teacher for the majority of a school year. What was an interesting turn of the conversation was Mr. Seay’s questioning around feedback as to how to respond in matters such as these. My response was simple: communication.

The reality is I know first-hand the significance of having a qualified teacher in every classroom in front of all students daily. But I also know the hardship in finding those qualified individuals in a pool that diminishes quickly and by mid-fall is almost obsolete. So at best, you find a substitute that’s willing to stick around long enough to make something happen. We can’t afford to gamble with our children’s academic success like that, which simply paints an even bigger picture and raises greater levels  of concern that I know KIPP Collegiate Middle can’t answer, and even if they could, they would need more than a few minutes in an office during the morning rush to address.

A few takeaways from the meeting that I think is worth mentioning:

  • Parents still have power and more than they think. It’s vital for each parent to always and be abreast of what’s happening behind school walls.
  • That schools are more intentional around communicating all the many facets of the school climate, its strengths and weaknesses, along with key happenings that are directly related to the overall success of students.
  • Having constant communication with your child’s school could be the determining factor in whether they get the support and services they need to thrive.
  • Don’t ever assume that administration and/or school staff knows everything. As quick as we are to vent, complain, or raise concerns, be as intentional and quick to offer suggestions and solutions.
  • Use your voice. Open your mouth and share your thoughts and concerns with necessary parties.
  • Be careful with your presentation. It’s okay to be passionate without the aggression. You want to be able to have an open and honest conversation with necessary parties without offense, tension, and high emotion.
  • All schools should have a parent liaison on staff. No exceptions! Things can sometimes fall through the cracks. Allow parents to help create a cohesive school culture and climate.

Hopefully, in moving forward, KIPP Memphis will do a better job in communicating voided areas to parents and try to ensure all students are never missing learning moments from those qualified to indeed teach our children.

 

A Letter to Little Black Girls Everywhere

During Women’s History Month, it is easy to highlight the accomplishments from women near and far, both locally and nationally. It’s true, we are in the era of #BlackGirlMagic, where the essence of who a black woman is has been recognized and finally celebrated.

In honor of women everywhere, I honor the little girls and young women who, haven’t walked into what is already done and are living in what is.

Dear Black Girl Magic;

You are Magic. The kind of Magic that makes you look twice because its so illuminating. You sparkle from the natural light inside. Shine, Black Girl!

You are favored, Divinely created. Your smile, your grace, your stance, your name. You are destined for more than you can imagine, worth more than you could ever fathom.

You are a part of an intricate tapestry of awesomeness, from Sojourner Truth to Claudette Colvin, Angela Davis to Yara Shahidi, Ava DuVernay to Naomi Wadler. Who you are is already woven, beautifully added in time, refusing to unravel.

We walk tall so that you may see our shadow. We make mistakes so you won’t have to. We speak your name and cry your tears. You are the epitome of persistence, the essence of determination and will.

You refuse to sweat – in fact, you sparkle!

Shine on, Black Girl!

Let us hold you up when you need strength to speak against what you face – in the classroom and on the block. Let us walk beside you in support when you march for your life.

Keep Shining, Black Girl!

You have the world at your fingertips, access to places, people and things we could have only imagined. We fight so you can walk through, climb up and burst the ceiling that exists for us.

 

 

Remembering a Trailblazer

Linda Brown, a pioneer in the school integration movement, passed away on March 25th.  Brown was a part of the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education.

“Brown was a very necessary victory. It opened up doors to entertainment, housing, education, employment. All facets of black life was affected by Brown. After 30 years, yes, you do feel that Brown is still not fulfilled. Which is very disheartening to me. I find that after 30 years, desegregation of schools is still very much the issue of today.”

— May 1984 interview with ABC News, marking the 30th anniversary

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