In news that is bittersweet to me, I am announcing that August 22nd will be my last day working for the Union of Minority Neighborhoods. After 3 years as a full time and then part time employee, I am transitioning into a resident fellowship in the Humanities Center at Northeastern University in order to (finally!) complete my dissertation. When I came onto the project in August of 2011 I made a one year commitment, but couldn’t bring myself to part with this exciting and innovative project. Donna and Horace have been like family to me and I have met so many wonderful people committed to the core values of our project – equity, access and excellence for all – along the way. Many of you have told your story to me, an act of courage for which I have always been grateful.
Of course, I’m not going anywhere, and will continue to volunteer alongside the amazing leadership that has made this project what it is – a dynamic and powerful act of listening and truth-telling.Please stay in touch and if you are interested in my dissertation, on memory and politics (surprise, surprise), which will include a discussion of the BBDP, let me know. As I focus in on it, I’ll be happy to talk to anyone and everyone about it. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for the BBDP and am excited to work with you all as it comes to fruition!
In a wonderful recently posted TEDx Roxbury Women talk, City Councilor Ayanna Pressley speaks to the power of story. As she says, “behind every statistic there is a person, a story, a testimony begging to be told”. This could be a motto of BBDP!
She lays out beautifully the power of our K-12 education stories and how our lessons there can deeply influence our life trajectory–our values and passions, our commitments and life purpose.
This so aligns with what BBDP has encountered in story circles and interviews. The more we listen the more we begin to make out the tapestry of experiences and understandings that have led us from Morgan v Hennigan to today.
We hope you enjoy the talk as much as we did.
When the BBDP listened to stories from and read about the era of Boston’s school desegregation crisis, transportation —“busing” –became the flashpoint but the struggle and any resulting gains or trauma was about so much more. As we learned early in our process:
- Quality public education for all U.S. people was the larger historical vision and goal it was part of which included people of color and impoverished white people (not to mention women and other marginalized groups) demanding inclusion and access.
- Brown v Board of Education & Morgan vs Hennigan were part of a specific legal/judicial strategy for tackling legal racial segregation as a barrier to the vision, and
- “Busing” was one of many tactics for carrying out that strategy
Today, Boston is in conflict around an issue deeply symbolic in this year’s anniversary of court ordered desegregation: ending yellow school bus service for 7th and 8th graders and putting them instead on public transportation. How ironic in many ways to have a heated meeting about the transportation of students during this anniversary year. But at the June 2nd meeting at Madison Park High School, parents, students, bus drivers and monitors, education activists, and community members came out to challenge the decision. Though the focus was busing, the feelings vented and points raised were also about so much more. And they were totally aligned with the three areas BBDP’s work pointed to as issues lifted up but unresolved then and now: race and class equity, democratic access and demanding excellence.
Race and Class Equity: Members of the Black community, other communities of color and people from less wealthy neighborhoods raised concerns those more privileged do not have to worry about –or a least have more resources to address–for their children. Participants asked about physical safety beyond cross walks, the implicit racism marginalized children face on public transportation and moving through life, having even less contact and interaction throughout the school day with adults from their own community and culture like those who serve as drivers and monitors.
Democratic Access: What marginalized communities face is so often invisible to those with privilege. Those present at the meeting pointed out multiple issues impacting equitable access to schools, including the fact that BPS has closed many schools in communities of color, that the exam schools, which serve the most privileged students in the system, are among the easiest schools to access by MBTA, and that less privileged parents struggling with this change do not have the luxury of flexible work schedules. Increasingly in our restructuring economy and culture, access is a function of privilege instead of a function of justice as imagined by those who pushed for Brown and Morgan.
Demanding Excellence: Those with tremendous financial resources have an increasingly disproportionate voice in the future of public education and everything else. Too often they do not seek out a wider range of racial and class perspectives, believing, consciously of not, they do not add value, i.e. that they have nothing to learn from those most negatively and directly affected by their decisions. People were infuriated that effective outreach to their communities was not done earlier and with more intention and cultural proficiency. They were frustrated by the limited places for their input in finance-driven decisions being made by bodies with no direct accountability to them, their communities, their People.
This is not an indictment of anyone. It is an indictment of a system that is still failing too many. It is clear that those committed to race and class equity, democratic access and demanding excellence are everywhere— in all communities across race and class barriers, in community organizations, and in public and private institutions. It is also clear that these issues are more pressing for some than for others. In many ways having such conflicts arise during this anniversary year provides a tremendous opportunity for all committed to race equity, democratic access and demanding excellence to be more transparent about facing the increasingly complex barriers to the goal and vision of quality public education for all. It is a chance to deepen dialogue and action.
There’s been a bit of an uproar as of late surrounding some reorganization in the BPS, and a perception that history would be taking a back seat/ folded into English Language/Arts. Superintendent McDonough has responded strongly, even signing a petition that has been circulating. Forty years after school desegregation in Boston we believe every child in Boston should learn this history of all the communities in Boston, but for this to be possible, the Boston Public Schools needs a strong History department focused on providing content relevant to the young people in the city today.
The most common refrain we hear from young people around the city is “Why didn’t I know this? Why didn’t we learn about this in school?” It is our understanding that Facing History does have a curriculum around school desegregation, and some teachers do make an effort to include this history, but the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks require Little Rock’s school desegregation be taught, rather than Boston’s. If nothing else this perpetuates the belief that school desegregation and racism was/is a southern problem, rather than a northern one.
Why is it so important that young people have a strong sense of history, and learn Boston’s school desegregation story? For us, history is a critical sixth sense – a way of understanding and knowing the world around us. In a public hearing about the BPS budget where the consolidation of the English and History departments came up, Councilor’s Tito Jackson and Charles Yancey both brought up the importance of teaching history that is culturally relevant to young people in our city. This means we need both a global history and a local one – one that helps students understand how we are where we are today, how the past has shaped our current experiences.
What we’ve heard is that learning about Boston’s school desegregation crisis (including the events leading to and stemming from that crisis) helps young people to better understand the system and city they are in today. This came up most recently at an event organized by the Massachusetts Asian American Educators Association, in a talk by Lorrayne Shen, a community organizer who wrote a senior thesis on the Asian experience during desegregation in Boston:
I think if I heard this story when I was young it really would have changed my life. It’s really important to know about our history as Asian Americans, and know about our involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
We’ve heard this perspective again and again – from young people, from educators in training, from adults working in BPS – we need to know our history, and we don’t know it very well. We’re glad for the advocacy efforts around strengthening history education in the BPS, and we hope that some day soon we hear that BPS students are graduating with a strong sense of history and their place in it.