BBDP Year-End Update & Request

Posted: December 18, 2014 by stevemcdonagh in Uncategorized

Season’s greetings,

If you’re reading this letter, it’s most likely because you have been and are essential to the success of the Boston Busing Desegregation Project (BBDP) and its parent organization, Union of Minority Neighborhoods. Your stories, your time, your critical feedback, your donations, your love and support, your knowledge. All of it has allowed the project to resonate wider and more deeply than the small group that started it imagined possible. Over the life of the project, BBDP has:

  • Created an acclaimed film on Boston’s busing/desegregation legacy
  • Held gatherings with over 3000 people throughout the Greater Boston region to introduce or reintroduce them to Boston’s desegregation history
  • Interviewed dozens of residents who experienced Boston’s desegregation firsthand
  • Held circles in communities and organizations to hear their stories of desegregation in Boston and throughout the country
  • Worked with coalitions and organizations to attempt to raise awareness of links between race and class history and current issues in public education
  • Worked with elected officials to move past fear and hold the city’s first City Hall acknowledgment of the anniversary of the Morgan v Hennigan (aka Garrity) decision
  • Created original resources used by citizens, educators, and media to use this history
  • Presented project findings about race and class equity, democratic access and demanding excellence of public institution at conferences and training sessions.

At this pivotal time for the nation, this work needs all of us to go forward. Your donation, anything you can give, is critical to the BBDP’s pursuit of Truth, Learning, and Change locally and nationally.

In the coming year, BBDP will be expanding our work around race and class equity, democratic access and demanding excellence. Your donation this season will help us dig deeper into the wisdom of your stories and of our histories. It will help us learn more and take appropriate action as we continue to ask the questions we’ve heard from you, such as:

  • Whose story is it and how do we navigate the power differences that allow a master narrative to continue to reassert itself and drown out more marginalized stories?
  • Whose city is it when longtime residents and communities are displaced by “luxury” condos and cookie cutter high rises?
  • Is it about racism or is it about class and how do we attain the race and class literacy that can help us escape that either/or choice?
  • What is excellence when access to it is such a function of privilege?

Too often still, the race and class dynamics at work in Boston and the nation are unnoticed, misunderstood or concealed due to untested assumptions, unexamined behavior, and coded language. The BBDP report, Unfinished Business: 7 Questions, 7 Lessons, was written in order to bring these questions to the fore. The lessons they offer can help tap more diverse resources for addressing the systemic challenges the questions expose.

Unfinished Business is the product of four years of listening and learning. Hearing each other’s stories. Bearing witness to our wounds and our hopes. It is also our road map forward. We can join our stories and our histories to transform Boston into a city that honors the need to speak honestly about the realities of the color line and concentrated wealthAnd work together to change those realities.

We do not know what we are capable of unless we are open with ourselves and to each other. This was just as true in 1954 or 1974 as it is today. Please make your donation to this work. Our financial resources are limited but with your support we can continue to build on the work we’ve done together.

Sincerely,

Donna Bivens
Project Director

Steve McDonagh
Program Coordinator

P.S. Please make checks payable to Union of Minority Neighborhoods. Or donate online (click here).

P.P.S. BBDP has had the gift of wonderful leadership from UMN staff and former staff/interns and the following who’ve given countless hours of volunteer support: Ann Moritz, Barbara Lewis, Ceasar McDowell, Chris Gallagher, Curdina Hill, Darren Kew, David Knight, Emily Berg, Francis Roache, Gail Burton, Horace FX Small, Jacqui Lindsay, Joan Lancourt, Jose Lopez, Kevin Davis, LaDawn Strickland, Leola Hampton, Marlene Fine, Meghan Doran, Nancy Griffin, Paula Elliott, Rachel Antonsen, Robbie McCauley, Rosa Hunter, Sherry Brooks Roberts, Becky Shuster, Sue Karant, Tom Louie, Trina Jackson, Sharlene Cochrane. What a group!!

P.P.P.S.If you haven’t already, please check out Unfinished Business

“For Truth, Learning, and Change.” This is the brief version of the BBDP mission, and it reflects my experience of the project. Through the story circles and the collected interviews, I have come to learn more of the truth of Boston’s history. Through the meetings and networking, I have gained a glimpse of how change can come to pass, slowly but surely, when we are part of a larger community working together.

I attended my first story circle several years ago, and only became more involved in the last year, as I dedicated myself more fully to the struggle for racial justice.  The project and the (perhaps unintended) mentorship of Donna and others have been important for me in my journey, as I slowly figure out my role as a white person in this struggle.

I haven’t experienced all that has happened over the years with the project, so I can only write about what I have experienced.  For me, the project has demonstrated a great model for connecting people of the Boston area: bringing people together for story circles and other events, including them in the learning network, involving facilitators with different strengths and styles, and establishing an environment where people listen to and learn from one another.  Through caucusing by racial group and small group meetings based on shared experiences, people are able to speak more freely and be pushed by others who share something in common.

Every individual who comes to the project is included as having something to share.  They may not have experienced Boston’s school desegregation in the 70’s, but they bring their own experiences, knowledge, skills, connections, and access to resources.  For example, today’s teenagers weren’t there in the 70’s, but they can share their experiences of the schools now.  People have hosted the group conversations in large, wonderful spaces, others have shared their expertise and care in leading groups, and many people have helped make connections that expand the community.  These things and more all add to the project, and the project gives back valuable connections for the community, bringing us together and empowering us to make change happen, bit by bit.

On Thursday, November 20, WBUR ran a piece on-air they called “’A Fear of Going to School': 5 Former Boston Students Reflect on Busing.” In it, they played clips of a conversation between 5 former Boston Public Schools students who were bused as part of the desegregation plan put into place after the 1974 court decision. The personal stories shared on the program spoke to a lot of the personal and community trauma that occurred at the height of the crisis, and how that trauma has lingered since then. Each person’s story encompassed a lot of emotion and evoked the intensity, fear, and uncertainty of the period. The five participants should be thanked for being willing to share their stories with a larger audience, and, in fact, some of them had already participated in BBDP story circles prior to this piece. What drew my attention, though, in listening, was the way the program framed these stories. In our work, which has focused in part on collecting personal stories from before, during, and after desegregation, local and otherwise, we have always found the focus on the violence of the period to be a way of limiting how we talk about what happened. When we speak about desegregation and only talk about the extreme instances, we run the risk of losing track of historical context and the relationships to power of the groups involved. Listening to the WBUR program, it was discouraging to hear not only the lack of context provided to the listener, but also repeated uses of misleading language that serve to fit the same old story we’ve been telling for forty years, as well as the interests of power today.

What does it do to our perception of public school desegregation in Boston (and by extension, nationally), when the producers of the program, positioning themselves in an “objective” role, repeatedly refer to the desegregation plan as an “experiment” or “an uncontrolled experiment in social engineering”? And, further, as the producers of the segment are tasked with editing the conversation and selecting which clips to play, what do we make of them giving significant airtime to one participant, Tom Murphy, a white man who spoke at length about how the court order “artificially disrupted the environment of an otherwise vibrant city”? What picture does this paint historically? If desegregating the schools was social engineering, then how do we characterize the social order that existed beforehand? The producers do not address this themselves, but Murphy is given time to talk about how population movement occurs “naturally” and that government shouldn’t get involved.

I think that the timing of this radio piece should also be noted. In Boston, currently, if we are still “in the process” of gentrifying, we are pretty far along in that process. Simultaneously, the public school system locally (as well as nationally) is under assault from “school reformers”– one being bankrolled by noted grassroots activists like Bill Gates, the Walton family, and Goldman Sachs. So how does looking back in the manner WBUR has chosen resonate today? For example, whose interests does it serve to paint being a student in the Boston Public Schools as akin to being “embedded in a war zone,” as one of the participants in the story recalled? Does that encourage listeners to draw connections to images of today’s public schools, which are commonly painted as “broken” by the media? Similarly, how do we view people fighting their displacement from the city when we’re encouraged to look at population movements as “natural”, with no consideration of race or class?

A program that uncritically uses the familiar narrative of “busing pitted everybody against each other” and that “violence was endemic” on all sides serves to erase the larger patterns of history and power that the desegregation period came out of. It does the work of creating and evoking a pre-desegregation past that was free of problems before an activist judge and government forced unwanted changes down the city and country’s throat, “pitting everybody against each other.” This image erases hundreds of years of Black activism around education. It erases practices like redlining and blockbusting, as well as federal government policies that subsidized the suburbs for new white homeowners while tightly controlling where Black people could rent or buy. The WBUR program provides an interesting look into some personal stories, but frames them in a way that does a disservice to the social location of their participants and recycles the same conversation we’ve had about education, turf, and money since long before Judge Garrity made a decision. What we need is to see these patterns, so when we see the cranes hovering above Roxbury and East Boston, or hear the supposed benefits of the Olympics, or hear the “low-performing” rationale behind another public school closing, we can ask critical questions and take critical action.

As mentioned in the previous post, I recently interviewed Roger Abrams, who was part of the plaintiffs’ legal team that tried Morgan v Hennigan in 1972.  He had a lot of interesting things to say, some of which were included in the other post, but I wanted to put up a few more excerpts.  Abrams’ focus in the case was proving that the Boston Public Schools discriminated in hiring and placement of teachers and administrators, and hearing his story was very valuable in understanding the tools the school committee used to create a segregated system, and relevant to questions today about access, equity, and excellence.

On teacher evaluation:

“So I went to School Street and I went through the teacher files, and one thing they would require of the applicants for teaching positions is a birth certificate, a copy of a birth certificate. The birth certificates of people who were born in the South contained racial data. And I was able to convince the folks at Foley that I needed a whole bunch of secretaries to record this data, so I made up a form where we would put the person’s name and background and race and scores on the teacher’s exam, the National Teacher’s Exam, which was created by, administered by Educational Testing Service in Princeton. And I didn’t know whether we had enough data, but there was a statistician that the Harvard Center had affiliated with, not sure exactly what his status was. He looked over the eventual report that I wrote and he said, ‘It’s perfect. It’s great.’ And he so testified for me at trial. And then I went to visit the folks in Princeton who were appalled at what I had found because their directives to the users of their exam, because of the foreseeable racial disparities in outcomes on the teacher’s exam was, ‘Do not use this as the sole criterion for hiring,’ because it would be foreseeably racially discriminatory. What I was able to show, with the help of the statistician, was that all the other factors: the interviewer of the teacher, their prior credentials, their prior teaching experience, all became null factors, because everyone got the same score or around the same score. The only score that made the difference was the National Teacher’s Exam. And so they said, ‘What could we do to help?’ I said, ‘Come to Boston and testify.’ And so one of my witnesses was the administrator of the National Teacher’s Exam from ETS, who explained why Boston was misusing it.”

On building schools and busing:

“And so in Dorchester the [attendance] line would move as the people moved, so as to keep students apart by race. They would choose to build, they were still building schools back then, small schools in homogeneous neighborhoods, both Black and white. But it was a small school because it was a larger school that would draw from a larger attendance area which would cut over racial boundaries. And then, of course, as often as we could, we would show information about bus routes. This is a big city. Students can’t always walk to school. The question is not whether there were buses. There always had been buses. The question is where did the buses go? The buses would drive white students past Black schools to white schools. The only thing that happened with the remedy was that the routes were changed, and they would take white students to schools that had been predominantly Black and Black students to schools that had been predominantly white. This wasn’t a case of busing. There’s always transportation in every urban school system. But it’s a question of the routes. And we finished presenting our case. [J. Harold] Flannery and Bob [Pressman] had taken depositions of their own. I was not involved with those. They were mostly fact-oriented—what did you do then, what did you do then, and they would alert the witnesses as to the questions they were going to be asked. The question was not, ‘Why’d you discriminate this way?’ The question was ‘What did you do?’ Not to alert them in any way that what they were doing happened to be unconstitutional. Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. There were a lot of individual incidents that are set forth in Judge Garrity’s opinion that [Flannery] put witnesses on that were indicative of the repeated decisions to segregate the schools.”

On white flight:

“People often say that the school case created white flight. Not true. If you look at the trends, the decrease in white population in schools continued at the same level. That is, an increasing decrease. The people who could escape, whether to Catholic schools or out to the suburbs, continued to do so.”

Implicit bias training. Human capital. Diversifying the pipeline. All phrases thrown around at a September 30th hearing at the Boston City Council to discuss the lack of diversity of the faculty of the Boston Public Schools. What do they mean? What do they mean when only 21% of the current faculty is Black, against 62% white? What do they mean when these numbers are in violation of a federal court order, and not for the first time, which mandates that at least 25% of BPS faculty be Black and 10% be of “other minority” (in the words of the order)? What do they mean when BPS spends $8 million on a campaign to increase the number of educators of color, and the percentage stays the same? When Ross Wilson, Assistant Superintendent of human capital for BPS, praises the school system for its recruitment efforts, but then has no response for why Black educators retire or leave the school system at a much higher rate than whites?

Matt Cregor, an attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, testified at the hearing. In referring to the court order mandating at least 25% Black faculty, he said, “We and everyone here view this as a floor, not a ceiling for what racial diversity in teacher hiring and retention needs to be in Boston.” This is an instructive line, and opens up a different way to view BPS. The hearing on the 30th framed the Boston Public Schools’ noncompliance with the order as a failure of policy, of things not working. But you can only fail if you intended to accomplish the goal in the first place. What Cregor is pointing to is, at best, a hesitancy on the part of the schools to make a commitment to diversity and desegregation, and, at worst, an ongoing refusal to do so, a stance that is not at all unprecedented in our history. Instead of complying with either the letter or the spirit of the law, the City of Boston has created instead a $1.1 billion department with an overwhelmingly white faculty, a system that pushes Black educators out quicker than their white counterparts, and an evaluation approach that punishes Black teachers. This is the system as it exists. Why do we assume it’s a mistake?

Let’s be clear, when your school system needs implicit bias training, that means that your school system is biased. When you say you need to diversify the pipeline, that means that there is a pipeline, and its white. When Black educators retire or leave at much higher rates than whites, that means that, whatever your stated intentions are, you are driving them away. When your teacher evaluation system disparately affects Black teachers, your evaluation system is racist. When looked at this way, the questions become much different. We are getting into questions of who the school system is for, and who it isn’t. Who owns it, and who serves it.

Recently, I had the chance to interview Roger Abrams, who served as part of the legal team for the plaintiffs in Morgan v. Hennigan, the case that challenged school segregation in Boston. His work on the case was focused on proving that the Boston Public Schools discriminated in the hiring and placement of Black teachers and administrators. What he told me he was surprised by, and is interesting to think about 40 years later, is the straightforwardness of the witnesses he deposed from BPS. As he says:

In the depositions [for the case]…I was able to get admissions from school board administrators to the effect that, ‘Oh, of course we assigned her to that school. She’s Black.’ And it took all my power not to go, ‘Oh, great,’ because my case was basically made through the depositions. The school board people were astounded that we alleged discrimination in hiring, because, they claimed, they did not keep racial data.”

Back then, the committee either denied being discriminatory or seemed oblivious to what discrimination even was. At last month’s hearing, Assistant Superintendent Wilson spent much of the time agreeing with the critiques of Councilors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley, saying frequently that he “shared their concern”. But sharing concerns does not create change, and further, claims for the school system an unearned innocence in what has happened and is happening. In the quote above, Abrams mentions the school committee’s assertion from the 1970’s that they did not keep racial data with regards to hiring. This is a specious claim in itself, but is also contrasted with the reams of race-related data BPS presented at the hearing two weeks ago, in amounts that threatened to bog down the discussion. For all their precise number crunching and human capital campaigns, BPS still presented the lack of non-white faculty as, essentially, an unexplained Act of God they are not complicit in. Back to Abrams, discussing the actions of the school committee prior to desegregation:

The establishment and maintaining of a segregated school system in Boston was the result of deliberate, conscious, repeated decisions by the School Committee. People often say, quite incorrectly, that Boston and the other Northern cases were what’s called ‘de facto’ segregation, they just happen to mirror the neighborhoods. That’s wrong. There was no law, no city ordinance or state law that required schools to be segregated. But the school board repeatedly and annually made decisions as to where attendant zones would go, and they would draw those attendant zones right down through racial boundaries.”

Today, BPS does not attempt to argue that their teachers and staff are white because of forces beyond their control. They don’t argue anything at all. They simply say they share your concern and that they’re working on it, as the status quo marches on.

Boston Remembers September 12, 1974

Posted: September 21, 2014 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized

There was extensive coverage of and reflection on the 40th anniversary of the first day of school in 1974. There were many detailed recounts of the history on public radio, in major newspapers and community news.It was a tremendous opportunity for BBDP to share some of what we have learned over the last four years. To mark the day, BBDP held a press conference story-circle (that has to have been a first!) to release our report Unfinished Business at SEIU 1199 in Dorchester.

One exciting development was the announcement of a partnership with WGBH and the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism exploring this history and its links to today–for Boston and the nation.

For us September 12 does not mark the end of the story but a recommitment to figuring out together what is the leadership that we need for the next 40  years to get closer to the race and class equity democratic access and excellence a critical mass was seeking then and continues to strive for today.

 

WBUR

Radio Boston
9/12/2014
School Desegregation Four Decades Later
Learning Lab (online post)

Boston School Desegregation and Busing: A Timeline Of Events

Boston Globe 
9/13/2014

Talk on busing overdue, Walsh says

Dorchester Reporter 
9/18/2014

Report seeks to document busing’s impact on people 

WGBH
9/9/2014
40th Anniversary coverage, with Leola Hampton
Press Release 9/8/2014

WGBH News Launches Yearlong Series on How Busing and Desegregation Shaped Boston Over 40 Years

Please click here to view the new BBDP report:

Anniversary report cover