In 2013 there is an attack on the Black man and woman in the United States of America. I’ve never felt more confident saying this in my lifetime than I do now but I don’t say it out of fear. I don’t say it in fear because we have been here before. There was a time when we were outright not allowed in the nation’s schools. Though we were in fact citizens and supposedly “free,” we were still deprived certain freedoms; in other words, we were denied the freedoms that define what it means to be free to begin with. Communities of recently de-slaved Black folk found themselves thirsting for education specifically. For us back then, education was like the golden ticket to that chocolate factory of freedom.
The fact that we weren’t allowed in the white schools didn’t stop us from getting what we needed or deserved. To provide a brighter future for our community’s youth (at this time, these youth would become the parents of our grandparents) our communities came together. In the backs of churches, farmlands, and other spaces, we built the first schools that would teach our children. In the face of this adversity, members of our community took a stand against state governments like Alabama and Mississippi. Their taxes were spent on an education they weren’t allowed to receive in places they weren’t allowed to live so they stopped paying state taxes. Instead they taxed themselves, forming community funds used to buy wood, books, and other supplies. Men, employed and unemployed, invested their time and energy into building the first school buildings specifically built to house our bright young minds. In our previous Field History Profile on Black education in the rural south, I mentioned the story of elderly women who would give their last pennies to community school funds. This is of course the story told by James D. Anderson in his book, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935. In this time we persevered by coming together as a community and taking our destiny, our future into our own hands, literally.
Today, Philadelphia is closing 23 schools while Chicago is set to close about 54. Add these numbers to the 26 in New York and it can easily be seen that there is an epidemic on our hands. There is undoubtedly an attack on education spreading throughout the country. Notice I didn’t mention race here. I also didn’t give you all the numbers just yet. I did this because there will always be that voice to say “it isn’t a race thing.” Well thanks to the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign I now say yes, yes it is a race thing. They report that in the 54 school closures in Chicago, 88% of affected students are Black, 10% Latino, and 94% low income. In Philly, 81% of affected students are Black, 11% Latino, and 93% low income. Lastly, in New York City, 59% affected are Black, 43% Latino, and 82% low income.
As shown by these numbers, the closures and attack on education is indeed more closely linked to income than race. However, race and income are statistically shown to be almost just as closely linked. So I use these data to say with confidence that we are indeed under attack. If still not convinced, I assume you didn’t hear that the state of Pennsylvania recently budgeted $400 million to build a replacement for the State Correctional Institution at Graterford. It’s in fact two prisons called State Correctional Institutions Phoenix I and II. The new prison will have 800 additional bed compared to the former, which goes to show us a couple of things: 1) they value our confinement over our educational right and 2) they are making more room for the students they left in the cold; the students who are being deprived options for living a life that doesn’t end behind those $400 million bars. Where they haven’t closed schools, they’ve criminalized education on racial bounds as shown in the cases of Jmyha Rickman, Salecia Johnson, and Kiera Wilmot. I guess we can call that an efficient justice and correctional system.
It is evident to me that what must be done is what we’ve done before. We’re right back in the rural south circa 1900, having our education, our ticket to freedom taken away from us. We must realize that if we do not care, no one will. We must not be discouraged by the injustice, but excited by the opportunity to prove to ourselves the strength we posses as a community and as a people. We have nothing to fear because as our history has shown, we have the power to overcome and this is exactly what we will do. Today, we are better equipped than our former selves. Our community is filled with teachers, administrators, architects, carpenters, and professionals whose talents when combined could build schools far better than those closed by the state. The resources are there, we just have to commit to putting them to use together. Don’t take it from me though, let 9-year-old Asean Johnson break it down for you:
Those of you reading throughout Southern California, we must stand with our brothers and sisters throughout the country because I can assure you it ain’t over. Greatness By Nature wasn’t marching in Compton for nothing. The City of Compton is sitting on top of a $43 million debt and the Inglewood Unified School District is near bankruptcy. We need to take a stand as a community or we will be unprepared when the battle finds its way into our neighborhood. I ain’t scared though, because I know what we can and will do. Now leh do eh.
On a MOVE!
1) On Philadelphia School Closures: http://goo.gl/oAOq3
2) On Chicago School Closures: http://goo.gl/U8sAA