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National Education Leaders Have Bold Conversation on Racial Equity

ORLANDO, Fla.—On Friday, leaders and members of the Florida Education Association spent part of their statewide Delegate Assembly having a blunt, tough, uncomfortable but courageous conversation about how to address the lingering effects of racism and inequity in the state Florida and throughout country. This bold conversation comes on the heels of recent racial tensions at the University of Florida.

The conversation included remarks from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcìa, NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, and bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi.

“Institutional racism is deeply ingrained in our society, including our school systems. This has increased as the political tide pushes for privatization of education, which escalates the resegregation of schools,” said Joanne McCall, FEA president. “It’s up to all of us to address these issues in our schools and communities to end the divisiveness that has become so pervasive in our country. Our students deserve better, and we must lead the way against bigotry, racism and hate.”

“Since last November, we have seen some of the negative impacts as institutional racism has come out of the shadows and into the open,” said Fedrick Ingram, FEA executive vice president. “And that is why we must continue to be vigilant for future generations.”

The session was kicked off with opening remarks from Kendi, a former FEA member, a best-selling author and an award-winning historian. “I am pleased to steer this critical discussion,” he said. “Racist ideas render racist policies invisible in education, in society. We must see the problem in order to solve it, and I can assure the problem is not students and parents of color. The problem is institutional racism.”

During the discussion, members and leaders of many FEA locals discussed methods and tools to improve the outcomes for students of color and their families, including professional development opportunities, the creation of local committees, collaborating with the community, and working with both new and traditional civil rights organizations.

“As educators and union activists,” said Weingarten, “we help people secure the American dream, which means fighting for economic and educational justice for all. And one of the biggest obstacles we must confront is institutionalized racism, which means showing up and standing up to bigotry, racism and hatred wherever we find it—in schools and on the streets, in courthouse and statehouses. Today’s polarizing and divisive environment makes this work more important than ever.

“Friday’s town hall during the FEA conference was a step in the right direction. As it did Friday, this work starts with a conversation, and with developing trust and understanding, even if it takes us out of our comfort zones. And when we do that and build on the values that bind us, we can transform the communities we serve into more just places.”

Johnson said, “Fighting for equality and justice has always been the work of our union and its members. That is why we participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, and that is why we continue to fight back against all forms of bigotry and hatred today. Having courageous conversations about racial equity and improving public education for all students—no matter their race, sexual orientation, immigration status or ZIP code—is our top priority. We will do everything in our power to ensure that black lives matter—and that must start with having honest and uncomfortable conversations about the injustices and inequalities the plague our society.”

“Educators are the greatest drivers of change in our great nation—from seeking funds for the education of free slaves after the Civil War to speaking out against the internment of Japanese-American children during World War II to opposing the segregation of black children in inherently unequal schools,” said Eskelsen Garcia. “Educators are the bridge to the future for the millions of lives they touch on a daily basis.

“Today, we continue to use our collective strength to defend democracy, to fight for equal opportunity, and to create a more just society for our students. Whether we’re standing up against a reckless and irresponsible Trump administration trampling on the rights of transgender students, or fighting to protect and provide certainty to our Dreamers, we will continue to challenge our present to forge a better future for all of us and our nation.”

Pringle said, “Social and racial justice is everyone’s business. It is our business. We all have a responsibility to challenge the system of hierarchy and inequity that is ongoing and reinforcing, where one group is given preferential treatment over another, where power and privilege combine to disproportionately impact people of color. We see racism consistently, in subtle and not so subtle forms, in our institutions of education, healthcare, mass media, law enforcement and business, where systems operate and intersect to create and sustain unfair policies and practices based on race. That’s why a few years ago we embarked on an important quest to address the scourge of racism in America. We are doubling down on our efforts to end the barriers that stand between our nation’s students and their opportunities to realize their full potential, no matter their race, ethnicity or ZIP code.”

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Making the Case for More Men of Color in Early Education

As educators, we have an obligation to give our students every opportunity to succeed. Parents rely on us to ensure their children are armed with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive once they leave our classrooms.

Over my more than 15 years in education, I have learned that to fulfill this responsibility, schools must give children the opportunity to learn from men of color. The profound impact Black male educators can have on the trajectory of a child's life cannot be overstated. And it's time we acknowledge it.

 

PROMOTING DIVERSITY

 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, less than 2 percent of our nation's teachers are Black males.

At a time when non-White students outnumber White students in U.S. public schools, the need for a diverse teaching force has never been greater. At Eagle Academy Public Charter School, diversity is something we not only celebrate, but aggressively pursue.

We constantly look for ways to expose our students to different experiences, perspectives and methods for coping with challenges. And this starts with diverse educators.

It should come as no surprise that men and women bring different perspectives to the classroom, and the same is true for individuals of varying backgrounds and ethnicities. Especially in early education where children develop the foundation for the rest of their lives, it is crucial that schools cultivate a diverse and stable environment to facilitate this development.

I have seen firsthand that when children learn and grow in a diverse community, they begin to challenge stereotypes that have for far too long prevented children from reaching their full potential.

SHATTERING THE STEREOTYPES

 

Today, early childhood education is still widely viewed as a woman's profession.

With men representing only 2.5 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers and 21.5 percent of elementary and middle school teachers, the chances of having a male educator (let alone a Black male educator) before reaching high school are slim.

Royston Maxwell Lyttle is the principal for grades 1-3 of the Eagle Academy Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. He strongly believes that all students should be provided a high-quality education and that all students can reach their full academic potential regardless of their social or economic background.

The environment children are exposed to in their first years of education has a profound impact on how they view the world. Therefore, there should be a sense of urgency among early educators to combat stereotypes.

When children see a diverse teaching staff working together in the same profession, they not only learn the importance of equality, but are also encouraged to ignore gender and racial stereotypes associated with certain careers. As a Black man working in early education, I have seen how these societal constructs negatively affect children and have dedicated my life to breaking them down.

 

OFFERING A ROLE MODEL

Role models play a critical role in a child's development.

Young boys who come from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have a strong father figure at home, and often come to school hoping to fill that void. As a leader of a 98 percent African-American student body, I feel it is important for students to find someone they can see themselves in, look up to and aspire to be.

Boys who grow up with only female teachers and role models don't have this opportunity. Children tend to mimic influential individuals in their lives. They benefit from strong, Black male teachers who lead by example.

This is something I learned from a student while working in Washington, D.C.

He was a young boy whose behavioral issues were hindering his ability to learn. Without a father figure in his life, his mother was struggling to get through to him. Upon sitting down with the boy in hopes of identifying the root of these problems, I was surprised to find he had just one request: to spend time together.

After our first outing to the movies, his attitude and school work improved dramatically. I didn't have to employ any complicated learning tactic or psychological theory to help this child-I just had to be there and listen. Over the remainder of the year, I watched him grow into a successful and happy student. That experience left me determined to be someone my students can always rely on and look up to in and outside of the classroom.

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

 

As we look to the future of early childhood education, I urge parents, teachers, lawmakers and communities to invest in ways to bring diversity to the classroom.

I also challenge my fellow Black men who are passionate about education to buck the norm, ignore the stigma and put the children first.

As a Black male principal, I feel it is my duty to spread this message and be a catalyst for change in order to create a more diversified environment for our children to learn in. I have found there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a student succeed against all odds due to the lessons you have taught them. I encourage more Black men to join me in this journey.

 

This article originally appeared on EducationPost.org.

 

Royston Maxwell Lyttle is the principal for grades 1-3 of the Eagle Academy Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. He strongly believes that all students should be provided a high-quality education and that all students can reach their full academic potential regardless of their social or economic background.

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CSUSB Honors Student At Second Annual Run Like A Mother 5K

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – More than 200 people ran or walked in the second annual Run Like A Mother 5K at Cal State San Bernardino on Saturday, Oct. 21, which this year was held in memory of slain student Jordyn Rivera.

The race/walk was hosted by the CSUSB chapter of Eta Sigma Gamma National Health Education Honorary Society, of which Rivera had served as president and treasurer, and students of Health Science 404: Women’s Health, said chapter faculty adviser Angie Denisse Verissimo, who works alongside Nicole Henley, who serves as the other faculty co-adviser. Both are assistant professors in the university’s Department of Health Sciences and Human Ecology and faculty coordinators of the 5K.

Rivera, who was heavily involved in planning the race, was among those whose lives were lost in the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. The students, who were still mourning the loss of Rivera, decided to continue with the event as planned and dedicate it to her, Henley said.

They should be praised for their efforts,” said Henley, who credited the students for their hard work and dedication in planning and staging the event.

Rivera’s parents, Mary and Albert Rivera, were also at the race, along with CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales. Time for Change Foundation’s executive director Kim Carter was also present along with her staff and nearly 40 women and children who receive services from their organization.

The 5K run/walk is to raise money and awareness for the Time for Change Foundation and Soul Food for Your Baby. Both are nonprofit community organizations dedicated to improving the lives of women and children by providing resources, programs and services.

The annual race is “public health in action,” said Verissimo. “It is a prime example of bringing community members and our CSUSB community together all while raising consciousness on the pressing concerns that our communities face and celebrating those community organizations that strive to address these concerns.”

About Cal State San Bernardino

 

California State University, San Bernardino is a preeminent center of intellectual and cultural activity in Inland Southern California. Opened in 1965 and set at the foothills of the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains, the university serves more than 20,000 students each year and graduates about 4,000 students annually. CSUSB reflects the dynamic diversity of the region and has the most diverse student population of any university in the Inland Empire. More than 80 percent of those who graduate are the first in their families to do so.

For more information on Cal State San Bernardino, contact the university’s Office of Strategic Communication at (909) 537-5007 and visit news.csusb.edu.

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