COVID-19 has increased racism and xenophobia towards the Asian-American community.
COVID-19 has ravaged Native American reservations.
COVID-19 has increased unemployment in the Latinx community.
COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the health of Black Americans.
Then we saw the video of Ahmaud Arbery being killed for going on a run.
Then Breonna Taylor was killed for sitting at home in her living room.
Then we saw the video of Amy Cooper threatening Christian Cooper while he was bird watching.
Then we saw the video of George Floyd having a police officer keep his knee on his neck for almost 9 minutes.
Racism in America is not new. All our institutions including our school system were built on racist beliefs. However, these series of events in a time of uncertainty has created a perfect storm of pain, exhaustion and numbness. Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are not okay. As a Black mother of a Black daughter and son, I am not okay.
What does this have to do with being an educator?
Our young people are already speaking out through protests in cities across the country because, as an African proverb tells us, “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” America has failed to hear BIPOC for generations. History tells us that our bodies, our lives do not matter.
Several years ago, I visited a school on Rikers Island in New York City. I witnessed the deep level of control put on Black young men in that space. Then I crossed the bridge and visited an elementary school in East Harlem. The control was the same down to the forced straight lines, uniforms, and silent lunches. How we are currently doing school is getting our students ready for prison. We have Amy Coopers as teachers and principals suspending kids for being disrespectful and threatening to call the police. As organization and district leaders, we are making decisions from our own privileged lens without understanding the historical perspective and impact of our actions. Racism is systemic in our schools, and it’s killing our children’s spirits.
So, what do we do?
I could tell you to do your own work. Read the books. Know and understand the history of race in the United States. Recognize your own power and privilege. Engage in conversations about race at your dinner table. All these actions are critical but that’s all ally work. Dr. Bettina Love clearly explains that ally-ship is working towards something that is mutually beneficial and supportive to all parties involved; however, being a co-conspirator means leveraging and putting your own privilege on the line to benefit the oppressed.
What’s co-conspirator work?
- Speak up and say that Black Lives Matter.
- Recognize that young people are leading the way- listen, learn and follow.
- If you’re white, ask your BIPOC co-workers if they are okay and offer to support them now. Yes, you have your own long “to–do” list, but co-conspirator work is sacrificing your time to give your BIPOC colleague some time to heal.
- Provide space for healing and conversation. Create opportunities for colleagues to talk to each other about recent events. This isn’t a time for BIPOC to teach the white colleagues but just a time to talk about recent events and express all the necessary emotions.
- Point out how characteristics of white supremacy culture are being perpetuated within a meeting and organization. If you need to have the Jones and Okun article printed out and taped above your computer screen, do it and make it a practice to ask yourself if you are operating in white supremacy culture now and call out others when they are doing it.
- Use your seat at the table. If you have the privilege to be at the decision-making table, be the voice for those who are not there and ask why they are not there. As you are writing your school re-entry plans, were students, families and communities’ voices part of the planning process?
- Hire only co-conspirators. Evaluate your recruitment, hiring, and selection process to see how candidates demonstrate their history of being a co-conspirator and/or are willing to embody those characteristics in this new role.
Finally, I give you a question, given to me several years ago. When you wake-up every morning, ask yourself, “What MORE can I do today on behalf of BIPOC kids?”
Mary Rice-Boothe, Ed.D.
Executive Director, Curriculum Development & Equity
Mary Rice-Boothe, Ed.D., joined the NYC Leadership Academy in 2015 and currently serves as Executive Director, Curriculum Development & Equity. In this role, she oversees the Leadership Academy’s internal and external equity strategy, design, and collaboration, and ensures expanded access to our work through different learning systems. At the Leadership Academy, she has had the opportunity to partner with school systems across the country to support them in implementing their equity policies. Mary has also supported the development of equity-focused resources for district-level leaders looking to name and dismantle the inequitable practices they are seeing at the school and district level.
Mary came to the Leadership Academy with more than 20 years of experience in education as a teacher, principal, mentor, and coach. Before joining TLA, she worked at New Leaders, a national non-profit organization, as Executive Director of Content and Assessment, leading the team that designed, developed, and delivered content and assessments for the organization.
She began her career in education as an high school English teacher in East Harlem. Mary is a certified Courageous Conversations about Race Affiliate and a certified Facilitative Leadership Trainer. She sits on the board of Marathon Kids. Mary holds a BA in Metropolitan Studies from New York University, an MA in English and English Education from the City College of New York, and a Doctorate Degree in Leadership and Organizational Change from the University of Southern California. Her book, focused on leaders of color, will be published by ASCD in 2022. Mary lives in Round Rock, Texas, with her mom, husband, daughter, and son.