I met with the Denver Public Schools Culture, Equity, and Leadership Team (CELT) as promised. As promised, they shared more about the work that they are pushing. Areas where they are feeling gains. Hopes for work that has yet to be approved, funded, and woven into the fabric of the district.
And transparently, the frustrations that black people carry because these struggles should not be the struggles of today.
I note that many who work on the CELT team are black people who have also been students in this district. They have endured these struggles for a lifetime. They have listened, year after year, to elected board members, superintendents, school leaders, and others, declaring genuine concern for black students. Yet, as we concluded in our time together, the structure and the systems remain the same.
We continue to fight the very structure and systems that my grandparents started fighting as parents in Denver during the 1960s. We have been waiting for courageous leadership to draw the line in the sand and to move the district differently, better, and in the best ways to meet the needs of black children and therefore all children.
We keep waiting, and sadly continue dining on the appeasement crumbs. There have been only cosmetic changes, covering up the unchanged structure and systems that continue to fail black children by design. We can no longer be satisfied with promises that it will happen, or long-range plans that point to a day far in the future where it will be realized.
Our moment is now, because too many days have passed, and none are promised. Now is the only moment that we have. Now is the only answer to our question of when!
It must be noted and therefore known that The Black Excellence Resolution was birthed from internal frustration, from expressed direct feedback that nothing was being done fast enough to change the learning realities of black students or the work environments for black professionals called out by the Bailey Report. It was said, “it was our hope that the Black Excellence Resolution would give our efforts teeth.” Meaning, there was a lot called out, a lot of identified immediate areas for action, but there was no demand or accountability to get anything done.
There was always something more important. Always something more pressing. Black students, families and staff could wait. They had waited all these years. Such a lack of urgency created an environment not only where black leaders and teachers were being let go unjustly for speaking up but were justly leaving for other opportunities to make right the learning for black children in other places.
Leaving for other districts locally. Uprooting their families and moving to other states. Leaving education all together. Many are the names of those who once represented black brilliance in Denver Public Schools that had their contributions dismissed and ideas for transformation ignored.
We continue to fight the very structure and systems that my grandparents started fighting as parents in Denver during the 1960s.
The CELT presents as very optimistic. Transparently aware of the ongoing challenges, hurdles, pending budget cuts, minds and hearts that remain unchanged, but yet still optimistic. You want people who believe in the work. You want people who are committed to the theory of change that they have mapped out.
I appreciate their optimism. I also appreciate their understanding that transformation work — and that’s what this is — requires high will and high skill. People have to want to transform and we have to provide the support and tools so that they have the high skill to do so. Transformation that comes simply because an elected board and/or superintendent said so, which there is a place for that in the short-term, will not remain in the long-term.
You get a new board, a new superintendent, and that which once mattered no longer is of importance. This cannot be transformation at the mercy of who is elected or who is hired. Transformation from supremacy structure and systems that further subjugation and oppression can only happen and be lasting if we are willing to lean in and deal with head and heart problems; what we think and feel about others, and our disposition about needs and our shared responsibility to meet those needs in equitable ways.
Until we acknowledge that there is a direct connection between a black man being shot down in a Georgia neighborhood (say his name, Ahmaud Arbery), a black woman being shot down in her Kentucky home (say her name, Breonna Taylor), and the poor quality of education that is received by black children, and the less than professional treatment of black educators and school leaders, we cannot, we will not transform!
Throw all of the money you want at it. Until the structure and the systems are repudiated –fully rejected, starved of resources — transformation is not possible. If you continue to water the grass of the plantation, it stays green. If you continue to trim the hedges, paint the shutters, even host parties with your friends, celebrating mediocrity and gradualism to appease those who are oppressed, the plantation looks like a good place. That is unless you are a slave. Unless you have felt the sting of the plantation. Unless you have felt the dehumanization of the plantation. Unless you have felt the intentional neglect of the plantation to ready you for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I believe this moment is our moment. Like no other time in our lives, COVID-19 has presented a moment where we can, in solidarity, refuse to go back to the green grass of subjugation and oppression made real on the education plantation. We can hold to the optimism of the CELT and we can loudly say: No more! Not later but now!
We can read over and over again the facts, the pain, and the lived experiences in the Bailey Report, and declare now that things will not be the same, and if they are, they will not include us. They will not include black brilliance, black teachers, leaders, students, and families, because we have struggled long enough to “fix” a structure and systems designed for our demise.
We are certain that the plantation will always be the plantation. This moment calls us to walk in our God-given freedom, not to ‘public comment’ for it, but to walk in it. Not to wait on some comfortable moderate to finally feel moved to end our plight, but to boldly seize what belongs to us and to our children.
Our brilliance built this country and it must build a better and best reality for our children. The answer to when is now! #KeepOurPromises