I had to rewrite this final piece because George Floyd — say his name — would want to breathe. I had to rework it to clearly communicate my belief that the plantation mentality and practices that took his life are prevalent, not isolated, very much controlling the structure and systems that we point to in education.
I revised the opening of this final piece because I have felt the knee that took George Floyd’s life: many of us have. We’ve been clear that the Bailey Resolution (1995), Bailey Report (2016), and the Black Excellence Resolution (2019) have all been declarations from a people trying to force the knee off of our necks, so that we can breathe, so that we can live, so that our children can learn. George Floyd, say his name!
The knee is still on our necks. The structures and the systems remain. The supremacy mindset continues to sustain them. The silence continues to give comfort and no accountability to those who continue to subjugate and sabotage the lives of others. The knee is still on our necks. Like George Floyd — say his name — WE STILL CAN’T BREATHE!
Yet breath is not given to us from those who would subjugate us. Those seduced by supremacy ideology like to think that they are the source, but they aren’t. What this moment calls for is a reclaiming. Reclaiming our breath, our God-given gift to breathe, and to have life and to live it fully without the airway obstructions of all of the ‘isms’ that would steal it.
We reclaim our breath, our RIGHT to inhale, to exhale, and to do it without the need for permission from those who press their knee ever harder upon our necks or sit silent while it is done. We will breathe. Our children will breathe. We resist any effort to restrict our airways.
We rise up against structures and systems that have left us under-educated, emasculated, mass-incarcerated, starving in food deserts, gentrified out of neighborhoods, unhoused, unemployed, uninsured, and ultimately on the ground dying, with cameras recording, unable to breathe. George Floyd, say his name!
Here is what must be, how the knee must be lifted off of our necks:
I. Equity must be prioritized in policy, personnel, practices, partnerships and provision. If the district, Denver Public Schools or any district, is serious about equity, meeting individuals where they are and serving them well, it must be serious about funding equity, even in, especially in, the new COVID-19 pandemic realities.
The Culture, Equity, and Leadership Team (CELT) team is eight people. Eight people fighting against structures and systems that we know do not want to change. Eight people pushing against the resistance of people who think that this, along with COVID-19, is a hoax, a waste of time and not mask-worthy. This is a heavy lift that requires more lifters.
If transformation is truly desired, lead boldly, govern responsibly and put together the right team to move with urgency. Not because a lawsuit or consent decree tells you to, but because you tell you to; because it is the right thing to do. We need this to be a genuine act of will and skill to transform the jangling discords within education, not in a generation but NOW.
CELT should expand its bandwidth by contracting with outside partners like The Equity Project, LLC and others to create new structures and systems where all people can thrive. Nothing can be off limits within the organization. Every policy, every practice, all personnel, every source of provision, every partner, should be on notice that a new day has come.
It must be clear, in word and deed, that what was will not be. That what is will end. That what is to come will be what is best for all children.
After hearing some good efforts from CELT that seem to be moving at “all deliberate speed,” here are some act now recommendations:
a. All schools, district departments, and non-state and federal funders/grantors must have equity audits completed and equity action plans co-created with community by the end of January 2021. A heavy lift, I know, but we need to breathe. Get your knee off of our necks.
b. All school staffs, district staff, and staffs of non-state and federal funders/grantors will complete the cultural bias training that has been identified by CELT by the end of March 2021 with schools and district departments providing public reports of learning. So much going on, I know, but we need to breathe. Get your knee off of our necks.
c. Denver Public Schools will cease the practice of allowing black school leaders to be removed without just cause. Black brilliance was vanquished from the district over the last decade for ‘just not being a fit.’ Primarily because it dared to challenge leadership that was allowing the continuance of the issues identified in the Bailey Report. The district must right these atrocities, in word and deed. There is no forward without it. I suggest the formation of Black Leaders Aligned (BLA) that will work closely with the HR department to ensure consistent due process, competitive compensation, advancement opportunities, and intentional recruitment of black leaders throughout the district. Get your knee off of our necks.
d. All schools, district departments, and non-state and federal funders/grantors that fail to make these moves toward an equitable reality for all children forfeit the privilege of working with or within the schools of our community. Seems harsh, but business as usual with no consequences for remaining the same keeps the knee on our neck. Get your knee off of our necks.
If the response is business as usual: More excuse making. More complaints and resistance. More scapegoating of COVID-19, then the bold action that we must take is EXODUS.
II. Exodus from schools, districts, and financial relationships with funders that do not prioritize immediate shifts in policies, personnel, and practices for the good of all black children, families, teachers, leaders, and community members.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted in a 1966 interview saying, “our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay.”
He pointed out that riots were an effect, not a cause, and if the United States wanted to end riots, they needed to honestly deal with the cause. If DPS wants to end this cycle of rhetoric, the miseducation of black children, and the mistreatment of black teachers and leaders, it must end what has been.
If schools, districts, and funders do not deal with the cause, the effect must be a mass exodus of those whom the structures and systems were designed to fail. We cannot thrive on the plantation and we need not continue to hold hope that it will right itself when for generations it has only been committed to comfortable gradualism.
We need more than gradualism. We need more than growth. We need gains in proficiency that get children to a reality of thriving, not simply surviving in a system not designed for their good. We must exodus to a promised land that aligns with the lives we were gifted.
This is chess, so we don’t ever reveal our next move to opposition, share all details, nor do we prescribe a solution that has not been co-created and committed to by the collective. I do advocate for using every tool at our disposal to design and deliver a different reality for our children.
For the purposes of this article, the exodus could look like:
a. Exodus to liberation zones that are formed with like-minded school communities that wish to use innovation, charter, and parent choice laws to do what is best for children. A liberation zone would be accountable to the district/state/community, could partner with the district by purchasing services, but 100% of per pupil funding would belong to the liberation zone to avoid being at the mercy of the district bureaucracy, gradualism, or EDU-politics.
b. Exodus to neighboring school districts that have or are willing to take the necessary steps to transform their policies, personnel, practices, and provision to positively elevate the lives and the learning of black children.
c. Exodus to a home school co-op that allows learning to be driven by families, supported by education partners, and still gives children access to rich elective and other opportunities within a school district through cooperating schools that meeting our equity standard.
d. Exodus to a to-be-designed by us educational model that better aligns with a collectivist/community approach to educating and supporting the total wellness of children and all stakeholders that serve them.
Ultimately, the way forward is not back to what was. COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in painful ways but also in purposeful ways. We will not go back to what was. The health of our children was already in jeopardy pre-COVID-19 and we will not go back into school buildings led by people who would just maintain status quo.
We will not go back and support a district that only provides public lip-service in response to our cries for equality, equity, and excellence. We will not go back to diploma factories, pipelines to prison, check your culture at the door, assimilate to whiteness to succeed, school models run by the district, innovation zones, or authorized charters.
The world has changed. We exercise our God-given right to breathe, to exhale, and to demand that we #keepourpromises to our children. We will breathe. Our children will breathe. George Floyd, say his name!