Black Minds Matter
The world is in the midst of a civil uprising as more bear witness to the racial and social injustices that take place daily in America, sparked by the abhorrent murders of black men and women. We must commit to overhauling systems, and that includes acknowledging that our early justice system, which hunted people of color in night watches and slave patrols across the colonies, still lingers with those sins in its blood today. The education system, once a primary mechanism for segregation, is propped up and seemingly prowls for black minds just the same. Those committed to protecting black lives cannot simultaneously refuse to nurture black minds. Our essence and our being deserve life. Our black minds matter.
The discourse for defeating systemic racism must include enacting genuine systemic change. Fighting at the margins won’t help. A momentary marketing blitz won’t fix it. We must collapse the chasm of achievement between black students and their white peers in our K-12 education system. Nourishing black minds with a rich education is the first step to breaking generational poverty and societal inequities.
I should know, because education was my lifeline.
Even as a young girl, I knew I had to circumvent three beasts in order to succeed: being black, being poor, and being the daughter of a 16-year-old girl. However, there was a fourth that was societally orchestrated and enforced by law: my ZIP code.
To this day, in thousands of communities across America, lower-income black and brown families are relegated to a network of failing schools and poor building conditions because of their home address. Black children are too often shackled to a pipeline of bleak education prospects, saddled on top of the numerous other symbiotic anchors that have weighed us down, from predatory lending to abortion.
My family has lived in poverty for at least four generations. We have been impacted by policies, practices, and programs that, regardless of intent, have done harm. I failed the third grade twice. I felt the teachers didn’t care about or believe in me. I hated school. However, I am the first in my family to receive a high school diploma and a master’s degree.
My turnaround was not born from the extra funds my zoned government school received. My success and the successes of my siblings today did not stem from a government school at all. Rather, it was the result of a tax-credit scholarship to attend a private school. My attitude and academic success skyrocketed when I was placed in an environment that encouraged my strengths and recognized my potential.
Those holding the reins of the American education system have long insinuated that lower academic performance among black students cannot be addressed by the school system. Too often they diminish minority parents as incapable of caring for their own children. Black minds matter too much for us to tolerate this mindset. The slow academic growth, cultural insensitivity, low expectations, and high disciplinary rates for our children must end.
We deserve K-12 education options beyond the singular one the government assigns. We should no longer tolerate a system that has promoted mediocrity at best, and generational devastation at worst. After a 2017 report from Baltimore found that 13 high schools had zero students proficient in math, Dr. Walter E. Williams said, “If you were the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and you wanted to sabotage black excellence in Baltimore, could you find a better means to do so than the public school system?”
In Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco, 70% of white students are proficient in math, compared to only 12% of black students. Like many politicians, Speaker Pelosi and her children attended private school, yet she opposes giving children from poor families, many of whom are black, the opportunity to do the same. That placation of the teachers’ unions helps keep a broken and de facto racist system intact.
We must reject the tiresome platitudes from politicians who claim we are “defunding public education.” Increased spending is the most widely applied bandage for educational shortcomings. Yet it fails to mend the problem. Since the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the inflation-adjusted increase in K-12 education spending per-pupil, when adjusted for inflation, went up 236%. Yet test scores have largely remained flat. The problem is one of allocation, not appropriation. Families should control their child’s education funding and direct it to the school or learning environment they choose.
This is a defining moment in our nation. It won’t be the last as we confront the enormous task of navigating to a new equal and just society. Equal opportunity in education cannot be ignored if we are to achieve meaningful and lasting change. Families with children who languish in a system that kills them cannot afford to wait any longer. If we really care about breaking down racist structures and institutions in America, we must also give every child access to a great education of their family’s choice.