It’s been a year since this piece was written and since CPS chief education officer (then chief equity officer) Maurice Swinney committed to developing the CPS Black student achievement task force. In that year, there’s been significant leadership transition, with Pedro Martinez stepping in as CEO, and it’s recently been announced that Patti Salzmann will replace Swinney as chief education officer.
It remains to be seen how Martinez and his new team will follow through with this initiative.
This piece originally appeared at Hope+Outrage on October 9, 2020.
Closed mouths don’t get fed. That’s why fellow Chicago activist, Natasha Dunn, and I recently demanded that Chicago Public Schools adopt our Black Student Achievement Task Force to serve as a liaison between the district and our community—a thought partner and accountability arm in addressing and effectively mitigating obstacles facing our kids in schools. And guess what? After meeting with the Chief Equity Officer, Maurice Swinney, our demand was met.
For years, we’ve been starved of essentials our kids need to be successful in school. Most leave the system hungry for knowledge and a quality education, ultimately and desperately fighting for table scraps demeaningly tossed to them by this greedy ass country.
But now, in this dreaded year of 2020, the backs of our elected officials and district administrators are against the wall. The fact that coronavirus has made everything a hot ass mess and really exposed some deep-rooted systemic racism, bias and ineptitude has left us wanting answers and more importantly, better—because now if they don’t do their jobs, they can and will actually lose them.
The Time is Now
So for those of you who don’t know or maybe haven’t seen the opportunities served up by this pandemic, now is the time to eat—and I’m talking buffet style, leave no crumbs on the plate! Here’s how I know.
When coronavirus started hitting the United States hard and the government was handing out stimulus packages left and right—after consistently insisting they had nothing for low or even middle-income Black families—it was then that I had an aha moment, recognizing that now was the time to get the bag.
Also, with more and more public exposure of injustices committed against Black people, the trickle-down effects of ongoing civil unrest—and maybe even some compassion during this time where a virus is proving that none of us are different or better—finally have people feeling like Black lives might actually matter after all. I’m still skeptical of who’s for real in the fight for our us and how long it’ll last but there’s a lot of appeasing to our community these days so I’ll take it.
So what do we have here? A country that has shown us that it does have money to adequately fund public education and now may have an ounce of empathy for our plight. That leaves us with space and opportunity to push for educational restitution. But don’t be fooled—these reparations won’t be hand-delivered to our communities and that’s why we have to demand them. Now back to why Natasha and I pushed for this task force and why y’all should, too.
Chicago—like a few other so-called progressive cities—has a hell of an opportunity gap.
We tout rising growth and graduation rates for Black kids at 70%, but math and reading proficiency scores are both under 20%. Somebody make it make sense.
And, as I’ve been saying, these gaps are definitely going to blow up with the disaster that is remote learning. Since it began, our city has “lost” 6,900 students. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what communities those students who haven’t logged come from given the fact that 7.4 million Black kids around the country don’t have internet access.
I know y’all cities are the same with heavy emphasis on graduation rates to make it seem like school districts are doing their job, educational equity initiatives or teams in place that, for whatever reason, aren’t moving the needle in any way and significant failures in distance learning. They’ve pushed our kids through the system regardless of whether they learn or not and it will be more of the same when schools actually do open back up—now is the time to turn that around.
I’m urging everyone who reads this to form your own task forces, go to your city and district reps and demand a seat at the table. Tell them that we’re no longer accepting table scraps or the half-assed job they’ve done with educating our kids, and we don’t give a damn about their cute little equity initiatives that only serve as a cover to make us think they’re doing the right thing. Tell them we want intentional investment with proof of outcomes. And if they won’t give us what we want, their days in office are numbered.
We have the upper hand—it’s time to eat and closed mouths don’t get fed. Be loud, be audacious and be unrelenting—our kids need it right now.
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