Board Members Address Structural Racism
As we officially mark the end of the 2019-2020 school year and turn toward all that is to come in 2020-2021, Board Members are spending time reflecting on the year. To end our year, we’d like to share with you the reflections of individual Board members presented at our June 11th committee meeting. We look forward to working with you in the new year.
“We must challenge ourselves by being a part of the solution”
Leticia Egea-Hinton, Board Vice President
The events of this past week have caused me to flashback to my years as a child. I can vividly remember each moment of racism, discrimination and/or prejudice I’ve personally experienced.
As a Puerto Rican American, a group of people who are as diverse as the rainbow, we are still marginalized and often forgotten, and our “difference” is not accepted across a spectrum of communities. Let us not forget other communities like the indigenous people of America who still live in conditions that are governed by policies that have kept them quietly suffering at the hands of structural racism while still being treated as intruders in their own country.
These experiences intersect with the pain, anger and frustration that is being televised and reflected on social media. These emotions have been bubbling up, and if we are honest, they are the result of centuries of structural racism that has failed black and brown communities who continue to live on the edge of society.
The questions that I ask, at this juncture, are how will we change the tide of structural racism in a society that does not recognize our contributions to America? How do we move the equity needle when our communities are still viewed through the lens of racist attitudes governed by decision makers who do not always represent the best interest of our communities? How do we change or how can we change racism which is embedded in almost every facet of our society?
I believe that we must have open and honest dialogue and must not be afraid to call out racist practices where they exist.
I believe that we must do more than scratch the surface of solutions and dig deeper into the policies and actions that have supported structural racism.
I believe that we must choose wisely how we respond and we must challenge ourselves by being a part of the solution and not just a conversation.
I believe that we must require more from our legislators and have them change policies that support inequity.
And finally, as a Board, we must ensure that our actions are laser-focused on the goals and guardrails we have established: moving the needle of equity by providing the best education for all our children and equipping them for a better tomorrow. I am hopeful. I have faith in the will of our community and our country’s ability to make long-lasting change.
“You ‘mattering’ is simply the baseline”
As a black man, a graduate of a Philadelphia public middle school and high school, one of thousands of family members and friends who are products of Philadelphia public schools, as an administrator, practitioner, coach and mentor in Philadelphia education spaces for the past 25 years and now at a governance level with my fellow board member colleagues, I’m struck with a range of emotions depending on the reflection space I’m in.
In this moment of reflection, I remind myself that societies grow great when women and men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. This moment that we are in does not exist in a vacuum; the work on behalf of students, educators and community members does not exist in vacuum. I regularly confront my own generational anger, trauma, and overall wellness. I especially do so in this moment.
At the same time, I also elevate the reality that I’m part of a lineage of people who I’ve never met but who have planted trees so that I and WE can benefit from their proverbial fruits. People here in Philadelphia like Cecil B. Moore who had a profound impact on my grandfather and others. People like Marcus Foster who impacted my father at Simon Gratz High School in the late 1960s. Again, I remind myself this moment we are living in does not exist in a vacuum, and our path forward is rooted in the many trees planted for us.
Lastly as the son of parents who come from an era that recognized the need to believe in and say out loud that black is beautiful, I’m compelled to publicly and loudly say to our black educators and students that you are beautiful, you are brilliant. In a world that has stolen from us, miseducated us, devalued our bodies and neglected our voices, it’s just as important now as it was during the civil rights era to reclaim and own your beauty and brilliance.
You mattering is simply the baseline. Your lived experiences and knowledge should absolutely lead the path forward, and what I’ve learned early on in this board work is that my colleagues are committed to that acknowledgment and path forward.
I say all of this in solidarity and commitment to the wellness of our entire educational community during this time and in the future.
“Move that bar of racial equity even further”
I want to charge you (graduates) with using your education to move that bar of racial equity even further. I remember the civil rights movement, and I think back on slavery and our forefathers who at each stage fought inch by inch to bring us to a certain point.
And this is now your time to take the reins and to bring us further. And you will be bringing not just your generation but all of the other generations forward and realizing we can gain even more than before.
But understand this: this is not a sprint; this is a marathon. You must stay focused. You must be clear about what you want. You must be determined and believe in yourself that it can occur. And what you must do first right now if you’re not registered to vote, is register if you are of the age to vote. And come November, I don’t care how they conduct the elections: whether it’s by mail, whether they make us stand in lines, do it. Even if it’s raining, do it because we can’t change it by talk. It’s our action that will make the change, We owe you the educational part, you owe us the implementation of it.
“We can get laser focused on outcomes”
Mallory Fix Lopez
Crime and violence are symptoms of poverty. Poverty is a symptom of inequities, racist and unjust systems, and failed education systems. As the Board of Education, we can choose to allow a failed system to continue, or we can get laser focused on outcomes. We can focus on the injustices in the way policies are not just written, but implemented.
We have to have high expectations. We have to focus on outcomes, not just the inputs. President Wilkerson, you have acknowledged how damaging it is to have low expectations, and I completely agree.
Right now, there is an operational crisis as a result of Covid-19 that teams are working through, which has been an unplanned distraction. But as we think about goals for next year, we must also be ready to hold the district accountable for outcomes despite this current crisis. Inputs that don’t produce desired outcomes for ALL students really only gets us a certificate of participation. Inputs have to yield results; if not, we continue to fail our young people and the city.
Failure is not an option; it is our responsibility to get this right for the future of Philadelphia, and more importantly, for the lives of our young people. We must remember that with each vote we take.