I teach and support teachers in Camden, NJ and I am very much aware that my presence is certainly more welcome where I educate versus the suburbs.
I say that because the statistics show that there are more Black teachers in cities than there are anywhere else, as are teachers of color in general. But it is also because of the work that I’m doing as director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives. While there are challenges that come with my work, my work is needed, and the school community recognizes that.
But I’m not as sure the suburban schools share the same sentiment; that my position and the critical work related to it is necessary.
It’s a valid question to wonder if my role would be about checking a box a suburban school district; I could ask the same for any school district really, including my own. But I don’t believe I’d be pushed out for saying Black lives matter in a districtwide letter or email. Just last month I announce Christopher Columbus a murderer in a districtwide email, and I am still employed.
There is no lack of discussion concerning how districts push out Black educators with the invisible tax. Much less discussion is had on how white parents push out Black educators as was the case in Prince George’s County with their district’s first Black superintendent, Dr. Andrea Kane.
It began after a very strongly worded letter from Dr. Kane advocating that Black lives matter in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. While numerous schools put out milquetoast letters to students and families talking about a commitment to diversity, including a district where I once worked, Dr. Kane both condemned racism and laid out antiracist measures to take place in her school district, which is more than what many other districts said or did. It didn’t matter that in the district only 6% of students were Black.
However, one white parent galvanized a group of dissidents and due to a lack of support from the school board, the superintendent faced threats on her life, in addition to dealing with a lack of confidence in her ability to lead. Once these right-wing parents, whose vitriol had them removed from Facebook, was elected to the school board, the hand-writing was on the wall Dr. Kane. Soon after, she resigned.
It’s easy to say that you’re ready to do antiracist work, but it is another thing to do the work. School districts may in fact be interested in doing antiracist work but fear the backlash of that work from white parents – in the form of crowded, and hostile, school board meetings. Depending on where a school district is located, their ambitions may be thwarted due to laws against teaching on systemic racism.
However, school districts must be willing to stand up to those threats, even if it means breaking an unjust law, in the name of teaching truth to young people as well as supporting Black and Brown teachers and students who are impacted by racism, both in schools and in society.
I suspect that if another Black suburban administrator put forth a similar letter strongly saying that Black lives matter while promoting issues of equity and anti-racism, they too may be met with the same level of anger and fear as was Dr. Kane. If that’s true, then why should Black educators, particularly school and district leaders, subject themselves to such abuse and attack?
While it is true that Black educators have a major impact on the academic performance of Black students and that white students prefer diverse educators, the question must be asked as to whether or not we should have to tolerate such intolerance, such fear, such ignorance, such racism from white people who are scared of what will happen to them if the truth set them free.
We must follow the words of Paulo Freire; that not only must be liberate ourselves from a system of white supremacy but we must also liberate our oppressor. To do that it requires that Black educators continue to fight. That doesn’t mean that we embrace white institutions, white institutional thought, nor doesn’t it mean that we live or die by these.
Rather, it means that we enter these institutions with the purpose of opening the eyes of all young people—no matter their color, class, or creed.
I can’t speak for whether or not these adults can be saved within the Prince George’s school district and community, but what I do know is that the young people in those school buildings, the young kindergartners, first graders, second graders all the way up to the high school juniors and seniors are learning from what they see in the world today as well as from the adults and they saw white parents push out a Black superintendent; the very first Black superintendent in the district’s history.
Nevertheless, we keep fighting. Those students see and learn from that as well.
We may be pushed out, forced out, and tired out. But we will keep coming. While it’s unfortunate that only 2% of superintendents are Black, what happened to Dr. Kane doesn’t mean that Black educators won’t continue and continue to enter schools and run districts, whether in the city, rural area or the suburbs. What happened to Dr. Kane doesn’t mean that Black educators will stop equity work. It doesn’t mean that Black educators will abandon anti-racist work. It means that Black educators are going to come back harder and stronger, and we will be our own support to plant seeds.
Dr. Kane’s work was not done in vain; she planted seeds in her district that will grow and that will germinate new seeds. Black educators are the seed planters to grow a new field of freedom fighters that will work to save this nation. Not because America deserves saving but rather because we are a liberated and liberation minded people. Liberation is who we are, and by virtue of our presence, we will continue to liberate the minds of all we encounter, and by proxy, we’ll liberate the world.