Last week was one of the most productive and satisfying virtual events I’ve participated in yet this year: the StriveTogether Annual Convening! This year’s event was book-ended by two of the most dynamic and prolific voices in the racial equity landscape today – Geoffrey Canada kicked off the event in the opening plenary, and Nicole Hannah-Jones closed it out with a powerful interview to share her thoughts and wisdom on what has happened to America and the work still left to be done to undo inequity. This will not be easy, and it will not be fast.
In addition to last week’s convening, the whole of September seemed to be one of shifts and movements, locally and nationally, at multiple systemic levels. Over the last few months, our community has been hurting in so many ways. A life was lost on Jefferson Avenue back in March and the community was notified months later. The weekend of September 19th saw 16 people shot, two fatally, who were both 19 years old and recent high school graduates. We are still combating two pandemics: COVID-19 and systemic racism – all while our young people are trying to learn remotely.
Many cities are suffering from the devastating residuals of racism and oppression, foundational elements to antiquated systems designed to work against Black and Brown people, but that now no longer serves anyone. These communities, several that are StriveTogether network communities like Rochester (i.e. Minneapolis, Kenosha, Portland), have made national news as the inequities become impossible to ignore. Rochester is not immune to these challenges, nor are we alone. We know that success lies in our collective understanding of the problem and in our collective actions to address it.
Some of the most powerful things I picked up during the convening to support our thinking as we move forward together:
- “Racism no longer needs racists to exist!” It’s baked into our systems, and if we are to change it we must first know how the systems were developed in the first place; what is its architecture? We need to study it to dismantle it.
- “Current education on history is indoctrination.” We don’t have a lexicon to understand what is happening. We must push our local leaders and elected school boards to embrace this in our schools and curriculums.
- “The biggest obstacle to change is lack of political will.” We know that when leaders try to bring equity to the table they are voted out. White people need to use their power to change this.
- “Need to do an honest assessment of where we live.” Slavery was practiced in all 13 colonies; New Jersey had slavery until 1865! Slavery was a national endeavor, and the most segregated schools are now in the north and the Midwest.
- One unintended (or at least unplanned for) consequence of Brown v. Board was the massive purging of black educators, which devastated the Black economy by essentially eliminating one of two main professional pathways to Black wealth – clergy and teaching.
- Having one Black teacher increases the graduation rate by 13%; two increases by 33%
As we increase our understanding and knowledge of the problem, we will move and work in different ways, and will bring about substantive change to the systems that create barriers and inequities for our children. Collectively, we can make a difference!
For the Children,