Congratulations to my fellow RBJ Power 100 Honorees! I’m both honored and humbled to be on such an auspicious list, which includes more than a dozen ROC the Future Convener representatives, all doing wonderful things to uplift Rochester and make it better. A special congrats to all the women leaders on the list, as a tribute to Women’s History Month!
As a member of StriveTogether’s Racial & Ethnic Equity Team, I did a presentation on my background and history to share how I arrived at the current space I occupy (what I do), and to cross reference that with the racial history of Rochester. So basically, to fit myself into a 200 year history, and then share how my life has been impacted from a racial perspective by those historical events, which occurred well before my arrival by years and by migration. It was a profound experience, and I recommend everyone do it for themselves.
As a child of Jamaican parents that moved through 4 different countries, I was regularly “schooled” about the experiences of racism and discrimination they lived through and why they came to Rochester. Sharing my own racial experiences, interwoven with a chronological telling of Rochester’s racial history, is both humbling and empowering because it puts my purpose in the right context. The power is not in writing it down; it’s in the telling – saying it out loud.
But the truth is, you can’t talk about Rochester’s history without talking about race, at least not today you can’t. As we continue to learn more about how structural inequity and systematic oppression work to shape the lives and experiences of communities of color across the country, we see and understand how it has operated in Rochester: the story of Rochester’s population growth and decline; the story of Rochester’s housing, jobs, economic development, criminal justice, and education—are all impacted by race.
I’m excited that this year we’ll dig deeper and further than we have on the structural inequities in our education system. This year has the potential to be a turning point for how we work collectively to bring about systems change, by not just focusing on disparate outcomes, but at the structures within the system that causes them. All schools within the Rochester City School District are not equally “structured.” There is a lot of variability by school when we look at student population size, building leadership, teacher diversity and experience, resources and student supports. But it’s not just district schools, because the same can be said about individual charter schools in our community.
Many students have finally returned to their school buildings after months of pandemic-induced isolation, and school leaders and teachers are helping them make the transition back to in-person instruction. In addition to academics, we must also consider and prepare for the trauma and social emotional impact of the pandemic. This past year has been a major disruption to routines and relationships, and there has been community stress our students have experienced as well. And COVID has impacted city students in different ways than their suburban counterparts. We cannot stick our heads in the sand on this. We must plan for how we respond as a community; this is not schools alone to do.
That’s what makes ROC the Future the powerful tool that it is – our collective understanding that our community wellbeing is tied to how we treat and care for our children and youth. When we say “Every Child,” that’s exactly what we mean.
For the Children!