Archives for category: Courage

Jitu Brown has built a national civil rights organization called Journey for Justice, with chapters in 38 cities. He is a large and powerful man who speaks from personal experience and brings a message of determination and hope.

Jitu Brown is leading a national equity campaign based on a Quality of Life agenda that will be released with congressional members, union leaders, and others in Washington D.C. on September 22, 2022. This will be part of an Advocacy Day with hundreds of leaders from across the country supporting this platform.

Brown, a member of the board of the Network for Public Education, was recently profiled by The Hill, an influential publication in D.C. He spoke at the annual NPE conference in Philadelphia and challenged the audience to commit themselves to equity in education.

On Saturday, September 24, 2024 there will be a Quality of Life Festival held in D.C. with speakers and music, attended by thousands of people from across the country.

Most recently, Jitu and his team brought clean water to the people of Jackson, Mississippi, where the municipal water is unsafe.

The Hill wrote about him:

Speaking to The Hill from a Chicago office adorned with posters screaming “Equality or Else” and “Water Is a Human Right,” Brown talked about growing up in the Rosemoor neighborhood of Chicago’s Far South Side during the 1970s.

The son of a nurse and a steelworker, Brown was the beneficiary of the civil rights movement: He lived in a working-class, Black community and had educators who looked like him and a school that encouraged cultural awareness.

“I remember growing up as a child, feeling very warm, feeling protected, not being afraid to walk, catching the bus all over the city,” Brown said.

That didn’t mean there weren’t issues in his community. Brown’s neighborhood was straddled by two of the city’s most prominent rival gangs: the Gangster Disciples and the Vice Lords.

Brown said he could have easily become wrapped up in the gangs, but he had the support of his family and friends.

Jitu had his own personal struggles, but then joined a hip-hop musical group that was signed by a major label.

He left the music industry to become a community organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization in Chicago.

Brown started KOCO’s youth development and youth leadership programs. As he worked with the students, schools began to take an interest. They wanted, in particular, Black men to bring their experience and knowledge into the classrooms. So Brown did.

And as he did, the inequity in the schools became quite clear.

“You’re working with these young people, but you’re noticing that at this school, there’s one computer in the entire class and there’s no air conditioning,” he recalled. “Then I’m also going to schools and other communities and I’m working with student councils. You walk in and the school is bright. The classrooms are small. They got world language. They have counselors. They have teacher aides in every class.”

Brown began to realize the discrepancies between the schools were systemic. KOCO started organizing more and more, working to stop the city from closing more than 20 schools serving predominantly Black and Brown students and conducting sit-ins at City Hall for more youth job opportunities.

The goal was — and remains — to create an equitable schooling system regardless of the students’ races, leading to the founding of the Journey for Justice Alliance in 2012.

The Alliance focuses on enacting a “sustainable community school village.”

Sustainable community schools are rooted in the principles that everybody in the school community should have input on what an engaging and relevant and rigorous curriculum looks like, schools should offer high-quality and culturally competent teaching, and wraparound supports should be available to each child.

Wraparound supports are a big focus for the Journey for Justice Alliance, Brown said.

Keep your eyes on Jitu Brown and Journey for Justice. They are on the ground and teaching people how to speak, get active, and advocate for equity.

Nothing less will do.

This is a thrilling story, reported by The Intercept.

THE NATIONWIDE CAMPAIGN to stifle discussions of race and gender in public schools through misinformation and bullying suffered a reversal in Idaho on Monday, when a high school senior vocally opposed to book bans and smears against LGBTQ+ youth took a seat on the Boise school board.

The student, Shiva Rajbhandari, was elected to the position by voters in Idaho’s capital last week, defeating an incumbent board member who had refused to reject an endorsement from a local extremist group that has harassed students and pushed to censor local libraries.

Rajbhandari, who turned 18 days before the election, was already well-known in the school district as a student organizer on climate, environmental, voting rights, and gun control issues. But in the closing days of the campaign, his opponent, Steve Schmidt, wasendorsed by the far-right Idaho Liberty Dogs, which in response helped Rajbhandari win the endorsement of Boise’s leading newspaper, the Idaho Statesman.

Rajbhandari, a third-generation Idahoan whose father is from Nepal, was elected to a two-year term with 56 percent of the vote.

In an interview, Rajbhandari told The Intercept that although he had hoped people would vote for him rather than against his opponent — “My campaign was not against Steve Schmidt,” he said — he was nonetheless shocked that Schmidt did not immediately reject the far-right group’s endorsement. “I think that’s what the majority of voters took issue with,” Rajbhandari said.

The Idaho Liberty Dogs, which attacked Rajbhandari on Facebook for being “Pro Masks/Vaccines” and leading protests “which created traffic jams and costed [sic] tax payers money,” spent the summer agitating to have books removed from public libraries in Nampa and Meridian, two cities in the Boise metro area.

But, Rajbhandari said, “that’s the least of what they’ve done. Last year, there was a kid who brought a gun to Boise High, which is my school, and he got suspended and they organized an armed protest outside our school.”

Rajbhandari, who started leading Extinction Rebellion climate protests in Boise when he was 15, is familiar with the group’s tactics. “We used to have climate strikes, like back in ninth grade, and they would come with AR-15s,” he said, bringing rifles to intimidate “a bunch of kids protesting for a livable future.”

So when the Idaho Liberty Dogs called on Boise voters to support Schmidt — and a slate of other candidates for the school board who, ultimately, all lost — Rajbhandari told me he texted his rival to say, “You need to immediately disavow this.”

“This is a hate group,” Rajbhandari says he told Schmidt. “They intimidate teachers, they are a stain on our schools, and their involvement in this election is a stain on your candidacy.” Schmidt, however, refused to clearly reject the group, even after the Idaho Liberty Dogs lashed out at a local rabbi who criticized the endorsement by comparing the rabbi to Hitler and claiming that he harbored “an unrelenting hatred for white Christians.”

While the school board election was a hyperlocal one, Rajbhandari is aware that the forces he is battling operate at the state and national level. “Idaho is at the center of this out-of-state-funded far-right attack to try to undermine schools, with the end goal of actually abolishing public education,” Rajbhandari told me. “There’s a group, they’re called the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and they actually control a lot of the political discourse in our legislature. Their primary goal is to get rid of public education and disburse the money to charter schools or get rid of that funding entirely.”

For his courage and candor, he won the endorsement of The Idaho Statesman.

This is a remarkable young man with a bright future ahead of him. I am happy to add him to the honor roll of this blog.

Read the rest of the story by opening the link. Rajbhandari is a force to be reckoned with. He is a good omen of the bright, dedicated young people who stand up for their teachers and for environmental activism, who fight for gun control and against censorship. Best wishes to him!

Summer Boismier took a stand against censorship of books in her classroom. A teacher in the high school of Norman, she had been ordered to remove from her classroom any books that might violate state law HB 775. That law declares that if any educator makes part of their curriculum teachings that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” they could be suspended or have their license removed. She said teachers were instructed to remove such books or cover them with butcher paper. She did cover them up and posted a warning not to read banned books but posted the QR code of the Brooklyn Public Library, where students can gain access to banned books. The state superintendent Ryan Walters moved to suspend her teaching license. He said, “There is no place for a teacher with a liberal political agenda in the classroom.”

Boissier wrote the following opinion article in The Oklahoman to explain her opposition to censorship and book banning:

May 2, 2004, was a Monday. How do I know, you ask? Well, I was 15 at the time, and like most 15-year-olds, I was at school. I know, shocking! But what you might not know is that a mere 24 hours before, I had lost my father to suicide. I went to school the following day because that is where I wanted to be. That is where, in the worst moments of my life to date, I believed I’d be safe. School — specifically public school — had always been the place where I felt seen and heard and valued for who I was and, most importantly, for who I was becoming as a result. As both an educator and a public school proud Oklahoman, I want something similar for all — and I mean ALL — of my students, including the many amazing learners who often look, think, love, live and/or pray differently than I do. Every single child who walks through the doors of a public school in this state should have the opportunity to feel centered, to feel valued, to feel celebrated, to feel affirmed and sustained for who they are and for the lived experiences and diverse communities they bring to class.

Education is political, and the classroom — by extension — is a political space. Let me say it louder: Education is inherently political, but it is not automatically partisan. That would be, to use the word of the day, indoctrination. Politics encompasses the ideologies supporting a person’s daily choices, or lack thereof. Politics is power — who has it and who wants it. If knowledge is also power, then it would stand to reason that the classroom is indeed political. Who gets to learn what, from whom, and how is steeped in a political reality that Oklahomans would be foolish at best and reprehensible at worst to ignore. Laws such as House Bill 1775 fail to account for the fact that some pre-K-12 students are rarely afforded the luxury of experiencing “discomfort” only at school. When skin color and/or gender presentation is weaponized, discomfort isn’t just a poor word choice in some poorly worded legislation. It is a matter of survival.

Actions can sometimes speak louder than words; however, inaction can often speak just as loudly. Silence can even scream. There is power in what we say, but there is also power in what we don’t. What does it communicate when adults in leadership positions repeatedly and loudly target books by and about the 2SLGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities, among others? Make no mistake, when students — some of whom are also members of these communities — walk into public schools, they’ll get the message loud and clear that the state sees such stories as smut and such lives as less than.

Mother of multicultural children’s literature, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, argued that stories are mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors. Stories are also telescopes and prisms and ladders. Stories are safety. Stories are possibility. Stories are connection and validation. Stories are power. And stories are political. Empathy is dangerous precisely because it takes a sledgehammer to fear. If we don’t “other” differences and hold them at arm’s length, then those driving division by justifying censorship in our schools lose the power they’ve amassed keeping Oklahomans apart.

This is not a zero-sum game. What a student gains when teachers prioritize inclusive stories in the classroom is not another’s loss. Privilege is not a euphemism for guilt; it is a means to better understand the power a person has and the ways they can use that power to uplift others. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to defend a student’s right to read, to be represented and — by extension — to simply exist. But alas, this world is as far from perfect as I am from retirement. This incessant debate over (insert whatever term best reflects your particular belief system) books is evidence enough of that.

The lives of historically marginalized people should not be up for debate, but as Michael Brown, Ariyanna Mitchell, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, David Kato and George Floyd prove, they frequently are. Their stories cannot and should not be separated from the context of their lived experiences. No story — including the ones we teach and thereby validate in our public schools — exists in a vacuum. In the same way charges of indoctrination are an insult to their critical thinking skills, Oklahoma’s students are certainly capable of speaking for themselves. For instance, one student stated, “Being an openly gay student myself, who is witnessing LGBTQ+ characters for the first time emerging in our own curriculum, gives other LGBTQ+ students and I a more elevated self-worth and pride towards our own respective identities.”

It is time to come together as Oklahomans and side with a politics of critical thinking and compassion. This November you have a choice to make for the future of our state and the state of our public schools: a politics of inclusion or exclusion. So what’s your story? What side are you on?

The superintendent of schools in Granbury, Texas, made clear that he didn’t want any books about LGBT characters or LGBT issues in the school library. He agreed with the angry conservatives who showed up at school board meetings to demand book-banning.

Superintendent Jeremy Glenn has previously emphasized to the district’s librarians that their community was “very, very conservative” and that any school employee who does not possess conservative beliefs “better hide it.” While he started by saying he didn’t care if the books were about homosexuality or heterosexuality, he spoke explicitly about banning books with LGBTQ content.

“And I’m going to take it a step further with you. There are two genders. There’s male, and there’s female. And I acknowledge that there are men that think they’re women. And there are women that think they’re men. And again, I don’t have any issues with what people want to believe, but there’s no place for it in our libraries.”

But then a parent with a child in the Granbury schools got up and pointed out that the folks who were complaining the loudest did not have any children in the schools. And she let them have it for their effort to impose their religion on her child’s public school.

Adrienne Quinn Martin went to the podium and let it rip.

“We know that books are continuing to be purged. We know student library aides have been banned. We know that a group of non-parents have pushed for these removals and continue to do so,” she began. “So, being a taxpayer does not grant special privileges over students, staff, and parents. I do not want random people with no education background or experience determining what books my child can read, what curriculum they learn, and what clubs they can join.”

“Just because you can get up at every meeting and rant and rave does not give you authority over my child’s education.”

“Your personal religious beliefs, people in this room and on this board, should not have an effect on my child’s education either. Our school are not to be used for personal political agendas and our children are here for education, not religious indoctrination,” she told the room as she looked various board members and attendees directly in the eye.

“I implore the board to put an end to attempts to appease these extremists. Focus on retaining staff, providing excellent public education and a safe and welcoming learning space for all students. The speakers speaking about what great Christians they are? Great. Go tell your pastor. Our schools are not your church.”

And as the room erupted in applause for her bold speech, Martin gathered up her papers and, with a nod, left the podium. The superintendent did not reply.

If you want to see her speech, it’s on her Twitter account @Mrsamartini

For her courage and common sense, I add her to the honor roll of this blog.

I wrote recently about Amanda Jones, the librarian in Louisiana who is fighting back against censorship and harassment in court.

One of our regular readers said she belongs on the honor roll of this blog. He’s right.

Amanda Jones joins the honor roll for her courage and integrity in fighting censorship!

Her GoFundMe page is raising money for her legal defense. Consider helping her fight for free thought!

Beth L. Matters on is a college professor in Florida. She describes how she will respond to DeSantis’ censorship laws: She will ignore them.

She writes:

In a couple of weeks, I’ll walk back into my college classroom and continue my second decade of teaching at one of Florida’s universities. Despite the recently passed HB 7 Amendment (Stop WOKE Act), I won’t be adjusting my syllabi to remove readings or discussions that make students “uncomfortable,” and I won’t pretend that systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and other forms of oppression do not exist. I will not “whitewash” our country’s history or minimize the challenges and oppression that so many still experience, especially those who are women and/or members of the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities.

Instead, I will do what I have always done. I will select the creative work of writers who belong to all sorts of communities, and I will require students to read their stories and discuss the work and their themes. Some of those themes are difficult and may make many of us uncomfortable, no matter how we identify or what community we’re in….

I purposefully select work by members of marginalized communities, because many of my students have not yet heard these voices… and many of my students belong to these communities. Recently, among other work, my students read, “Heavy: An American Memoir″ by Kiese Laymon and poems by Danez Smith. Both of these authors address race, class, whiteness, sexuality, politics, family and body image. Smith’s work also addresses homophobia and police brutality, and other topics that are “uncomfortable.”

What if every teacher in Florida did the same? They can’t arrest everyone.

Massive resistance.

The sheriff of Madison County, North Carolina, reacted to the massacre of students in Uvalde, Texas, by putting an AR15 in every one of the six schools in the district. The guns will be locked in a safe, and breaching tools will be nearby. So don’t come into one of those schools to kill little children!

Imagine the scenario. A gunman with an AR15 shoots his way into the school, as the deranged killer at the Sandy Hook school did a decade ago. He blasts through the door, kills everyone he sees. Meanwhile, the designated defender goes to the safe, breaks it open with the breaching tool, and takes out the AR15.

By that time, the killer has had enough time to mow down the children in at least two classrooms.

The problem in Uvalde wasn’t the lack of weapons. Dozens of heavily armed officers hung out in the corridor outside the classrooms for over an hour. They had guns. What they lacked was courage, brains, and leadership.

Dr. Michael Hynes is the Superintendent of Schools in Port Washington, Long Island, New York.

He writes:

My daughter Sadie has taught me more in her 9 years of life than I have learned in my past 52 years of existence. My wife Erin and I had no idea that our daughter had Down Syndrome when she was born. Sadie had to stay in the newborn intensive care unit for a few weeks and we met some of the most compassionate and amazing professionals in the world. Unfortunately, we also met others who were much better off keeping their thoughts to themselves.

I remember a doctor at the hospital telling me he was “sorry” after Sadie was born. On another occasion, a family member shared with my wife and I that “Mongoloids can be nice people.” She didn’t mean to upset us; it was her mental model about Down Syndrome. Initially, as parents we were surprised with the multitude of closed-minded comments we came across. As Sadie grew and we brought her to restaurants, stores or in public, people would stare at her longer than one should.

I’m sharing this with you not to complain; but doing so because we began to learn how the world can perceive others without knowing anything about them whatsoever, except through the lenses of their biases and assumptions. Little did they know our little Sadie has the best sense of humor and can read on grade level like here peers. She enjoys music and hanging out with her best friends like all children do. As parents, we began to advocate for more programs in her school and for the school districts we served in.

I probably should have started off this reflection by sharing both Erin and I are school Superintendent’s. She is an Assist Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and I have served as a Superintendent of Schools for the past 11 years. Here are the lessons we learned from our personal lives that now transcend to our professional ones.

  1. You never know what others are going through. I have a much deeper respect for parents who have children with autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, OHI, etc. They have incredible stories to share, and we need to support them as much as their children.
  2. Never place limits on your child or students. Don’t accept what professionals say at face value all the time. If Erin and I listened to what some professionals believed Sadie would never be able to do, her life would be so much more unfulfilled. She is flourishing.
  3. In the education system I have served in for over 25 years, we need to remove the word “special education”. This word places a label on a child that never leaves them and carries a negative connotation with it. Yes, the children are “special”, but they are certainly not less than “typical children”. By the way I loath that phrase as well.
  4. Inclusion is important. Integration however is critical. It’s great to be included but to be fully integrated is where the secret sauce is. Separating and segregating children is not the answer. Teach them to become independent and watch them soar!

Sadie is now in 4th grade. She continues to surprise people with her intelligence, humor and at times stubbornness. We are so fortunate to have her in our lives. There are other “Sadie’s” in every school in America. Are we as school leaders doing everything in our power to make our school system more inclusive and integrated? That’s for you to answer and my hope is that you strive to make that a reality. Every child will benefit from it.

Allison Fine wrote a passionate column in defense of reproductive rights in which she quoted the civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer: “Nobody’s Free Until Everybody Is Free.”

No one is free in America today because millions of people have lost the national guarantee of the power to control if and when they have children.

But the barbaric treatment of pregnant people, and the ongoing harassment and death threats against clinicians, isn’t the end of our story, it is the beginning of a new chapter. Our job is to keep getting up, and to keep showing up, just like Fannie Lou.

Fine describes a growing ecosystem that is growing up to provide help to women who seek abortion services, including take health consultations and abortion pills by mail.

She writes that the nation is in a state of “legal chaos” as a result of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe V. Wade, reversing a Court-guaranteed right for the first time in US history.

I am raising this issue to emphasize that we are in a totally chaotic period legally right now. It is actually a really profound moment for our country in terms of national versus states’ rights. Can I mail abortion pills to Mississippi, a banned state, today? No one knows the answer. The State of Mississippi says no, but BioGenPro, one of the two U.S. manufacturers of mifepristone, the abortion medication, with the force of the FDA and national postal service behind it, says yes, and they brought suit against MississippI to force them to allow it. We need to watch how this suit unfolds very closely over the next few months.

Please remember that just because states are passing crazy-ass laws doesn’t mean those laws will stand. They will all be challenged in court.

Sadly, the Supreme Court is sure to overturn any laws that conflict with their Dobbs’ decision.

But think about reality. Can a state actually ban the mailing of abortion pills? Will they open every package delivered to every woman in their state? How can Mississippi or Texas or any other state stop women from receiving the pills?

Arthur Camins is a lifelong educator and social justice activist. In this post, he explains why Democrats are wrong to pursue Republican voters with Republican themes instead of promoting policies that uplift the common good. Centrism has not helped the Democratic Party.

He writes:

Republicans lead. Democrats follow. And that makes all the difference. Libertarian and wealth-protecting Republican ideologues invest to influence and change most people’s normative ideas and values, whereas Democrats seek to discern and appeal to what voters already think. That has been the case for decades. It has been a triumph for conservatism and the protection of privilege. For Democrats, it remains a losing strategy to win elections, a disaster for a more equitable nation, or any hope of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

The Republican’s route to power has been to shift public thinking toward several big ideas and implied values: Resources are scarce and therefore competition and inequity are natural and inevitable. Therefore, the pursuit of personal advancement is the only reasonable course of action. In that context, the advance of underrepresented minorities has been understood as coming at the expense of White people. The values message has been, “Look out for yourself because no one else will.” That dystopian message is designed to enable Republicans’ core idea: Financial regulation and taxes on wealth are a counterproductive limitation.

Responding to Republican inroads with white working class and lower-middle class voters in the Nixon and Reagan years, Democratic leadership, led in particular by Bill Clinton, pursued a different approach. They attempted to gain or retain political office by discerning how people already think and crafting appeals and policies to meet them. In pursuit of votes of the elusive undecided voters, Democrats picked up on conservative themes, ceding the war of ideas to Republicans.

For example, upon signing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and in an exchange with reporters on August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton said, “The new bill restores America’s basic bargain of providing opportunity and demanding, in return, responsibility.”

Clinton was responding to Ronald Reagan’s characterization of minority welfare recipients as con artists eating steak and driving Cadillacs living off the tax contributions of hardworking, law-abiding white workers.

The theme was still very much in play in 2013 when in an economics speech at Knox College, President Obama declared:

“Here in America, we’ve never guaranteed success — that’s not what we do. More than in some other countries, we expect people to be self-reliant. Nobody is going to do something for you. We’ve tolerated a little more inequality for the sake of a more dynamic, more adaptable economy. That’s all for the good. But that idea has always been combined with a commitment to equality of opportunity to upward mobility — the idea that no matter how poor you started, if you’re willing to work hard and discipline yourself and defer gratification, you can make it, too. That’s the American idea.”

So, we have Democrats at the highest level parroting the conservative shibboleth that poverty is a problem of the failure of personal responsibility and self-discipline rather than racism and inequity built into the structure of our socio-economic system.

Mainstream Democratic response to the push for charter schools is yet another example of their acceptance of deeply conservative language and with it, its underlying ideology. Publicly supported alternatives to democratically governed public education have several roots: getting tax dollars for religiously based schools; support for schools to skirt the Supreme Court rulings against the segregationist separate-but-equal doctrine; acceptance of the idea that government-led bureaucracies cannot be reformed democratically; attempts to squeeze profit from K-12 schools at taxpayers’ expense; and last but not least, undermining the influence of strong public-sector unions. The tagline du-jour for all of this is the right to parental choice, the core of which is the idea that education is a personal consumer good rather than a shared society necessity.

The bipartisan education policy of the last forty years has been a response to insecurity. American schools predictably fail to live up to the absurd disingenuous or naïve promise that education can provide equity in a systemically inequitable society. For Republicans, such insecurity is an opportunity to sew fear and division while promoting their everyone-out-for-yourself dogma. Unfortunately, Democrats rather than challenge that core ideology, have settled for, “You can’t save everyone, so let’s save a few.”

Keep reading.