Skip to content

In this moment for racial equity, leaders ask us to look back and learn

Over the next couple of weeks, educators across North Carolina will embark on a school year like no other. For many, perhaps for educators of color especially, it won’t be just about navigating remote and hybrid learning environments. It will be about a moment – one of those moments amid persistent and systemic racial inequity when the world is listening.

As educators were reminded in webinars across the nation this summer, such as #EduColor Summit 2020 and The Hunt Institute’s series of talks on race and education, racial injustice and the call for equity in education are as much a part of this moment as the coronavirus.

“This is our moment,” Mississippi educator Renee Moore told a gathering of Zoom participants during the EduColor summit in late July. “This is our moment. What are we going to do with it?”

Visiting with elders

Unlike COVID-19, which has introduced novel challenges to education, the call for racial equity in schooling is not new. Whatever else educators do with this moment, Moore said, they should be sure to take time and reflect on “teacher elders.”

She spoke of Tomas Arciniega. She spoke of Asa Hilliard. She spoke of Caswell County native Vanessa Siddle Walker. She spoke of looking to elders who met the moment in their time, and of leaning on their wisdom to meet the moment in this time.

“We should sit with our elders,” Moore said, “either literally or vicariously through their writings. We should sit with them, and those who attended and worked in those Southern black schools in the time of the black teachers’ associations, and we should talk to them, listen to them about their teachers and about what they were taught and how. If we’re going to make the most of our moment, we have to learn from the elders who were forced into and fighting against appalling physical and social conditions.”

Moore talked about Black teacher groups that formed within national teacher associations, teachers in schools and districts joining to tackle Euro-centered curricula and introduce multicultural curricula, and teachers meeting in churches implementing lessons focused on Black students. 

Forming a network

She also talked about elders who didn’t necessarily like each other, but who worked together nonetheless because they were grounded in purpose. 

“It’s easy to get isolated,” Moore said. “It’s easy to get worn down when there’s just you. … There’s more people out here who are fighting and doing what you think you’re doing by yourself than you realize. And that’s important to keep in mind, because otherwise we tend to get this hopeless feeling and frustrated feeling. But there’s more of us than you think.”

The voices calling for change are echoing from coast to coast. Just check twitter hashtags like #EduColor and #RaceAndEducation. And the backgrounds of the people lending their voices to the moment are just as broad.

During one of The Hunt Institute’s convenings, Angelique Albert of the American Indian Graduate Center talked about her son coming home wondering why he learned in school that the ancestors of Indigenous American people are all gone. As a living, breathing, middle-school Native American, he was confused.

Christian Arana of the Latino Community Foundation talked about resiliency. He talked about immigration policies directed against the Latinx community, and how they are not new. They are simply renewed.

“I know the narrative so far has been, ‘The poor Latino community, they’ve been suffering,'” he said. “No. We’re a resilient community. We really are. The only thing we’ve known is crisis. At this moment in time, we’re really standing up and saying, ‘Enough.'”

The issues aren’t singular, but the sense of purpose in achieving equity in and through education for communities of color needs to be, several noted speakers have said.

“This moment in time really speaks to unity,” Albert said. “That even through all the difficult times, we as people of color really unite and have that sense of humanity and compassion and that we come together and partner and share each others’ voices … lift each other up.”

Tracing the varied issues to their roots, Albert said there is unity in oppression and in ignoring the histories of people of color in this country. She spoke of the power of union among the ancestral victims of America’s first sins.

Having a plan

Beyond studying the past and coalition building, Moore stressed the importance of acting with intention.

“Hear me well: There has to be a plan beyond the demands,” Moore said before emphasizing her plea. “There has to be a plan beyond the demands. Otherwise, we’re susceptible to something that looks like a win that’s actually just a scream for continued oppression and can distract and divide our movement.”

That’s why Moore spoke of elders who had “developed and systematically instituted subversive and highly effective education practices that sustained” Black people and helped produce generations of freedom fighters.

She called for focus and unity around purpose and principle.

“We must pass on to others what has been passed on to us,” Moore said, paraphrasing another elder, Ella Baker. “Because this is our moment.”

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria is the equity and learning differences reporter at EducationNC who is passionate about shining light on under-reported issues.