I’ve never sat awake in bed at night, restless and worried that skin color might determine whether my children reach their dreams. Not once.
I’ve never had a talk with my children about how wearing a hoodie or sagging pants or head covering might make them a target. Not once.
My heart has never raced when the phone rang, an innate moment of fear and panic caused by fear that racism might cost one of my children their life. Not once.
I’ve never wondered whether even one of the adults in my children’s schools would look like them. Not once.
Until last week, here’s what I told my kids: Color doesn’t matter. I didn’t mean to lie. It does matter.
In a very public way, our country is continuing its reckoning with racism and civil rights. No doubt the 1960s brought progress, but we didn’t leave the country’s struggle with race there. It’s still with us.
I hope for all children what I want for my own. One question I’ve been wrestling with is this: What am I willing to do for that hope to become reality?
This note isn’t about my personal commitments. But it is a public acknowledgement that I believe our public education system can do more to fight and overcome racism, to help repair the damage racism has created, to elevate the voices of the black community, and to ensure the future looks dramatically brighter than the past for black children.
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association is committed to continuing conversations about race and racism and making those conversations a priority. We are asking ourselves hard questions and are committed to providing training and resources that educate and empower school board members and administrators to lead these conversations in their communities.
Racism is not OK. Silence in the face of racism makes us complicit.
Our public schools in Oklahoma serve 59,000 black children and more than 72,000 children who report they are two or more races. I’m not suggesting schools are the problem, but we must be part of the solution. We must admit we don’t always serve black children well, and that while issues outside our control create inequality, I believe we can do better. Almost every data set tells the same story. The academic outcomes of black children lag behind that of their white peers. They’re disciplined more frequently and more harshly. Their academic opportunities are disproportionately limited.
The work ahead won’t be easy. We know limited resources pose a significant challenge to providing more student support. Still, school boards must be willing to ask themselves tough questions about whether policies and practices related to staff diversity, academic expectations and opportunity, discipline, attendance and dress codes have a disproportionate effect on black students and if they inhibit the adults working in our schools from building strong relationships with underserved students and their families. We are asking ourselves those same questions about our model policies and the guidance we provide schools.
Neither I nor OSSBA has all the answers, but we want to do better. I’m asking all school board members and educators to join us in a three-part commitment: We must listen. We must learn. We must lead.
Shawn Hime, Ph.D.