The year is 2014 and our Nation is still struggling with systematic oppression and racial disparity. The systems that persist span across several aspects of life that is inclusive of education. Those impacted and removed furthest away from opportunity are boys of color.
Boys of color, African American, Latino, and Asian Pacific Islander, are too often marginalized in public education systems that limit their success as early as kindergarten.
These children aren’t necessarily being called “stupid” or told they are “failures,” educational institutions are using indirect discriminatory methods such as suspension to let students know they aren’t wanted.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “every year California public schools issue more than 10,000 suspensions for willful defiance for students between kindergarten and third grade.” While boys of color were just six percent of the state public school population during the 2012-2013 school year, they made up 19 percent of those who were suspended.
Imagine being suspended at the age of five because of talking out-of-turn in class, and then imagine this happening repeatedly over an academic year. Suspension is crippling to a student’s progress; one misses three days of school, falls behind and is unable to catch up academically.
The feeling of defeat sticks and the struggle in high school becomes insurmountable. Students are left with two choices: be blamed personally for their lack of access or leave.
Many public school systems maintain chronic suspension practices that have become the topic of education coverage by major media outlets since 2012.
The state of California appears to be showing signs that they see the long term effects of suspension, as it became the first state in the nation to pass the AB 420 bill, which bans public schools from suspending or expelling elementary students. This new law is a helpful first step and may contribute to a rise in high school graduation rates.
On the ground in Oakland, there are several organizations and networks striving to interrupt the disparities practiced by institutions of public education. These initiatives and groups are making great strides to identify restrictions that keep boys of color from graduating.
But we need students, families, educators, superintendents, board members, elected officials, policymakers, funders, and the community-at-large to take a stand for young people. This work cannot grow to scale without your voice and action. School districts cannot do it alone.
If we want Oakland’s future innovators and workforce to be prepared then we must make sure that all youth are positioned for success. The solution is practical and sensible: increase the number of male students of color who are self-sufficient and prepared for college and career.
Every time a student disassociates from school, society experiences larger casualties. How can you use your job, talents, and ambitions to leverage mentors and internship opportunities for young men of color?
This past Saturday America’s Promise Alliance’s GradNation Community Summit was held in Oakland at Laney College. The Summit focused on sharing best practices, and positioning Alameda County residents and organizations in a dialogue to create a plan for increasing academic engagement and graduation rates for boys of color. You can contact us to learn more.
However, there are many other ways to get involved. The first step: Engage your colleagues, friends and family in a dialogue about these topics and consider aligning your volunteer time and resources with this effort. Everybody can do something, starting today.
Christopher P. Chatmon is the Executive Director of Oakland’s Unified School District’s Office of African American Male Achievement