January 27, 2021
On January 14, 2021, the Hunt Institute State converged with Sharhonda Bossier, Deputy Director of Education Leaders of Color, journalist and political commentator Rosa Clemente, Representative Malcolm Kenyatta (PA), and Alberto Retana, President and CEO of CoCo South LA. The webinar discussed how leaders cannot hope to create and implement policies that remove systemic barriers for children of color, non-binary, and LGBTQ youth without support and accountability from the communities they serve. The panel shared how to build a coalition, champion activism, and have necessary conversations that highlight the voices of those who understand the importance of “good trouble” to bring about equitable change.
“We have an opportunity to reimagine what public school education could look like because for too many it’s a breeding ground to the prison industrial complex.”
-Rosa Clemente, journalist, organizer and political commentator
Rosa shared how community organization has led to more equitable outcomes for young people living in the margins of society. She noted that as a previous educator, the conditions in schools have not changed or improved but rather they have gotten worse. She shared how the uprisings over the summer were mobilizations but not full organization and that young people are aware that public education is failing them, and more supports are needed to battle mental health issues.
“It’s actually easier for people to know exactly what they believe and where they stand to find consensus with people who also know exactly what they believe and where they stand because then it becomes easier to really see where in the Venn Diagram of things we actually agree.”
-Honorable Malcolm Kenyatta for the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania
Representative Kenyatta acknowledged there is a fragility in the experiment of self government but there is nothing written that says America will succeed. He described how activism and organization cannot wait for things to magically work out, but that individuals must speak up from experience and demand that voices be included. Currently where a child grows up largely determines the quality of education based on the disparity of funding, and deep poverty is the moral and economic issue of our generation.
“I think in organizing with young people…we have to believe that young people are smart, have capacity, are experts, can organize….they have as much to offer as the Ivy League Harvard education grad if not more to offer because of their direct experience.”
-Alberto Retana, the President and CEO of CoCo South LA
Alberto wants to do more in the community to talk about race and change the discourse so it is less assimilationist thinking. “To be in perpetually forward motion” is to liberate against oppressive conditions in schools, hospitals, and communities. Liberalizing is a useful tool that allows everyone to get involved, and the uprisings have changed things recently but he argued that the conditions are not permanent, they shape the environment and possibilities, but they are malleable. Alberto urged organizers to think about how to change conditions, and that policy is changed not by data, but rather ultimately through power, since change is a function of power and conditions are shaped by power. He described how building coalitions is a way to generate the power needed, grounded in the right values to advance the changes needed to organize people everyday.
To conclude, as the Honorable Malcolm Kenyatta said, “When we step up, it’s not about us stepping up, but it’s about us encouraging other people to also step out living their truth and use their full voice to create the type of bold change that we need.” Education should focus on empowering students and providing them voice, preparing them for life in a diverse world to facilitate change and improvement.