Overcoming Racism Through Education Equity

On November 4, Voices for Racial Justice Senior Organizer Julia Freeman and Research and Policy Director Brett Grant presented a workshop at the Overcoming Racism conference at Metropolitan State University.

Their workshop, entitled The Pathway to Education Equity is Paved with Community at the Center, drew over 30 participants who were hungry to develop solutions to education equities in their communities.

Brett and Julia came to our weekly staff meeting the following Tuesday, energized by the conversations they had and reported on the learning the group did together.

The session was interactive and included small group work to unpack a scenario about participation of parents of color in parent-teacher conferences. At the center of their conversations were the community experiences that were behind low participation in parent-teacher conferences, and the Pathway to Education Equity tool that Voices developed in collaboration with community partners.

The Pathway Tool draws on the experiences of students and families in assessing the barriers to education equity. The development of solutions also centers these experiences, recognizing that building true and sustainable equity in schools must address the structural barriers that prevent indigenous students and students of color from experiencing positive learning environments that support their full growth.

Centering these experiences does not mean that educators, administrators, and other community members are not part of the process. In fact, they are essential to seeing the barriers, developing solutions, and implementing them fully. The Pathway process recognizes the necessity of all these stakeholders coming together in a way that furthers the vision for education equity, allowing everyone to see how we may all be part of supporting inequities – and that we all have a role in dismantling structural barriers.

“Each small group identified the equity goals that emerged from the scenario, and narrowed down to one or two to work on,” said Julia, “and then the participants used the Pathway tool to begin crafting solutions. The groups came up with some great things like holding conferences on weekends and making home visits.”

At the end of the workshop, a participant asked Julia what excited her most about her work. “I told her I love working with parents and youth to develop opportunities for them to co-create the solutions with their school. They start seeing that they are the experts.”

Brett reflected to the group what he loves most about the Pathway tool. “I told them that, for me, what I like most about the tool is that it allows me to dream again. It reminds me of the potential that is education. It reminds me of why I am excited about education. The conversations that took place in that room were so powerful,” said Brett.

One participant shared that “It felt good to be in a room working on education equity that you don’t leave feeling guilty, or not knowing how to take action.”

Another reported plans to “definitely introduce the tool and Voices for Racial Justice to our district.”

The Voices team looks forward to supporting the expertise that already exists in communities by continuing to share this tool with others. Reach out to Julia Freeman to learn more.

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Racial Equity Bill Watch: It’s Not Too Late for Racial Equity in Minnesota

RallyBy Brett Grant and David Gilbert-Pederson

The Minnesota State Legislature convened on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Two days later, Voices for Racial Justice held a rally across the street from the State Capitol to celebrate the release of the 2016 Racial Equity Agenda, a 16 page policy blueprint for a more equitable Minnesota. More than 60 supporting organizations shared in the creation of the Agenda, which contains 33 policy proposals that cover nearly every area of the state with implications for rural and urban Minnesota. For a complete look at the Agenda, visit http://voicesforracialjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Agenda-2016_FINAL_web2..pdf

Immediately following the rally, every state legislator received a hand delivered copy of the Agenda. The hope was that they would use the Agenda to inform their policy proposals and objectives at the start of the legislative session, create policies that advance racial equity, and that they would use the session to legislate against structural racism in Minnesota. Yet with only a few weeks left to go in this year’s session, our hopes to advance racial equity seem fleeting.

A little over a week ago, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, wrote a letter to House Speaker, Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, urging Republicans to do more to address Minnesota’s racial and economic disparities. Thirty of her DFL colleagues, including Minority Leader, Paul Thissen, co-signed the letter, which urged Speaker, Daudt, to take action this session. “It is time we come together,” wrote Moran, “to acknowledge that racial economic disparities in our state is an emergency.” It was this same sense of urgency that motivated community organizations and members from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to come together around the theme We the People in the 2016 Racial Equity Agenda.

This theme was a deliberate choice. The community organizations that helped create the Racial Equity Agenda want legislators to know that ending racial and economic disparities in Minnesota will take a collaborative effort. They want legislators to know that they do not have to act alone, but that solutions can come from local communities. Most important, they want legislators to seek guidance and to follow the visions for a more equitable Minnesota that come from the communities that are most negatively affected by racial and economic disparities: American Indian communities and communities of color across the state. A better future is possible – for all Minnesotans – if legislators would hear the voices of our communities.

cover 3It is not too late. As a complement to the 2016 Racial Equity Agenda, Voices for Racial Justice just released its 2016 Racial Equity Bill watch. The Racial Equity Bill Watch includes bills introduced in the Minnesota Legislature that address racial and economic disparities. This is a working list that will be updated and changed continually until the end of the session. Although some of the bills on this list may not progress further, it is important to recognize the racial equity impact they could have if adopted. The Racial Equity Bill Watch serves as a precursor to the 2015-2016 Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity – an accountability tool which grades legislators on their efforts to advance racial equity. The Report Card will be released following the end of the current legislative session.

Like the Racial Equity Agenda, the Racial Equity Bill Watch is a collaborative effort of numerous community partners. Whereas the Agenda contains general policy suggestions for a more equitable Minnesota, the Bill Watch contains specific bills to advance racial equity currently under consideration in the Senate and the House. Among these solutions are the following:

  • Strengthen the Working Family Credit so that working people can better make ends meet, and so that children can get off to a stronger start in life. While people of color make up about 18 percent of the state population, about 30 percent of Minnesota households that qualify for the Working Family Credit are people of color. Expanding the Working Family Credit can play a role in narrowing Minnesota’s racial and economic disparities (HF 3589/SF 2586 and HF 3163/SF 3039);
  • Support the startup and expansion of small businesses owned by women of color (HF 3099/SF 2931);
  • Provide access to public health insurance to individuals regardless of immigration status, many of whom currently lack an affordable source of health care despite making vital contributions to our economy (HF 3780/ SF 2422);
  • Restore the right to vote to formerly incarcerated individuals. Minnesota should pass legislation to allow people to vote who have served their time and are living in their community (HF 342/SF 355).

These are just a few of the bills contained within the 2016 Racial Equity Bill Watch, which can be found at http://voicesforracialjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/2016RacialEquityBillWatch-050316.pdf.

In total, the bill watch contains 16 pages of bills that advance racial equity in Minnesota. Yes, it is a short session, an election year, and a bonding year; but that is no excuse for inaction. There is still time in this legislative session to advance racial equity in Minnesota.

Brett Grant is Director of Research and Policy and David Gilbert-Pederson is Legislative Researcher at Voices for Racial Justice.

 

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