Sieara Washington is a member of the Voices for Racial Justice Education Equity Parent Fellowship. On January 15, she shared this statement at the Minnesota Legislature during Educators of Color Lobby Day. Sieara and others in the Fellowship are learning about organizing for education equity and telling their powerful stories to influence change. In addition to being a parent, she is an Education Learning Specialist at North View Middle School in the Osseo School District. Here is what Sieara shared with the committee:
The people at the table making the decisions in education DO NOT reflect the majority of the population they are making the decisions for, which has made it ACCEPTABLE to ignore the NEEDS and WANTS of people of color.
As a Black American woman I have been in many positions in the Minnesota school system: a student, an educator, and now a parent. And within this time, I find it frustrating that some of the same issues I had as a student have become even worse. I see legislation that is even more negligent and that affects the students I come into contact with and even my own child.
As a student, I always wondered where are the TEACHERS that looked like me? Where are the POSITIVE stories about my people other then the go-to people (MLK, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks)? Why is it that the only people that looked like me that I saw were janitors, lunch ladies, or the person I saw if I got in trouble? As a student I wondered why the existence of my people started with slavery? Why are the same people that I saw in pictures causing harm to my people the same people I was forced to respect? Why were my parents forced to tell me the TRUE story of AMERICAN history in the comfort of or home, while white children were left to believe HISstory in the classroom? For example, Christopher Columbus.
As an educator, I now see the bigger picture. I see that itʼs a system that is created by a few to educate the many. I see itʼs a system created with little to no understanding of the people they are in fact teaching. And because of this, many students of color are put on IEPs (Individual Education Programs), in special education, or disciplined. Often this happens because the people who are supposed to be teaching these students do not understand them. I see that after-school funding is cut to bare minimum activities. And that the schools are faster to discipline a student before they are congratulated. I see many retention speeches for educators of color but do not see lateral movement within the system for us to better ourselves. I see a pay scale that only looks at me as an ESP (Education Support Professional), as help, as an assistant when in some cases I may do more than the actual teacher. But because of licensing/position my input is ignored or just unwarranted.
As a parent I see the criminalization of our black boys. I see other students getting excuses like “he didnʼt mean to do that, or that was just a mistake, or maybe your son took it wrong.” But my son as a kindergartener is always the problem regardless the age of another student. I see the urgency of trying to put my son on a program for funding for a school, thinking I will welcome a social security check. But my son is not a paycheck for the system, the school, or myself. I see the deep analysis of my son’s living situation to try and figure out why he has sporadic minor issues but the praise they give the teachers for his growth.
Overall I feel that legislation needs to really take a look at what children of all races are/arenʼt learning and how itʼs impacting them. Understanding that the disciplinary actions that are being taken need to be looked at to be uniform regardless of race across the board. Understand that after school programs and achievement programs need to be brought back to school on a much larger scale to implement success rather than failure. Understanding that all educators’ pay should be able to be a living wage for their families to sustain life. And the voices of all should be considered in making the decisions.
Thank you for your time,