A Commitment to Education Equity and Breaking Barriers

June 17, 2020

A failure to signal lane change should not be a death sentence (Sandra Bland). Buying Skittles and Arizona Tea should not be a death sentence (Trayvon Martin). Leaving a bachelor party to celebrate your upcoming marriage should not be a death sentence (Sean Bell). Allegedly passing a fake $20 bill, should not be a death sentence (George Floyd). Each of these victims of excessive force, representative of many more, were individuals with dreams, jobs and aspirations for the future. They were someone’s son, cousin, sister or father. Yet, they were robbed of the ability to make an impact in their respective communities at no fault of their own. As the staff of ForwARd Arkansas consider the loss to their families and community, we are unequivocally clear, Black Lives Matter.

Those three words are more than just a movement slogan. For ForwARd and every teacher, principal and school superintendent in Arkansas, those words are a clarion call for a renewed commitment to equity in every facet of our education system. Specifically, for many Black students, over-criminalization and disproportionate contact with law enforcement starts in the school. Many school districts are aware of and working hard to address the fact that African American students are more likely to receive out of school suspensions, more likely to be arrested for school-based offenses and once arrested spend more time in juvenile lock-ups.

The research clearly demonstrates that Black students are not more likely to commit an offense than other students but they are more likely to be punished in ways that negatively impact the trajectory of their lives, their relationship with law enforcement and the perspective of law enforcement on their value as community members. Our education system has a role to play in reducing the negative impact of law enforcement on communities of color and healing our nation.

Communities cannot thrive if people are left behind because of how they look or their socioeconomic status. An excellent education for every child helps solve that problem. African Americans cannot thrive if their lives continue to be undervalued. Culturally competent curriculum and teacher preparation help ameliorate that challenge.

Education is an opportunity for progress. It is the gateway to leveling the playing field for those historically disadvantaged in terms of resources and access. It is an opportunity that often transforms the growth of a community. Education can take dreams of a rural student in America and transform him or her into an inventor, scientist, entrepreneur, public official or anything else they choose to be.

Education builds communities, breaks barriers and changes mindsets. While this will not be an easy task, we are here for the long-haul. Some ways communities and schools can get involved are:

  1. Closely examine your discipline policies, commit specifically to not being a part of the school to prison pipeline.
  2. Build the cultural competency of your teachers, staff and administrators so that they are able to actively address racial and ethnic bias among colleagues and students.
  3. Gather community leaders and start creating a vision, implementation and evaluation plans to measure success for future community growth that embraces all cultures and individuals.

Education is not just about lectures on anatomy, quantum physics, or properly playing a musical instrument. Education is about feeding people in their entirety. This opportunity is designed to be a gateway to prosperity and independence. It also provides the chance for the rebirth of isolated communities. An excellent education will break down barriers in the community and bring people together in the spirit of harmony, goodwill and strength. Join us in this effort to improve Arkansas communities through education. ForwARd is here to support as you do your part to change the current systems that allow for the continued tragedies that impact us all.