The Black women of Alabama saved their state and the nation from would-be Sen. Roy Moore. They answered the call. Seems to me that we owe it to them to follow suit and also answer the call when it comes to equity, access and opportunity for Black women as well as the African-American community as a whole. Let’s remember that if Moore had his way,
slavery would still exist and
women would not be allowed to vote. Kerra Bolton of CNN certainly
lays out, in the simplest of terms, where our voices, influence and energy are needed:
Maybe real heroes don’t wear capes, but we sure could use freedom, equality and access for all to decent health care, education and housing.
We could start, for example, by doing a much better job at providing young Black girls with equal access to opportunities in school in every single state. One African-American student in Alabama, Shea Washington,
describes her struggles:
From then on, Washington constantly ran into the issue of lack of opportunities at predominately black schools. There were not enough higher level reading books in her middle school library at Brighton. She wasn’t able to take a certain AP class Jackson Olin High.
Speak Up for Black Mothers
White women across America were horrified by Roy Moore. And rightfully so. Now it’s time to be horrified that this young lady, and
so many others who look like her, lack opportunities in school that so many of us consider to be nonnegotiables in our own kids’ schools—chemistry, physics, calculus, AP classes, computer science. We must speak up on their behalf.
Get Loud About Achievement Gaps
Alabama is plagued, like the rest of America, with staggering achievement gaps between Black and White students. We, as White women who care about other people’s kids, need to get much louder about this. We can play a vital role in helping to educate the decision-makers in our respective state legislatures about how bad it is and why that matters. My guess is that many of them will be surprised by the disparity. My hope is that they will commit to being part of solving the problem. Alabama math gaps:
Elect More People of Color
One way to get the ball rolling on getting elected officials to care about these gaps in Alabama and the other 49 states is to
support and elect more people of color to office so that Black and Brown constituents can have people in their statehouses and in the District of Columbia who look like they do and likely understand their life experiences in a different way.
Get more teachers of color in the classroom
In the past I’ve
written about how I never had a single non-White teacher during my K-12 years. Not a single one. That means that the Black students in my class never had a single teacher who looked like them. Hard to imagine, right? So let’s change it by supporting the work of
The Black Male Educators Fellowship and other organizations working to bring more equity to the classroom by way of encouraging and empowering young Black people to become educators.
Research tells us that Black children benefit from having teachers who look like they do. Black students, when asked, confirm how important those role models are for them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XX0ezoBsIIU
Make the table bigger
Ensure that the next time one of your representatives, senators or local leaders hold a “summit” on some issue important to your community, demand that people of color are represented and call them out when they aren’t. Don’t allow your elected officials to do what my senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, did and
convene a group of stakeholders for an education summit and fail to invite voices of color to be part of the conversation. Hard to address achievement gaps in any real way when Black and Brown people aren’t in the room. I asked the senator’s office several times for a copy of the invite list for that event. I never got one. It is undeniable that the special election in Alabama was a moment of truth and reckoning not only for the state but for the nation. Black voters, women especially, pushed Alabama over to the right side of history. A gigantic feat against seemingly insurmountable odds. And while it’s long overdue at the ballot box, in the classroom and in the boardroom, I can think of no better time for us to step up to answer the call and fight to improve the lives of the very women who renewed our faith in America on Tuesday night. In closing, I share the
words of my friend Vesia Hawkins, an African-American woman and mother of two from Nashville, Tennessee.
We can’t afford to do what we’ve always done by giving away our vote
and our trust. Because how far has [that] taken us? Let’s see:
Black women are highly educated yet
earn significantly less than men of any race and White and Asian women. No matter where we live in this country, large percentages of Black children cannot read. In rapidly gentrifying cities like Nashville, Black families are disproportionately squeezed outside of the core where affordable housing is at a premium and distant from vital services. Disparities in health care, loan acceptance, employment and the list goes on… With these irrefutable injustices looming over our lives we simply don’t have the luxury of walking out of the voting booth feeling satisfied. We cannot be satisfied until we are paid our worth. We cannot be satisfied until 100 percent of our children read at or above grade level. We cannot be satisfied until we make sure policymakers and shakers see us in every decision.
I know I want to be an ally, a fellow soldier, in fighting the injustice that Vesia describes. I hope you’ll join me.
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...