Answers for Asheville’s Black children

We have an education emergency in Asheville. Our dismal 2019 Youth Justice Project “Racial Equity Report Card” shows extreme academic and disciplinary disparities in our schools. It documents a clear lack of justice for Black students. These disparities are the worst in North Carolina, even with Asheville being the second-highest funded school in the state. This crisis is not new. Mountain Xpress, in their coverage of a joint City Council/Asheville School Board meeting about these disparities, reported that the data indicates “a worsening academic achievement gap between black and white students from 2014-18.”

Black children in our community deserve answers and action.

in this district
Data from Youth Justice Project Racial Equity Report Card for ACS, 2019

Address the Ecosystem

“Black children and youth are so much more than statistics and end-of-grade test scores. Yet, the numbers tell a complicated story about how each and every community institution and system that touches the lives of Black children and families in Asheville just needs to do better,” consultant and community leader Tamiko Ambrose Murray posted about the results.

Dr. Dwight Mullen, recently retired from UNC Asheville, has been documenting the disparities endured by Black Asheville for almost two decades. “Coordinating ‘services for housing, for justice, health care and the various initiatives that the principals are bringing forward’ will be necessary for lasting change,” Xpress quoted him as saying at the joint meeting. ‘The fact that we’re not coordinating can be seen in the disparity gaps at the city,’ he said.”

As these leaders remind us, we cannot address the ways we are failing Black children in the schools in isolation of all of the other ways we are failing them. We must address the entire ecosystem they depend on for their lives.

As the Youth Justice Project states on their website that they hope their Racial Equity Report Cards will serve as “a call-to-action for students, parents, advocates, policy makers, and institutional stakeholders to collectively examine the causes of racial inequity in their community and develop solutions that will help young people, especially youth of color, avoid and escape the school-to-prison pipeline.”

In his work “Rebuilding Affrilachia,” DeWayne Barton of Hood Huggers International talks about positive pipelines for Black youth – clear paths to careers where they can thrive. We must block the “school-to-prison” pipeline while also opening up more possibilities for youth of color.

We need to nurture an ecosystem where the nutrients of health, safety, money, and opportunity flow equitably to everyone.

Center Black Wisdom

Where do we find the answers we seek for Black children? In 2015, I wrote a post entitled, “Asheville, invest in Black-led solutions.” I still stand by that sentiment. As many brilliant movement leaders have expressed, those who are directly experiencing oppression are the most qualified to create transformative alternatives to our unjust systems. They have the most expertise, and, it could be argued, the most motivation.

In response to the report card, YTL Training Programs Executive Director Libby Kyles posted, “What breaks my heart is the fact that those of us who are native and willing to get in the trenches and do the work are over looked. Like with the City, the school system often brings folks from other places, paying them a lot of money to ‘fix’ us. People working to improve the city and the educational system must have a vested interest. Live in the communities you are charged with serving and get to know the people before you diagnose the problem and hand down prescriptions that don’t really speak to the root cause of the disparity.” 

Others echoed this perspective. “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere! A Call to Action with ALL stakeholders! Revisit, reimagine, substantially revise and begin anew — start a revolution! Let’s not critique or shut out folks either – we’re at the point where we need cheerleaders AND those whose voices are radical,” posted Tiece Ruffin, an Associate Professor in the Education Department at UNC Asheville. “In the past, many have been shut out, not given a seat at the table, and they’re local! We need more than big name folk and programs and folk with credentials, including me. I envision us going beyond surface work, I see the need to go there, go deep, be uncomfortable — acknowledging the rage, the anger, then pushing pass the pain and hurt to birth something transformative.”

This week there was a timely post by FakeEquity, “Equity equations don’t work,” which affirmed the points made above and warned us of the dangers of just focusing on data:

“When we only create policies and practices that look at numbers we fail to understand and grow our racial literacy…We are failing to do the harder work of building relationships and being in conversation and accountable to communities and people of color.”

“Equity isn’t just about shifting resources, it is about centering the communities most impacted and allowing them to have self-determination and to define problems and solutions….Our challenge is to take data, stories, and relationships and marry those into policies and practices that recognize histories, strengths, racism, trauma, cultural understanding, and are accountable to BIPOCs (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).”

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YTL Training participants. Photo: Tony Shivers.

I’ll remind readers that YTL Training, which was founded by three Black Asheville natives, has already proposed one possible strategy towards mitigating disparities, with their request for the City of Asheville to lease the Stephens Lee Recreation Center for programming for youth and families. Their proposal includes collaborating with other Black-led programs such as Positive Changes, UpFront Sports Management, and Word on the Street/La Voz de los Jovenes. YTL submitted an updated version of their proposal with more detail to Asheville City Council last November, and is waiting to hear what the next steps could be.

The list of Black-led youth programs we can turn to for strategies also includes the Christine W. Avery Learning CenterMy Daddy Taught Me That, My Sistah Taught Me That, One Youth at a Time, and My Community Matters.

Not to mention the wisdom of Black students and parents.

Redirect Resources

As solutions arise from centering the perspectives of those who are most impacted, the success of those solutions requires access to resources.

As my readers know, I believe in the reasonableness of reparations. To me, the case for a radical redistribution of wealth is clear.

As we seek to dismantle our inequitable systems, we build alternatives. On that note, CoThinkk has a mixer coming up on Saturday, February 23 – click here for details and to register. If you can’t attend the mixer, you can still make a contribution.

Build Relationships

Our collective liberation requires connection and collaboration.

I’ll close with another quote from FakeEquity‘s post, “When we see people and not just numbers, we’ll begin to unravel the racialized gaps and create new policies where luck isn’t a key to achieving, and where we live with true racial justice. Your work is to build a relationship with someone whom you don’t know and who’s story is different than yours. Acknowledge your privileges and use those privileges to benefit someone else. This is how we can create a ripple effect of change.”

Change is the only option – change that brings new results for our beloved children.

Listen. Love. Act. 

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You can find community events on this calendar.

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