A national movement is currently taking place to address the pervasive criminalization of Black boys and men in our nation’s schools, colleges, and universities. The field of education has been abuzz this past week over the launch of the public course Black Minds Matter – A Focus on Black Boys and Men in Education. The course, taught by San Diego State University Distinguished Professor Luke Wood is “designed to raise the national consciousness about issues facing Black boys and men in education” and “draws parallels between how Black lives are engaged in society and shows how those same patterns are manifested in educational settings.”
The course employs a community-engaged framework through a public course format. What this means is that the class is being livestreamed for free to over 10,000 educators nationwide. The course also boasts 200 live broadcast and replay sites across the country. With the support of guest lecturers such as Patrisse Cullors (co-founder of Black Lives Matter) and Ilyasah Shabazz (an educational advocate and daughter of Malcolm X), the impact of the course is far-reaching. As stated by Wood, “our goal is for educators to see their classrooms, their schoolyards, and their offices as sites for civil resistance.”
As one of the 10,000, I have decided to contribute to this movement by providing a weekly update. During the first session, Patrisse Cullors spoke about the pervasive criminalization of Black people in society. She critiqued the current state of education, noting that “spaces of care have been turned into spaces of criminalization.” This point was re-emphasized by Wood who shared 10 ways in which the policing and education of Black boys and men are the same.
Cullors, who was literally on her way to an organizing meeting during her talk, also emphasized the importance of changing the current challenges facing Black communities in policing and education through an internal and external strategy. She stated, “building Black power involves having conversations with and among Black people” and added that “allies are an important part of Black liberation.” In addition, she also acknowledged the difficult national climate noting that the far right is passionately dedicated to inhibiting any progress for Black people.
The first session also featured Ryan Smith from the Education Trust-West. Smith, a policy advocate, was the co-author of the report Black Minds Matter that led to numerous convenings and policy discussions on how to improve the outcomes of Black learners in the state of California. In his remarks, Smith critiqued the current national focus on equity, noting that “equity is the new coconut water.” He argued that true commitment to equity goes beyond simple illustrations and involves deep personal and structural change. He provided powerful illustrations that demonstrated the pervasive ways that Black people are marginalized in education.
After Smith, Wood presented an interview with civil rights leader S. Lee Merritt. Merritt is one of the most prominent civil rights attorney’s in the nation, and served as the attorney for the family of Jordan Edwards and numerous other Black Lives Matter cases. He drew sharp comparisons between the criminalization of Black men in society and similar patterns in education. The most moving moment of his interview was when he discussed how his own son has been stereotyped and labeled by educators.
As reported during the first session, the course was inspired by the slaying of Alfred Olango. Olango was a refugee from Uganda who was shot by police officers in El Cajon, California (near San Diego). Olango was unarmed, like Michael Brown, Oscar Grant III, Tamir Rice and many other similar cases. His slaying resulted in numerous marches, protests, sit-ins and other demonstrations around San Diego. The protestors demanded that the police be held accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, justice for Alfred was never served as the officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Adriel A. Hilton