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Home-Bound White Action

Here is a concrete opportunity to step up and speak out.  First some background:

Rochester is at or near the top of numerous national statistical lists defining racial inequity.  Perhaps no local institution embodies these tragic failures more than the Rochester City School District.

New York State stepped in two years ago, appointing a Distinguished Educator to analyze and suggest solutions.  With laser focus, Dr. Jaime Aquino identified a virus that operated at the heart of all other issues:

Systematic and institutionalized racism as well as individual racial and social conditioning are concrete barriers to respectful relationships. The foundation of creating equity within the District must therefore begin with addressing racism.”

His report cites specific evidence of this virus at another half-dozen points.

In the Fall of 2017 former Superintendent Barbara Deanne-Williams formed a team to dismantle racial inequity:  The Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) Team.  I attended meetings initially as an observer, and eventually as a member.  This Team is composed of highly knowledgeable, passionate educators, social workers who know the system, and concerned parents, grandparents and graduates, acting as advocates for the children served by this District – a combination of expertise, experience and reality.  The meetings, which included the superintendent and key administrators, were spirited, at times contentious, and eventually productive.

The Board of Education recognized the unique composition and wisdom of the REAL Team last year by designating it to have on-going supervision of the Plan’s implementation.

As the current Superintendent Terry Dade assumed his position (July 2019), the REAL Team Report with recommendations was nearly complete.

Here, the momentum is interrupted for several reasons:

  • The Team and Superintendent Dade struggled to find agreement on several points, as much about power and communication style as about substance.  Still, by November 25 last year, a virtually completed Plan had been crafted.
  • Then in January this year a $40 million dollar budget shortfall was revealed, the result of woefully inadequate oversight by both the former administration and the School Board. This crisis took precedence over any other focus, including the REAL Team’s recommendations.
  • Meanwhile, Superintendent Dade has taken unilateral steps to change some of the Report’s content, and has essentially halted communication with the REAL Team.
  • And now, understandably, COVOD-19 has grabbed the attention of the Administration.

Thus, the process has stalled.  The concern, of course, is that once COVID-19 has wreaked its havoc, and once the finances of the District have been stabilized, the focus on racial equity will be lost.  There are factors baked into the system and baked into the people involved that would virtually assure this.  I include myself and I include you in that last statement.

In my opinion, the fruit of the REAL Team’s efforts yielded a Plan that had teeth and had buy-in from the staff at that time.  I also believe that losing the passionate and wisdom-rich volunteer members of the Team (a very real possibility) can only lead to a weakened Plan, tepid commitment, and ultimate failure.  It’s understandable that attention is shifted for now, but the Team is left hanging with no communication, no direction, and no closure (if that’s what’s in store).

Why should we (white subscribers) care?

That’s a serious question.  And here’s a serious answer:

The virus Dr. Aquino identified infects us as well.  It manifests in us as denial, as a crusted heart, as a tainted spirit, which enable us to allow a situation to exist mere miles from us that we simply would never tolerate in our own communities if it were crippling our own children.  This virus manifests in our denial of the invisible but intimate connection that ties our destiny to the destinies of the brothers and sisters from whom we’ve physically separated.  This virus has metastasized to the suburban corridors, though for the most part it has not been diagnosed as such.  We appear asymptomatic, at least in our own hooded perception.

The miles of social distancing we’ve constructed do not protect us from the costs of this virus.  In the City, the costs are blatant, immediate, tragic, deadly.  But systems have a way of coalescing neighbors.  Human systems included, they lean toward enmeshment, toward integration, despite our fear-based attempts at tribal segregation.  Thus virus spreads, immunity breaks down, and barriers are penetrated.

So if justice were not enough of a motivator for us, if guilt or compassion don’t move us, then let the sober recognition of self-interest drive action for now.  And lest this be just another exercise in whiteness-centered navel-gazing:

Here are actions you can take to influence this immediate situation:

Contact Superintendent Dade and the Members of the RCSD Board of Education members to register, in your own words, the critical importance of correcting racial inequity in this District.

  • Urge the Superintendent to reestablish communication with the REAL Team, and to set a time to resume discussion of the Plan as it existed on November 25, 2019.
  • Urge the Superintendent and Board to follow the Board’s 2019 directive that the existing Team have oversight of the Plan and its implementation.
  • Urge them not to allow this effort to become just another feeble, abandoned attempt to eradicate the virus of racial inequity.

Contact:

Superintendent Terry Dade

Rochester City School District

130 W. Broad St.

Rochester NY   14614

 

Members of the RCSD Board of Education:

See names and contact information here.

Addendum:  Summary of some key points in the Plan draft (provided by Howard Eagle on request):

  • anti-racist professional education and development for all
  • alignment of all RCSD initiatives that are designed to focus on individual, institutional, and/or structural racism
  • serious intensification of efforts to recruit and retain more race and class conscious educators of color
  • significantly increase local efforts to help produce more educators of color, e.g.,”growing/retaining our own”
  • improve the Career In Teaching program, to the extent that it becomes significantly more racially equitable regarding mentors and lead-teachers

As always, comments welcomed below.

14 thoughts on “Home-Bound White Action”

  1. Frank,
    Thank for your concrete and articulate post. I agree with Steve Jarose that a copy of the recommendations as well as any other specific and detailed information about the actual plan that you could provide would help me and perhaps others is formulating a more meaningful and targeted outreach to the contacts you suggest. Also, while I recognize the dangers of scope creep, I agree with Bill Wynne’s suggestion of coupling up voting rights with this effort as political segregation and suppression has been a bane to the Black community since emancipation. I am currently on a committee formed within the the Carlson YMCA for the purpose of increasing voter registration and participation, particularly with the population immediately adjacent to the facility, some of the most marginalized citizens of Rochester. Lastly, what would impede the REAL team from continuing to meet on their own in hopes of maintaining interest and motivation, perhaps with concretely and empirically increasing awareness of unrealized impacts in suburban communities (as Jodi Lynn Beck suggested) as a task under the category of advertising and marketing to gain more supporters and voices… Again, thank you for your passion and action and the education you provide us all. PS – I pray you and yours are safe and healthy and stay that way!

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    1. Jim, I am checking re posting the draft Plan – but I don’t think that’s going to be possible. And I’m not sure it should be done, since it is a draft, and the Superintendent obviously has some other ideas. But I’m checking. And I do hesitate to do the “scope creep” thing at this point.
      The Team could continue to meet, as you suggest. I can raise that possibility.
      Thanks, and be well!

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  2. I suspect that the on-going financial problems to include the need to close additional schools will impact REAL. Is there any connection between REAL and actions to make the necessary financial changes?

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  3. Thank you Frank for your compelling argument that we are all intimately tied to the success of the City School District. Action is definitely needed. Can you give us a link to the REAL Team recommendations published in November? Steve

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  4. Frank … as you know, I did follow-up directly to the RCSD Board and the Supt.as you suggested. And in case your readers missed it and although not related to the local issue, see the article below re: yesterday’s Wisconsin primary that again portrays the wanton disregard for people’s lives let alone voting rights that disproportionally impacts Black lives …. virtually criminal. So perhaps you might want to consider issues with and the broadening of voting rights as a topic in a future blog …. which ironically by default will positively impact more White lives … even Republican lives … than Black!

    Bill
    https://www.whec.com/national/black-voters-weigh-history-health-as-they-vote-in-wisconsin/5695463/?cat=10036

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  5. The REAL team needs to keep in touch with each other and any other supporters. The efforts so far must keep going forward.

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  6. Thank you for this dialogue, Frank. Another action that would perhaps have the most tangible impact on the district, is for suburban families to move into the city so that our children and our communities are truly integrated — economically, socially, and racially; so that they and their children will see first hand how racism and inequities actually manifest themselves in our chronically underfunded district, and so the problems that result from these inequities DO affect their own children, perhaps leading them to speak up and show up and demand change alongside the many RCSD families that are already working so hard to advocate for justice in the district. The energy and resources and presence of these suburban could truly help to move the needle.

    I recognize that this is an action few suburban families are likely to take, but I feel it’s important to acknowledge that the extreme racial and economic segregation you describe is a direct result of the steady draining of resources from the city.

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    1. And thank you for that contribution. As you note, few white families will make that move, and they’d likely be trampled by the rush in the opposite direction. This is why I’m seeing that the more immediate and just solution is the getting the RCSD to shape up.

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  7. Thanks, Frank. I appreciate the background you give and the concrete steps that would help change the tragic situation in RCSD. It is heartbreaking to see the need and to feel powerless. You have helped by your direction.
    Barbara Staropol ( your sister:)

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