The Economic Justice Coalition (EJC) held its annual JusticeFest last weekend, with Education in our Community as the theme. The event was attended by the most invaluable community leaders and activists in Athens.
Speakers included EJC Director Linda Lloyd, Mokah Jasmine Johnson of Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, Leeidy Solis of ULead, Clarke County School District Superintendent Dr. Desmond Means, and many more. Mrs. Ovita Thorton, who is running for ACC Commission District 9, received the Dr. Ray McNair Lifetime Achievement Award.
Athens for Everyone was represented by our President Kelly Happe at the event, and we are proud to share her speech with you here.
Thank you for the invitation to speak today on behalf of Athens For Everyone.
I want to speak briefly today about A4E’s Education Initiative. The initiative began with the fight against Amendment 1 – a fight that was, as you know, successful, and demonstrated the critical role that grassroots organizing plays in protecting and improving our public education system.
Athens for Everyone’s education campaign has now evolved into a multi-faceted initiative to:
1) Elect progressives to the school board;
2) Engage local and state elected officials regarding school policy;
3) Participate in consciousness-raising dialogue that recognizes and helps us work against the role that racism, nativism, sexism, and classism play in school disciplinary practices and curricula (and how those different kinds of oppressions work together and affect particular groups of students in particular ways).
For example, recently released research shows significant racial disparities in educational and disciplinary outcomes for students in the Clarke County School District – including number of suspension days, disciplinary hearings, expulsions, and education outcomes.
This data cannot be explained by differences in demographics. It cannot be explained by varying levels of parental involvement, however popular that explanation is among some people. It can be explained by institutional racism.
The Athens for Everyone Education Initiative understands that the causes of these disparities are complex and that these inequalities in our school system are symptomatic of the racial and economic inequalities that we see in our larger community.
Our education initiative is guided and energized by the following principles: First, that political engagement is key to realizing the significant change that we need in our schools. We are committed to using our resources to support progressive candidates seeking election to the Clarke County school board. We also understand and act upon the reality that the decisions made at school board meetings have rippling effects throughout our schools and community.
Second, transformative change in our society means critically examining institutions – including schools. It is at the institutional level that we can grow our understanding of how, for example, racism operates, while also giving us a clear sense of concrete actions we can take (as the theme of this year’s Justice Fest affirms, “Unite—Resist—Act for Justice”).
Just think of all the ways that school justice activism can help us question larger systems, such as the connections between school funding and the prison industrial complex, as well as the distribution of resources for public goods. Why do we still fund schools using property taxes and privatized support through PTOs? Can all-white teaching staffs resist the encroachment of the logics of the prison-industrial complex into our schools given the likelihood that they have internalized the dangerous myth that associates blackness with criminality? Why was the response to the alleged sexual assault at Cedar Shoals immediately cast as a problem of security, allowing violence against women to be strategically used to expand racist practices of surveillance and control, while doing nothing to attend to unique oppressions that women and girls face?
We need to question everything, even if that is a hard, painful process. We need to question practices that we have taken to be common sense.
And finally, we need to think critically about opportunities beyond high school. We believe that higher education is a public good and so should be free; that it is a good that should be available to all regardless of immigration status (in the recently released document “New Appeal for Human Rights,” a diverse coalition of students powerfully remind us that education is a universal human right); and finally, that college degrees should translate into career paths and wages that ensure dignity for all.
I hope that you will consider getting involved in our education initiative and helping us make it as responsive and effective as it can be. Congratulations to the Economic Justice Coalition for a successful Justice Fest 2017!
Kelly Happe, President
December 9th, 2017