“Art is a way of possessing destiny.” — Marvin Gaye
I remember the first time I taught at a public high school of color – a public school with a significant people of color population. The school was entirely male and majority African American. I spent two hours before the bell reviewing for my first lesson – I wanted to be the perfect teacher. The entire morning I sat in my classroom rehearsing my introduction, classroom management strategies, and the lesson plan. Then the bell rang, and lessons from my Grandfather came to conscience. “Young people need someone to mold, motivate, and mentor them. Just help them exemplify the interests, attitude, and enthusiasm worthy of influence, and the rest will take care of itself.”
He was right; our career accomplishments, life experiences, and values should inform and influence school lesson plans. Every one of us remembers a teacher who made us work harder and inspired us to achieve great things based on hard work. In turn, the rapport and relationships built during those moments became energy for our subsequent aspirations. Moreover, networking with an experienced person — accomplished in the area of our passion — was enormously influential. Sitting in class, sharing ideas, and providing feedback to one another gave us access to incredible success opportunities.
As a secondary benefit, my colleagues tell me that educators gain a great deal from mentoring students of color. Working through an alumni mentorship program creates a meaningful connection for both the teacher and student while giving experienced educators a chance to contemplate and restructure their teaching approach. This enriches and informs future school work for both, so everyone benefits from “collective synergy.”
How can we inform, translate, and connect education to communities of color during the global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis? Would a mentorship program be correspondingly constructive for educators, students of color, and alumni when we are social distance learning?
Recently I was talking with a protégé about the connection between civics, education, and financial independence. During that conversation, we began talking about the virtues of expanding democracy to include more voters via census, reapportionment, and redistricting. The concept is that an accurate census count will create a diverse electorate and help to pass a pro-public education policy. Therefore, civic engagement could lead to quality education for students of color.
We must acknowledge that many states have a history of practicing “voter suppression” laws, especially during census years, justifying Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to outlaw voting practices that disenfranchised thousands of Americans. States with both (a) “tests” or “devices” that restricted the opportunity to register and vote and, (b) less than 50% voter registration or voter turnout no longer make changes concerning voting without “clearance” from the Department of Justice. This includes everything from redistricting to polling places.
More than two dozen states have passed or attempted to pass laws and executive orders that disenfranchise voters. At one point in Florida, the governor pressed election officials to identify non-U.S. citizens on the voting rolls. The list of 2700 people comprised mostly of people of color, was found to have a 78% error rate. More than 500 people on the list were later identified as actual citizens.
Do you remember “pregnant chads” in the 2000 Presidential Election and the subsequent 534 decision? During that same election, Florida’s Secretary of State ordered election supervisors to purge ex-felons from the voter lists. Experts later reported that the file “flagged” close to 91,000 names, of which more than 57,000 were purged. More than half of the list—54%—was African American and Latino. This prompted Congress to pass the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 to create standards for states to follow and update outdated voting systems. Each State transitioned to electronic voter lists.
What are the essential questions in the minds of students of color? Can they help the U.S. bounce back from this crisis, communicate their interests, and accelerate social change? My advice is to believe in the righteousness of your issues, civic engagement, and get active. For Example, Florida and Texas have undergone political, racial, and geographical transformation.
- Florida voters of color make up 29% of the voting-age population, and 69% are registered to vote.
- In 2008, voters of color were 28% of the electorate, although more than a third did not vote — Imagine the impact if all who are eligible to vote were mobilized and voted.
The same is true for Texas, where the Latino population accounted for 65% of the State’s growth between 2000 and 2010.
- Among young voters between the ages of 18 and 19-year-olds, 60% are people of color and 41% Latino.
- Census data shows that Houston grew by 7.5% to 2,099,451 — Imagine what could happen if 814,000 registered VOC in Harris County voted. Especially in places like Houston, where there are over 400,000 “Key” VOC.
Ultimately, as every teacher knows, positive relationships are essential for everyone, and the United States is essentially a network of 300 million. Therefore we must develop strategies to nurture culturally competent connections, engage in courageous conversations, and forge relationships with students of color to ensure that the playing field is level. Our country needs every person to prosper to bounce back from this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. To be successful, we must not compromise the promise of quality education, financial freedom, and adequate healthcare — especially if it compromises diversity.
To be continued …
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.