The Digital Divide, Learning Happens Best When We Leave No One Behind – Lessons from Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery Part 1 #2R1WM

By Kirk Clay

“Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough, to keep me from getting to you.” — Marvin Gaye

Reflection

I remember my first trip to Atlanta, Dr. Joseph Lowery — a civil rights leader who helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) — recruited me to help him on a project. He asked that I help to manage a “Mississippi Voter Whistle Stop Tour” through the Deep South and wanted me to join the caravan in Atlanta for the launch of this effort. This project was an experience of a lifetime for me and my first multi-state civic engagement bus tour. Being a twenty-something organizer from Toledo, I knew not many politicos from my generation and background would have this opportunity. I felt lucky to get his attention so early in my career and often wondered what caused him to “like” me and take me and become my mentor.

The flight was delayed in Washington, DC, by six hours. I will never forget how nervous I was running through the Atlanta airport, having arrived close to midnight. My flight was delayed because of the weather, and in those days, I had no way to get word to the team that I would be arriving close to midnight. To my surprise, friendly law enforcement officials were waiting for me to land and whisked me through the airport to the ground transportation area. When I got there, I was surprised to see five black Chevrolet SUVs sitting in the airport driveway.

 With the doors open and his feet on the dashboard, he sputtered, “don’t just stand there, get in. We have to make it to the Mississippi Delta by sunrise.” Of course, that’s what I did. We traveled all night to make up for the lost time. We only stopped for gas, snacks, and a hot meal. His amazing network of restaurants and gas stations opened their kitchens along the way.

 We didn’t have a heart-to-heart talk about the fact that he held up the entire movement for me that night. Later, I eventually mustered up enough courage to apologize, saying, “I’m sorry for causing such a mess at the airport. What can I do to make things, right?” He took a deep breath: “Well,” he said decisively, “we in the movement promised never to leave anyone behind, and everyone is important to the movement so just leave no one behind, then we’ll be alright.”

Discovery

The question is, “how will the digital divide affect learning for students of color as the education community moves toward distance learning?”

One thing is clear; Covid-19 has exposed how important having access to quality education is. Also, this pandemic has highlighted the racial and economic inequalities that exist as it relates to technology in our school system. Sure, there are many great teachers, schools, and curriculum — remnants of from past “good” educational policies from eight years ago, but there is a clear technological divide as well. Resources that focus on parental support, teacher pay, and student-centered learning are still needed, but that’s not all. We must be acutely conscious of the effect that recent policies have had on the nation’s educational system, especially as it relates to students of color and communities of need.

This effect will be made worse by the coronavirus, mainly as we struggle to identify appropriate curricula, responsive, interactive learning models, and help students in need find a decent meal. These problems emphasize a pressing and terrible truth that we, as a country, still have a lot of work to do to level the playing field for students of color.

The choice is clear if we must choose one area of focus for immediate impact — its technology. That will be the most substantial determining factor for students of color. For students to be successful during this time of distance learning, they must have access to quality education, equipment, and technology — including broadband. Think about Rev. Dr. Lowery’s philosophy, but instead of traveling to the Mississippi Delta for civic engagement, this journey is for the future of lifelong learners of color. We must account for the fact that these students will one day end this journey with a cumulative amount of discrimination, microaggressions, racial stress, and trauma. Therefore, we must help them find ways to take care of their educational needs and mental health throughout this journey.

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.

Back to School: Something Greater Than What We See #2R1WM #MoreThanAvote

By Kirk Clay

“An artist, if he is truly an artist, is only interested in one thing and that is to wake up the minds of men, to have mankind and womankind realize that there is something greater than what we see on the surface.”

– Marvin Gaye –

If you read the most popular headlines today, you would think that this is unequivocally the worst time to be a young student. As usual for most adolescents, just figuring out who you are in your development is tough enough. You are often battling feelings of acceptance, relationships, and growing academic expectations. Your identity is being developed amid the backdrop of who your family says you are, the holidays you celebrate, religious events you attend, and other cultural experiences with your friends.

As I pointed out in my last blog, this summer, we have a little more to reflect on than usual. As the education community begins to make plans for the upcoming year, there are a few questions that we must address to heal the whole school community. First, how does racism impact the mental health of people of color (POC) students? Second, in what way does “race-related” stress show up in young people? Lastly, how can students mitigate the impact of racism, learn from their experiences, and heal while living a productive life?

The two most significant areas of concern are:

·           Racial Identity Development – How we perceive, learn, and come to know who we are to ourselves, within groups, and to others in our environment.

·           Cultural Trauma – a dramatic loss of identity and meaning, a tear in the social fabric, affecting a group of people that have achieved some degree of cohesion.

For students like my neighbor, who attends Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, this begins their final year as RBHS’s first cohort of graduating seniors. Before these scholars walk across the stage and enter the adult world, there are a few “POC” student-centered issues to address. For example, they need to be prepared for the possibility of living in an environment where they will experience race-related micro-aggressions. Moreover, they may be exposed to a racially charged domestic terrorist activity and feel shocked as they learn how expendable some people view POC lives are. These experiences could cause feelings of anxiety, anger, and or depression then lead to a physical manifestation of “stress” in the form of stomachaches, headaches, and even “post-traumatic slavery syndrome.”

The 400th anniversary of Africans arrival in America is this year. The seeds of post-traumatic slavery syndrome were planted at the beginning of our union, and the legacy through past actions of prejudice, discrimination, racism, and microaggressions exist today. For example, the U.S. Constitution states that America will count every person every decade and use the results of that count to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, this originally had profound injustice embedded in it by stipulating that slaves held in bondage were counted as three-fifths of a person. In 1868, Congress ratified the 14thamendment, allowing former slaves to be counted as full-individuals, one result of the costly, bloody struggle of the Civil War.

Immediately following the Civil War, during Reconstruction, over 600 African Americans occupied various elected offices across the nation. With the end of that era came an almost century-long period of despair, which began when African Americans were habitually disenfranchised through Jim Crow practices, lynching, segregation, institutionalized racism, and incarceration discrepancies, to name a few. By 1965, only 300 African Americans occupied elected offices. This type of social injustice has had a lingering impact, and can only be accounted for through reparations and addressed through appropriate policies.

Our children see the effects of this injustice daily. When our young students feel upset by the things they read or see on social media and don’t have a clear reference point to connect their emotions and behaviors, they stop trusting their neighbors. We have to give them confirmation that we have been here before. They must know that it’s okay to “feel the feelings.” Let’s acknowledge that these issues were previously swept under the rug but not anymore. We must inform them that their feelings are appropriate and will be affirmed and supported. We should teach them to recognize what triggers them and show them the necessary coping skills. They should always protect themselves and maintain personal safety but be sure to live their truth.

To be continued …

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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.