Trenton EA holds listening tour on institutional racism

Published on Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Naomi Johnson-Lafleur
Trenton Education Association (TEA) President Naomi Johnson-Lafleur addresses parents and community members at the evening event. Gallery Gallery

Trenton Education Association (TEA) President Naomi Johnson-Lafleur convened a special two-part listening tour on institutional racism at the Trenton Board of Education office on Oct. 25.

The event was inspired by the National Council of Urban Education Associations (NCUEA), an advocacy organization of local affiliates of the National Education Association (NEA) dedicated to strengthening member advocacy and making the NEA more responsive to member needs.

The mission of NCUEA is to promote and advance quality public education in urban schools by empowering and supporting local associations, leaders and members. Addressing institutional racism is a priority of the NCUEA.

With financial assistance from NJEA’s Pride in Public Education grant program, TEA invited students to participate in roundtable discussions during the school day on three questions:

  • Do you see institutional racism in the education system in your area? If so, how can your organization/association address it on the local and state levels?
  • What does equity and opportunity (or the lack of equity and opportunity) for all students look like in your local; in your state?
  • Take a moment to self-reflect. What are your personal feelings towards institutional racism? Do you think that there is anything that you can do as an individual; as an organization to address the issue?

TEA followed up the students’ program with an evening event that brought parents and community members together to discuss the same questions, and interact with a panel that included representatives from Trenton and Camden parent groups, educational institutions and community organizations.

The panel was moderated by Trenton Board of Education attorney Kathleen Smallwood Johnson who noted that “institutional racism started out with a water fountain and we’re still dealing with the water fountain,” an allusion to the segregated water fountains of the 1950s and the water quality crisis primarily plaguing public schools and communities of color today.

Camden parent and community organizer Ronsha Dickerson said that it is important for residents of New Jersey’s major cities to communicate with each other. She cited numerous examples of strategies that had been used in various New Jersey cities to undermine local authority over schools. “We need to work together to understand what Gov. Christie and his cronies are doing to people in other parts of the state so we can be ready for them when they come to our city,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson provided an example of institutional racism taking place in Camden today. She talked about Gov. Christie’s recent announcement that Camden High School would be torn down and rebuilt. Calling the high school the “crowning jewel” of the city, and a point of pride, Dickerson criticized the plan. “We are being told that it will be torn down and rebuilt – but no one asked us.”

Baye Kemit, principal and founder of Trenton’s Garvey School, provided another example of institutional racism, pointing to the fact that six Trenton public schools are named for slave owners or established racists.

Darren “Freedom” Green, a Trenton community activist, called out Gov. Christie’s proposed school funding formula as another example of institutional racism.

“You provide the kids with nothing and expect them to produce everything,” Green protested. “We send them into a world at its worst and expect them to be their best.”

Green called on the event’s participants to be “ambassadors for better.”

The TEA broadcast the event live on their Facebook page. 

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