By Hussain Haqq, Trenton Education Association
“…It shouldn’t be that radical!” ~ Dr. Morris.
Being the parent of three intelligent, confident, strong young ladies, we have been very blessed to be on the lower end of the Adverse Childhood Experiences spectrum, commonly known as “ACEs.” “ACEs” are the traumatic childhood experiences that have shown to have long-lasting effects on students’ development and on the future generations of that particular student. For example, a student who experiences the pain of their parents’ divorce may carry with them a sense of unworthiness, abandonment, anger, and confusion well into adulthood. That student is more likely to experience a challenging time loving a mate, raising children, etc. Evidence has shown that students with high ACEs scores are even more likely to experience health problems such as asthma, diabetes, or even high blood pressures. Not to mention the mental health effects these conditions have on students’ ability to focus. To read more about ACEs, I recommend these resources at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, National Public Radio’s (NPR) WHYY affiliate has an online questionnaire that you can take to find your ACE’s score.
Unfortunately, a lot of female students of color across our country don’t have the luxury of having a low ACE’s score due to the environment they were born into, or community conditions and societal norms they were raised. Oftentimes, this is compounded with implicit and explicit biases along with acts of microaggressions from, believe it or not, educators.
On Friday, May 22, NEA Aspiring Educators held a movie night via Zoom featuring the documentary, “PUSHOUT: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” by Dr. Monique W. Morris. This riveting documentary exposes how female students of color are treated within the system of education that continuously marginalizes them by pushing them into compromising situations unlike any other ethnicity of female students.
Author Dr. Monique Morris tells the stories of at least four young African-American students from second grade to seniors in high school and their experiences in education. The first student’s experience brought me to tears because as a Climate & Culture Specialist I have witnessed students being sent into hallways as a form of punishment, or “time-out,” but for this specific case, this student was singled out, sent out of the classroom, ignored when the class returned, then became so frustrated that, as a second-grade student, she managed to walk out of the school, over a busy overpass while thinking of taking her life, luckily changing her mind, then walking to a Walmart only to be put out there, then to a restaurant where staff called the cops, but the cops dismissed her because she was Black. How disturbing! Can you imagine if this were your child? If you can’t, then that’s part of the problem in the world today.
I began crying for this student because not only was this totally wrong, but I have three school-aged children. I vividly recall last year, in 2019, my oldest daughter called me on my cell phone to let me know she was pursued by the security officers for “no reason.” I can hear the trembling of her voice over the phone as I type these words now as chills overcome my body. Even now it’s difficult for me to tell her story, but I will tell you this…she did NOTHING wrong. I immediately left my work and traveled 40 minutes to her school to resolve the issue, which ended up being an adults’ need to “flex” power over a student of color. Not just any student, my daughter. My daughter is an honor roll student and has been for the four years she spent at her school. Her GPA is an amazing 4.5. She is an actress and has held the lead role in many of her school’s productions. She is a leader on the field as a soccer player. The point is, my daughter is many things, but a trouble-maker or criminal she is NOT! This cafeteria worker and security guard unjustifiably treated her as the latter. It was this personal experience that came rushing back to me as I watched this second-grade student’s story being told.
As a person of color and being in the position I am in, I am often challenged in beginning the conversation of fairness, compassion, self-reflection, and “discipline with dignity” with staff members, because it touches home for me as a father and I have to exhibit self-control with staff in order to be heard and not arrested or fired for calling staff members on their implicit biases that surface in school.
I think this movie, “PUSHOUT: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” by Dr. Monique W. Morris is an excellent conversation starter. Ultimately though, I think the natural progression of the conversation has to lead to reflective thoughts of our implicit and explicit biases for each other and the impact of those biases in educating our youth, specifically female students of color. If you are interested in viewing the documentary in its entirety, visit the film’s website for viewing information, to watch the trailer, and read more about the young ladies’ stories.
Hussain Haqq is Climate and Culture Specialist with Trenton Public Schools. He is an association representative for the Trenton Education Association and represents Mercer County on the NJEA Editorial Committee.