NJEA has been committed to public education for over 160 years. Our collective power has grown in the face of adversity during every decade of our existence—from our first convention in 1853 to the first tenure bill in 1909; from surviving the 1930s Great Depression to the first New Jersey collective bargaining law passed in 1968; from Judith Owens being elected as the first African-American president of the NJEA to paid health benefits for retired educational support professionals (ESPs) in 1992. We are now facing unprecedented attacks on organized labor from corporate-political interests, a revival of white nationalism harming our vulnerable communities and a massive recession caused by a global pandemic.
Within the next 20 years, NJEA can become a leader in the global movement for human rights, civil rights, racial justice and equity. Our organizing strategies and tactics may have changed over time, but one thing has always remained constant: our members are the source of our collective power. The more we engage, the stronger our relationships, the more powerful our unions become for our students in the New Jersey public school system.
Understanding the long arc of history and our potential power to have an impact on transformational change, the murder of George Floyd was the moment that sparked a movement for racial equity, racial affirmation and racial literacy called the NJEA REAL Movement.
As people are rising up in cities across the country and around the world to protest the violence against Black people in America, seeds of consciousness are causing many people to grow beyond the denial of systemic racism. Racial affirmation is the first step in recognizing that we live in a racist society that privileges and harms people in various ways. The colorblind narrative is now obsolete. Choosing silence, denial or willful ignorance only serves to maintain racial inequity. The REAL Movement invites educators to combat the tactics of complicity in our society by affirming and embracing the beautiful differences of people, perspectives and experiences that diverse communities can bring.
People whose consciousness has been elevated in this moment of heightened awareness about the ongoing violence that targets Black, Indigenous and People of Color now understand that something must be done. However, the ability to reflect, articulate and analyze the insidious ways the race-system operates does require a commitment to unpack, unlearn and relearn a lifetime of experiences in your race-consciousness journey. The power of stories steeped in empathetic listening and critical reflection are the second step in the REAL Movement toward racial literacy. It is vital that we continue to offer professional learning experiences that challenge people to grow more racially literate.
Interpersonal interactions are usually the most visible manifestations of racism. However, the more complex and dangerous formations of racism are found in the systems, structures, policies and culture of institutions. These formations are found in the prison system, police departments, zero-tolerance policies in schools that disproportionately impact Black and Brown children, Eurocentric curricula that perpetuate cultural violence and domination, or union structures that limit access to resources for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. This is the REAL work of the movement to shift these patterns of historical trauma, change systems that maintain perpetuate racism and build a vision for racial equity in schools. Onward.
Gabe Tanglao is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division. He is the coordinator of the NJEA REAL Movement and staff contact for the NJEA Technology Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The REAL website at real.njea.org – In addition to a more detailed overview of our purpose and principles, you will also find a master calendar of events that has compiled all equity-related events hosted by NJEA and a growing resources page.
REAL Equity Learning Lab — Join this weekly conversation for classroom practitioners, reflecting with colleagues on a range of issues that affect our practice as we strive for more inclusive and liberated classrooms.
REAL Action Network: Organizers’ Lounge — Join this monthly gathering of like-minded and like-hearted equity advocates and organizers as you share ideas and strategies to build community and power.