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(The above photo showcases a mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota, honoring George Floyd and other victims of policy brutality. It was completed by artists Greta McLain, Xena Goldman, and Cadex Herrera.)
Like so many in our country and across the world, I have experienced profound grief and horror in witnessing the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks. These are only the most recent African Americans to have experienced such injustice as a result of systemic racism, but as we all know, the list of victims goes on and on. And so it is time for each of us to examine the role we play in addressing this monumental challenge, facing it head on, evaluating unconscious biases and economic inequality, and taking meaningful steps toward eradicating injustice anywhere as a threat to justice everywhere.
I believe that education is the cornerstone of equal opportunity. It is a moral imperative to provide equal access to high quality education for all children - and it’s the vision of Michigan’s charter school movement. For the 20+ years I’ve spent at MAPSA, I’ve watched as our schools advance equity in education. Equity for students living in ANY zip code; for immigrant students who are learning English as they go, or who need educators that honor their unique culture; for students who are dyslexic, can’t sit still, struggle in the classroom or who simply need to be reminded that school must work for them, not the other way around.
It has been my honor to spend my career supporting and advocating for the educators and students living that vision.
With 294 charter schools spanning every corner of the Mitten, we are a mosaic of skin colors, cultural backgrounds, instructional styles and so much more. We at MAPSA are incredibly proud of the diversity reflected in our educators, students and families - black, white, and brown (Latinx, Arab American, Native American and Asian American) alike. That diversity is something we strive to elevate in all our efforts - from advocacy, to storytelling, to supporting educators who service varying communities of color across the state.
But this is a watershed moment of recognition, for me and for our MAPSA team. We have watched in awe, and felt the pain and anger, these past few weeks as many of our school leaders, teachers, advocates and even our students have written profound letters, documenting their experiences of racial injustice; As they have demonstrated peacefully to honor the lives of those lost to police brutality; As they have called upon us as allies to break the silence; As they have proposed bold and meaningful plans for action.
To each of those brave souls, we are listening - we are with you. The systemic and historic injustice that has been allowed to exist in this country must end, for all those who experience it. Black Lives Matter. Black Educators Matter. Black Students Matter.
Our team has taken these last few weeks to not only listen, but also to have tough, emotional conversations about the role our organization plays in addressing systemic racism, and how we can put action to our words. We knew a statement, or a hashtag, or a social media post would be empty if we were not committed to meaningful change. Following those critical conversations, I am proud to share our Platform for Change, a three point set of commitments developed by our team, which will serve as our starting point of recommendations and action as we continue to evaluate how we can be restorative allies in this fight.
Elevate the voices of black & brown educators, students & leaders - Too often, young black and brown students don’t see themselves reflected in their educator staff, succeeding the education space, and attaining leadership positions as they move into adult life. MAPSA must do even more to showcase black and brown educators who are leading our next generation of great thinkers; we must highlight black and brown students who have embraced their identity, overcame the odds and fought to succeed through their educational experience; we must follow our black and brown charter alumni who are pursuing their passion at institutions of higher education or through their careers, and who are contributing in unique and beautiful ways to our diverse communities.
Connect policy makers with black & brown educators to inform meaningful legislation - Many of our elected officials crafting and influencing education policy lack the cultural competency and understanding to truly support black and brown students. MAPSA has always served as a connecting body between the Michigan charter movement and legislators, but we must work relentlessly to build relationships between elected officials and our black and brown educators. We must cultivate a true understanding of the barriers black and brown students face, and use that understanding to help advocate for policy that responds to the needs of black and brown communities. We will be the bridge for black and brown educators to share their experiences, concerns and suggestions on how to address racial inequality in education.
Facilitate racial empathy across our movement - Black and brown students face a unique and devastating set of challenges in education, many of which are rooted in deep implicit bias, and have led to higher rates of discipline, dropout and disengagement. Are we tracking the impact of restorative justice policies passed over the last few years? Do we know what the new challenges are? We must face inequities together, as a movement, and move to a place where all schools practice restorative justice, emotional support, cultural understanding and more. MAPSA will use our storytelling platforms to document the unique and amazing ways Michigan charters are redefining education for black and brown students. We will use our conference and professional development platforms to invite leading minds around these issues (inside and outside our movement) to help elevate our thinking and develop plans for change. We will use our role as the central Hub for charter educators, advocates and partners to facilitate meaningful conversations about systemic racism as it relates to education.
As we work together to break this cycle of injustice, I want to thank the many colleagues, friends, charter stakeholders and diverse MAPSA board members who have spoken truth to my limited experience. As a white man, I am embracing this opportunity to examine my own thinking and actions. As an organization with no black individuals on staff, we at MAPSA are embracing the voices of our diverse Board members, charter colleagues, friends and family to help ensure that our work honors the diversity of this movement. I will reiterate that our Platform for Change is a starting point - it is our commitment to not let this moment in history pass, but instead to weave it into our every program, story and initiative. We look forward to a continued honest and meaningful dialogue, and we again thank our educators, parents, students, and advocates for the work they do every day - which we truly believe is the foundational path to lasting equity.
Sincerely, MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry