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It’s Time to Decriminalize our Education Systems for Youth of Color

Thursday, November 12, 2020
by Lateefah Simon, President, Akonadi Foundation & Monique Morris, Executive Director, Grantmakers for Girls of Color

All children deserve to have access to a quality education. They deserve to feel safe and supported in a place that exists to prepare them for their futures. Yet, for Black youth and other youth of color, this is far from the reality. Every day, Black children and other youth of color, some as young as six are being pushed out of classrooms and schools because of deep racial profiling. Across the country, Black high school students are twice as likely to be suspended as white students. In Oakland, while Black youth made up 26 percent of the Oakland Unified School District’s enrollment, they represented 73 percent of arrests. This vicious cycle continues to fuel pathways to prison and confinement, where Black youth are consistently over-represented, which creates additional barriers for our young people to realize and achieve their full potential.

As our country faces a pandemic, an uprising calling for racial justice, and a political divide like no other, we must not forget that Black movement leaders around the state, and the country, have been calling for attention, change and systemic overhaul to address the anti-Blackness in our education system for many generations. In the Bay Area, Black Organizing Project has been working for over a decade to decriminalize Black and Brown youth in Oakland schools, and most recently achieved a historic win - the elimination of the Oakland Schools Police Department. Reflecting on generations of pain and suffering caused by law enforcement, and in the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, youth organizers staged protests in Los Angeles, demanding that the County remove police from schools, shut juvenile detention centers and, instead, reinvest millions of dollars in their future. And, in Sacramento, community based organizations and leaders are pushing for safer campuses, calling on the district to end its relationships with school resource officers (SROs) and reallocate resources to pay for additional staff and services that benefit students and their well-being.

Both Akonadi Foundation and Grantmakers for Girls of Color have committed our organizations, our funding, and our strategic focus to investing in and supporting Black youth and other youth of color. Earlier this year, Akonadi launched All In for Oakland, a funding strategy dedicated to ending the criminalization of Black youth and youth of color in Oakland. Grantmakers for Girls of Color co-created the Black Girl Freedom Fund, a 10 year initiative to commit $1 billion to support the lives, leadership and wellness of girls of color. But there is more to be done. We know that many young people look to school as not just a place to access an education, but also for comfort, resources and support. We cannot let school be a place that they are frightened of, or that pushes them into yet another system that will facilitate harm, rather than healing.

We hope that you’ll join us at NCG’s Until Freedom is Won: The Power of Black Organizing Across Generations to discuss how Black-led movements are radically reimagining our education system. We’ll be joined by Jackie Byers of Black Organizing Project to talk about why this moment is unique for Black communities as they face increased challenges in the midst of the pandemic, coupled with a long-standing push out from schools.

Join us on December 1 to learn more on how Black-led movements are leading the fight against the criminalization of Black and Brown youth in educational systems and how funders can get involved.