Black History Month: Paying Tribute as we Pay it Forward

By: Timike Jones

In February, Black History Month is celebrated all over the United States, honoring the contributions, sacrifices, and impacts that men and women of African descent have made in this country and all over the world.  We affectionately remember inventors, political leaders, entrepreneurs, artist and a host of “firsts”. The “firsts” we celebrate range from the first freed, land-owning,  African-American woman in 1670, Zipporah Potter Atkins, to 2019 when Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler became the first African-American women to win Academy Awards for Costume Design and Production for the movie Black Panther.

In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education’s unanimous decision declared that separating schools by race as unconstitutional. The integration of schools “with all deliberate speed” [1]  was met with staunch opposition.  In the years to follow, many black and brown youth became the “firsts” in classrooms that were previously occupied by only white students.  One of the most notable transitions occurred in Little Rock, Arkansas.    In 1957, the Little Rock Nine, (Melba Pattillo, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Minnijean Brown, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Jefferson Thomas, Gloria Ray, and Thelma Mothershed) enrolled in Central High School, a formerly all-White school and were met with an infamous standoff.

The nine stood against a mob of angry Whites, shouting, throwing stones, and threatening to kill them. The Arkansas National Guard, consisting of 270 soldiers, sanctioned by the state’s Governor, blocked the school’s entrance in defiance of school segregation[2].  Only after national attention and 18 days of negotiations between President Dwight Eisenhower and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, were the students allowed to enter the school building.   Still, the students were sent home before entering the school after violent White protestors attacked reporters and Black bystanders.  Two days later, escorted and protected by United States Soldiers the students started their first day of class.  Eight of the nine endured that school year stained with verbal and physical attacks after Minnijean Brown was expelled after fighting back.  Ernest Green became the first African American to graduate from Central High school that spring.

During Black History Month, and always, salute the bravery and sacrifice of the Little Rock Nine and the so many others who were met with adversity in simple attempts to coexist.  History is also important for us to learn not to make the mistakes of the past.  The year following the events of Central High School, Governor Faubus, in direct opposition of the desegregation of schools, closed all of the schools in Little Rock and instituted “school choice” programs, which allowed for state dollars to be used to subsidized White student’s attendance in private segregated academies. These institutions were not covered by the supreme court’s ruling. Central High school did not reopen in 1960[3]  Other districts in the south followed Little Rock’s example, taking resources out of the newly integrated schools permanently.

This trend continues today, under the guise of more choices for all students.  In actuality, poor students, whose parents are unable to provide transportation, for example, are still consistently receiving an unequal education and educational opportunities.  Let’s recognize that the race for equality for the children of America is not over, the torch has been passed us.  The sacrifices of the Little Rock Nine, Ruby Bridges (she, at six, was the first African American child to integrate a White Southern elementary school in 1960[4]) and so many more would be in vain if we didn’t recognize the need to continue to work towards equality.

Today, schools that the most disadvantaged black children attend are segregated because they are located in segregated communities, much of which is the consequence of gentrification, redlining, and housing discrimination practices. The school’s resources are leveraged from the social-economic status of its residents.  Forty percent of black youth attend schools that have more than ninety percent of minority youth population[5]. According to the 2014 U. S. Census Bureau ACS study, 38% of African-American children live in poverty[6].

Fewer resources, accompanied with the well documented predictors of low student achievement such as, greater absenteeism- a consequence of less access to routine and preventive health care; inadequate housing- which is not only conducive to studying but also leads to  constant moving of schools- lead to increased remediation rates, decreased high-ability student mobility opportunities, and environments where students are exposed to more violence and crime[7].  Frustrated, over-worked and underpaid educators, ill-equipped to deal with students who are not prepared to learn in the classroom resort to increase suspension and expulsion rates, impacting the pipeline to prison epidemic. In 1954, it was determined that schools that are separated by demographics are inherently unequal.  This fact is still true.

ICADV has with intentionality, curiosity and humility made efforts to better understand the extent of how systemic and structural racism and oppression has affected the African-American community. We know that providing safe, stable and nurturing environments for youth creates conditions that leave no place for violence.   Research shows that safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments support optimal child development, have the potential to reduce child abuse and other forms of violence, foster resilience among youth who have experienced trauma, and prevent substance abuse behaviors in adolescence[8].

ICADV is a community partner with the Indiana Disproportionality Committee (IDC).  IDC works to ensure that children of all races and ethnicities are equitably served by Indiana’s child welfare, health, mental health education and juvenile justice and education systems.  ICADV Prevention Team is actively involved with supporting the mission of IDC.  Being denied proper health care, competent mental health treatment, reasonable educational opportunities, fundamental family connections, and impartial justice are the polar opposites of providing safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments; which are needed for youth to thrive.

Additional areas of action include:

  • ICESA’s Honoring, Building and Sustaining Black Resilience: Structural Violence, Sexual Violence, and the Black Community in Indiana
  • The Indiana Minority Health Coalition (IMHC) in partnership with Side Effects Media and the Indianapolis Recorder two-part series “Happier Birth Days: Improving the Health Outcomes for Indiana’s Black Moms and Babies
  • Anti-Racism training opportunities for our staff, many of which are offered for free to our member programs
  • Participates on the Commission on Improving the status of Children in Indiana’s Equity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency Committee;
  • Address the inequities of structural racism as an integral part of our Primary Prevention work.

Let Black history month not only be a time to pay homage to the past but more importantly, let it be a reminder of the various and many ways that barriers have been created to circumvent the momentous battles that have already been fought.  Remember that, today we can put our gifts, talents, ideas, resources towards conquering the ever-present war of oppression that stops this nation from achieving its unfulfilled potential.

 

[1]  (2004) Teaching Tolerance. Brown v Board: Timeline of School Integration in the U.S. https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/spring-2004/brown-v-board-timeline-of-school-integration-in-the-us

[2] (2018) History. Little Rock Nine. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/central-high-school-integration

[3] 2019) Jaynes, Gerald D. Little Rock Nine, American Activist. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Little-Rock-Nine

[4] (2019) History. Ruby Bridges Biography. https://www.biography.com/people/ruby-bridges-475426

[5] (2014) Rothstein, R. Modern Segregation. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/modern-segregation/

[6] (2014) Black Demographics. Poverty in Black America. http://blackdemographics.com/households/poverty/

[7] Rothstein, R. Modern Segregation. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/modern-segregation/

[8] (2018) ICADV ICADV Prevention Kits: Safe, Stable, Nurturing Relationships & Environments. https://www.icadvinc.org/icadv-prevention-kits-safe-stable-nurturing-relationships-environments/

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