November 19, 2019

Talking Education Justice: A Recap of 8 Black Hands Live

By Daniel Sellers

Can integration, academic excellence, and parent choice coexist? Where do they fit in the fight for education justice? Chris Stewart, Ray Ankrum, Sharif El-Mekki, and Charles Cole III closed out a cool November weekend with a heated discussion of just these issues in a live taping of their 8 Black Hands podcast—temporarily renaming themselves the 10 Black Hands after inviting civil rights attorney and community activist Nekima Levy Armstrong to join them. On November 3, 130 attendees came to Mayflower Church to hear the podcast and the panel of local voices that came beforehand.

The discussion was as challenging and insightful as it was irreverent and full of laughter, looping in stats on how Minnesota schools are failing students of color and indigenous students and emphasizing in no uncertain terms why their families deserve schools where they feel safe, valued, and academically successful.

Prior to the live podcast, we premiered a new video that explores similar issues and highlights local voices. “Do MN Students of Color Receive our Best?,” directed by Minnesota filmmaker D.A. Bullock, can be found on the new RealChoiceRealVoice.org website.

We also heard from a panel who provided local context and background to help ground the evening’s conversation—featuring Dr. Charvez Russell, Executive Director of Friendship Academy of the Arts in south Minneapolis, Bridget Gernander and David Weingartner representing Integrated Schools—Minneapolis, and Nekima Levy Armstrong, who represents a group of charter schools in the Cruz-Guzman lawsuit.

I hope that you’ll check out the podcast (and subscribe to hear more from the 8 Black Hands podcast). In the meantime, here a just a few of my favorite quotes:

Sharif El-Mekki: Usually, people are saying, “you know what, [we] just need more money, and then we could educate black kids. We just need more money.” But, the constricted mindset about black kids is what the starting point [should be]. Because, when we talk about integration, for example, I can point to many, many schools that have black children, and they’re in the basement, both literally and figuratively, in the so-called integrated schools, because the mindset is still constricted … Let me tell you, a three-year-old, a four-year-old that gets told over and over and over again; you don’t belong in this school. And then, when they get to high school, you’re wondering, “Why are you so hostile?” They’ve got a right to be hostile. They’ve been persecuted since they were three.

Chris Stewart: I’m hearing whispers of a charter moratorium in Minnesota, right? I literally don’t understand how that makes any sense to anybody that you would cut off any avenue to any learning for any person in the state and feel good about yourself. So, how are you going to tell somebody after 400 years of genocide and enslavement that we don’t have a right to educate our children how we see fit? Excuse me. It’s the one right that we should have, and no-one should ever challenge.

Charles Cole III: You’ve got to allow and afford black and brown people the same level of agency that you want for yourself and your family.

Chris Stewart: We don’t have the fundamental belief that our kids can pass the [state] tests … We say that we do, but we don’t really believe it. So, we invent all kinds of fancy ways of getting around it. [We say] it’s the poverty, it’s the parents, it’s the programs, it’s “the lack, the lack, the lack” (the deficits), we awfulize the kids to death. [We say] all their parents are in traumatic situations. But the more that we talk, the more that you understand that when you get to the end of that, what you have just said is you don’t really believe that the kids can learn. And until we get over that part, there is no future for Minnesota, and there’s no future of educating kids of color in Minnesota.

Nekima Levy Armstrong: Stand up, speak up, FIGHT the power, and don’t give up.

For pictures of the event, check here.