We have officially entered another era of racial reckoning. It is a time when events bring the country’s lengthy history of slavery and racial oppression to the forefront of its consciousness. Once again we are painfully reminded that Black folks are still trying to undo the damage done from centuries of slavery and the Jim Crow laws. We hope this renewed reckoning will help the majority of Americans understand the health and future of the country suffers because the genius and talents of millions of Americans have been bottled up because of the color of their skin. That talent unleashed would truly make America great.
Carter G. Woodson wrote about the miseducation of the Negro in his landmark book in 1933 and the failure to provide adequate and wholesome education for descendants of slaves. That debate and struggle continues to this day. Black and brown students are once again the pawns of a pitted struggle to determine how best to make public schools safer and more effective learning environments. Activists on one side insist schools cannot be safe without police and competing activists argue the very presence of police in schools is toxic.
There seems to be general consensus that having more social workers, nurses, and other service providers would be useful in addressing the needs of students, particularly students of color who have experienced traumatic incidents. One could understand, given the number of publicly-aired police shootings, why the presence of police in schools might be traumatic for some students.
Tomorrow CRISP, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the American Council of School Social Workers, the School Social Work Association of America, and the School Social Work Network will host a virtual Congressional Briefing in conjunction with the Congressional Social Work Caucus of which Rep. Barbara Lee (C-13) is the chair. The 90-minute Wednesday briefing titled, Bringing the Power of Social Work to Schools, will begin at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time and will feature a panel of educators and practitioners who work in and around schools.
Moderated by yours truly, the panel will include: Pia V. Escudero, executive director of the Student Health and Human Services (SHHS) division in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the United States; Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, a nonprofit organization founded in 1991 for school-based law enforcement officers, school administrators and school security; Dr. Ron Avi Astor, the Marjorie Crump Professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs whose work focuses on bullying and violence in school settings; and Sandra D. Shephard, a member of Maryland’s Prince George’s County Board of Education.
Panelists will examine the merits of the bill, H.R. 7848—Counseling Not Criminalization Act, recently introduced by Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-7) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN-5) in the House of Representatives. A companion bill—S. 4360—was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy. The bills seek to eliminate federal funding for school-based law enforcement and “establish a continuum of care and positive schoolwide systems of services that are evidence-based, inclusive, racially and gender responsive, and trauma informed.” The bill was spurred by the Black Lives Matter-led effort to defund the police of certain responsibilities that many feel can best be done by community-led entities.
Views about defunding police are mixed. According to a recent Pew survey, while just 28 percent of blacks say the police do any excellent or favorable job of protecting them, 55 percent say funding for police should remain the same (33%) or increase (22%). A study of students’ perceptions in New Orleans middle and high schools found that 40 percent of black students (compared to 69% of white students) felt the presence of police made them feel safer. While a minority of the black students, it is a significant number of students who felt having police in schools made them feel safer.
There are schools and communities who want police in their schools, particularly communities dealing with a high incidence of drugs and crime or may be overrun with gangs. All police are not bad. I know a few cops I would want as my neighbors. There are no better angels in communities than good cops. Police do not belong in every school. Schools would be better off if more funding is provided social workers, nurses, and other service providers. But let’s be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.
It is difficult to find the words to describe all of the events and emotions that transpired last week. The week began on Sunday when the nation was once again shocked by the video of 29-year-old Jacob Blake being shot seven times in the back at point-blank range by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Streets continue to be filled with protesters insisting that black lives matter in the wake of the deaths George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rashard Brooks, yet another unarmed black man was gunned down in broad daylight. Enraged NBA players orchestrated a wildcat-strike in the midst of their playoffs while the Republicans showcased their alternate universe with four days of Trump worship, never mentioning Jacob Blake.
As the news of the Blake shooting reverberated throughout the nation, we received word of the tragic death of acclaimed actor Chadwick Boseman who died Friday, August 28—the day major league baseball designated as Jackie Robinson Day. We learned that Boseman had been battling colon cancer for years, getting chemotherapy treatments as he was wowing worldwide audiences with his superhero performance in the movie “Black Panther.” The Howard University alum had accumulated a sterling record of depicting pioneering African Americans, portraying Hall-of-Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson in “42,” the Godfather of Soul James Brown in “Get on Up,” and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall.” He had just completed the filming of August Wilson’s play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Quite a track record for the talented actor who died at the young age of 43 years.
I decided to watch “42” again. As a baseball fanatic, I am quite fond of the movie. Boseman gave a great performance as did Harrison Ford as the quixotic Branch Rickey who conducted a one-man crusade to break baseball’s color line. That whetted my appetite so I watched the Ken Burns two-part biopic on Jackie Robinson for the first time and discovered how little I knew about the man I had admired for decades. I knew Jackie Robinson was a dazzling baseball star, I knew he was vice president of the Chock full o’ Nuts company, and I knew he had endorsed Richard Nixon for president. I did not know of his full involvement in the struggle for black civil and voting rights. I never realized how much he had given to the cause. Did he always get it right? That’s open for debate but it is not because he was not trying.
When I began to unpack the circumstances that led to the Milwaukee Bucks decision not to play their NBA playoff game against the Orlando Magic, I realized there are hundreds of potential Jackie Robinsons on the scene today. Not just in the NBA or NFL, but WNBA players have much to say and contribute. The spotlight has been on the Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James because of his outspokenness on social justice issues. But there are others who have stepped up to let their voices be heard. When the Bucks took the risk of breaking the no-strike clause in the players association agreement, they were soon followed by the rest of the NBA teams, the WNBA players called off their games, three major league baseball teams decided not to play, and five major league soccer games did not play. Former player and NBA analyst Chris Webber offered a particularly powerful statement.
Revisiting the struggles of the 1960s reminds me that we have made some progress but not nearly enough and not soon enough. When Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1980, I was prepared for the conservative backlash against the progress blacks had made post-World War II. I did not think it would last this long. I have been waiting for the pendulum to swing back. Still waiting. Jackie Robinson could never celebrate his success because he was aware opportunities for blacks were limited and while more African Americans are climbing the ladders of success today, too many ladders have no rungs when you reach a certain height.
This week began with the sad news of the passing of the legendary former Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson, a very special human being who inspired many to achieve their full potential. Must give him due respect. The highlight of the week was the compelling speech by Jacob Blake’s mother Julia Jackson who prayed for the healing of the nation. She said God did not make one type of tree or flower, nor favored one type of human being. She offered prayers for the police and their families and told us we all need to get our acts together. Amen.