Why Normandy Needs Ferguson

Posted by: Gordon on 5/18/2015

Brittini in Jefferson City with Bullhorn

Metropolitan Congregations United of St. Louis community organizer Brittini Gray (standing, with bullhorn) coordinated die-ins and other protests at the Missouri state capital this spring to advocate on a range of  issues. Her recent op-ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reprinted below. 

If we had been a region that cared about the education of Mike Brown as much as we cared about his death, Normandy schools would be a vibrant community center with wrap-around services for every child. Instead, in the year prior to his death, the Normandy school district was declared unaccredited and taken over by the state. Students transferred to districts all over the region in hopes of a better education. No aid was available and no one cried out.

We organized bus trips to Jefferson City and met legislators and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials. We called for Gov. Jay Nixon to veto the transfer bill that was passed by the legislators. He heard us, but at the end of the day the Legislature’s inaction and false starts provided little help for the district. Normandy today continues to deal with a stream of transfers, an outflow of their budget dollars and fewer options as other districts opt out of accepting more children from the crumbling district. The small help that DESE and the Legislature provided (firing experienced staff, hiring inexperienced staff, teaching assistants are fired, and the involvement of credible nonprofits like Beyond Housing is scuttled) has hastened the downfall detailed in these pages.

In the midst of worsening conditions in the Normandy district, Mike Brown managed to graduate. Then, Brown is killed in the street, and there is not only an outcry, but a rupture! Youth and adults flood to the street, protesting the inhumane treatment of black people by a system meant to protect. But no one takes to the street at the mental slaughter of our children, only the physical one.

Our children are minimally educated inadequately with inexperienced teachers, with huge disparities in resources compared to more affluent districts, and with changing administration that fails to take responsibility at all levels. What’s worse is there has been an entire generation of Normandy students educated in a piss-poor district that has had 20 years of academically poor performance. So then it’s no mystery as to why and how the people in the district show up, but are so oppressed and beat down, they don’t want to act.

Nevertheless, due to the unceasing efforts of a few parents and youth, Metropolitan Congregations United and Beyond Housing, 200 people show up for a public meeting. But only 10 of them go to Jefferson City. Sixty of them sign up for leadership development and organizing training; five of them actually come to the training. Movements are about people showing up for other people as well as themselves. Normandy needed Ferguson to see them; Normandy needs all of us to see them, and show up for them. We have to stop the cycle of despair and correct unjust education systems that are not helping Normandy’s children.

And now, a transfer law is passed, opening up the opportunity for charter expansion, but no one seems to care. The state has never been able to educate black children, which is why transfers are not the answer. They know it, which is why no one wants to take responsibility for the problem. In the days after the Post-Dispatch released its story about the condition of Normandy, everyone wrote in and had something to say. The superintendent was appalled. DESE was disturbed. The state board was feeling amiss. Yet each and every one of them through their actions or their inactions has contributed to Normandy’s distress. They are responsible for ensuring quality education for our children. We ought to care and cry out, because both virtual education and charter expansions are really just privatization efforts, sending the message that black people are for sale even in the classroom.

In this country, black people have remained for sale even after slavery, that is if we aren’t lynched in the streets by police. If we survive the attempts at genocide, we are sold on the auction block of the prison industrial complex. If we haven’t made it that far yet, we are sold on the auction block of charter school takeovers in largely black school districts. Between both, we are set up to be suspended and/or expelled at rates that ought to make you cringe, so jail doesn’t seem as bad when we get there. Black people have never ceased to be seen as economically commodity for this country. In reality, we are more valuable educated, un-incarcerated, and given real opportunities for success, but society would rather not deal with us at all, so it continues to find ways to sell us off.

We cannot continue to cry for the lost bodies in the street, but not the lost bodies in the schools. We cannot continue to let our hearts break at injustice abroad, but not care for the injustice of education flawed. We cannot continue to weep and moan selectively, when our efforts need to be intersectional and holistic. We need each other, and must show up. If black lives matter, they need to matter in the classroom as much as they matter on the street.

Reprinted from St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 14 edition 

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