Advancing Racial Justice in 2015: A Weekend of Movement Building in New Orleans
(Original article: Schott Foundation for Public Education, Oct. 6, 2015)
Under a beautiful October sky on the edge of the French Quarter, 700 people from around the country converged on New Orleans (Oct. 2-4, 2015). Students, parents, teachers, community activists, labor organizers, policy experts, and advocates of a multitude of issues came together for a weekend of education, collaboration, and engagement.
Organized by the Schott Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers, with more than a dozen co-sponsoring local and national organizations, our key theme was community and labor organizing together for racial justice. Too often our work is siloed by issue area, which can hurt social movements more than help. Thus, panels and workshops were designed to foster convergence and overlap in the following movements: education justice, economic justice (especially the Fight for $15), immigration rights, and the Movement for Black Lives. Schott made grants to partner organizations to support more than 100 community advocates’ travel and attendance.
Schott Sponsors an Education Town Hall
The very first event was an Education Town Hall on the Future of New Orleans Public Education on October 1st at Christian Unity Baptist Church. Schott provided a grant to the New Orleans Equity Education Roundtable who worked with a number of New Orleans community groups to organize a dinner, panel discussion, and film screening to discuss the problems facing public education in New Orleans since Katrina and prospects for the future.
The Town Hall provided an opportunity to see and hear first hand the experiences of those most impacted by the inequitable education reforms in New Orleans and the result of the dismantling of public education, especially in communities of color. Dr. John H. Jackson, Schott President and CEO, acknowledged the pain of experiences by students, teachers, and community members and encouraged them to turn their pain into a plan to impact inequitable policies and systems in the local education system.
Preceding the Town Hall was a bus tour conducted by Karran Harper Royal that showed the disparities in rebuilding education facilities after Katrina and the impact on communities.
Push Back on Pushout: Building Skills & Strategies to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline
On October 2nd, Schott sponsored a training with Advancement Project, Alliance for Educational Justice, and the Dignity in Schools Campaign. Close to 200 advocates spent the day in plenary and breakout sessions covering the entire gamut of the school discipline issues, describing not only the problems we face, but more importantly outlining and discussing the kinds of organizing and policy reforms needed to solve those problems and shut the pipeline down for good. The training culminated in a direct action with hundreds of advocates marching downtown New Orleans for economic justice — Fight for $15!
The conclusion of the day of training was also the opening action of the full conference: a march and rally organized by Fight for $15.
Friday, October 2: Opening Plenary: Seizing the Movement to Advance the Struggle for Racial Justice
Friday’s opening plenary was opened by AFT’s Ruby Newbold and Lorretta Johnson. Zakiyah Ansari of the Alliance for Quality Education moderated the plenary, with talks given by AFT President Randi Weingarten, Wisconsin Jobs Now’s Jennifer Epps-Addison, United We Dream’s Julieta Garibay, Tennessee activist Ash-Lee Henderson, and Journey For Justice Executive Director Jitu Brown.
Saturday, October 3: Ten Years After Katrina: The NOLA Struggle
This plenary highlighted the work of dedicated local organizers fighting for a better New Orleans. Dr. Cirecie West-Olatunji of Xavier University presented an opening overview. The panel, moderated by Dr. Ted Quant, included Rethink New Orleans’ Whitney Alexis, New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice’s Daniel Castellanos, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children’s Ernest Johnson, Black Youth Project 100’s Latoya Lewis, Congress of Day Laborers’ Fernando Lewis, and NOLA Village’s Cristiane Rosales-Fajardo.
Real Talk: What Must Our Movement Do to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline?
Labor, youth, and community advocates took the stage for an in-depth look at the state of school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline. The moderator, panelists, and the audience all asked tough questions of each other about what each constituency — teachers, students, parents, and community — can and should do. The Advancement Project’s Co-Director Judith Browne-Dianis moderated the panel, which included Urban Youth Collaborative’s Kesi Foster, Rob McGowan from CADRE and Dignity in Schools Coalition, Power U’s Annie Thomas, and AFT President Randi Weingarten.
Saturday night featured dinner at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center and a powerful, moving talk given by Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin.
Sunday, October 4: A Convergence of Struggles: Why We Must Unite!
Schott Foundation President & CEO Dr. John Jackson and National Immigration Law Center Executive Director Marielena Hincapié began Sunday with an emphasis on how our movements do — and should — overlap. Dr. Jackson also presented for the first time on our newest initiative for Healthy Living and Learning Communities: a effort to both take a holistic view of the school as situated in a larger community, and a hard look at the metrics that both reflect and can impact success.
Action Circles Report Back and Roll Call of Victories
Conference attendees broke into separate groups to discuss points of unity and a common action plan for each of the four issue areas. They then congregated back to the main hall and announced them to everyone. We followed up with a “roll call” from the audience, giving people a chance to highlight and celebrate victories occurring in their cities and communities.
Search #Justice2015 for more conversation on the Summit and stay tuned for videos and photos from this historic event.
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