Oregon schools are not narrowing the achievement gap between black and white students—a chronic problem reflected in disproportionate school attendance, student outcomes, and graduation rates, according to a report commissioned by KairosPDX.
Conducted nine years after a similar analysis, the report starkly detailed the system’s persistent struggles to improve in a range of areas, such as recruiting black teachers. Oregon’s 28,500 black students represent five percent of the state’s school population, compared to only 179 black teachers–representing fewer than one percent of teachers.
“Supporting Black Student Success” was the call to action for over 200 educators and community members at a May 24 meeting co-sponsored by KairosPDX, a North Portland charter school serving a large black population, and Chalkboard Project.
The rousing keynote address from respected educator and author Joy DeGruy provided historical perspective on the traumatic effects of racism in the country and in Portland.
DeGruy provided insights on the systemic issues that have fueled the student achievement gap. From slavery and segregation to modern-day police brutality and “serial forced displacement” through gentrification, families and entire neighborhoods have been destabilized and dehumanized. In order for the black community to move forward, social connections and relationships must be strengthened and nurtured.
“The foundation of civilization is family,” DeGruy said. Policy must emphasize “how central the stability of family is to education, as well as mental and physical health.”
The session included a thought-provoking discussion which included leaders in education and philanthropy as well as a high school student.
Panelists State Rep. Janelle Bynum stressed that issues facing black students must become a legislative priority. She said, “My hope is people wake up— not just black people, but all of Oregon— and make sure we deliver on the promises we’re making to children.”
Oregon’s philanthropic organizations also have a strategic role to play in supporting schools to meet the needs of students, said Max Williams. “The current model of pouring money into the top of the funnel is somehow going fix things…isn’t going to work,” he said. “It’s going to take targeted resources to make a difference.”
Change is possible if we believe in students and commit to their success, said Joe McFerrin.“Everyone has to believe that all [black students] can be successful, period,” he said. “All kids have to have at least one very strong connection in school with an adult they can talk to about anything and everything when they’re facing challenges.”
The most powerful moment of the day, however, came when Ebado Abdi, a senior at West View High School, shared her personal experience about educators who have discouraged her academic aspirations.
“In the past 12 years, I have yet to see ‘black student success’ in action,” Abdi said. “I have very, very big dreams, and a lot of times the teachers and adults put in place to help me succeed are the ones who derail me from achieving my true potential.”
Zalika Gardner, Education Director at KairosPDX, spoke directly to Abdi, saying that such mistreatment was “not ok” and that she believed in the young woman’s potential. “Your light radiates,” Gardner told the college-bound young woman as both teared up. “This room sees you, take every single one of us as your personal affirmation…I got you. I admire you. You go.”
At the event’s close, participants were asked to sum up the day in a single word. They shared some common ideas: energized, connected, hopeful, humbled, empowered.
“It’s not just about how you’ve been impacted by today’s event, but how that impact is going to manifest itself in action,” KairosPDX Executive Director Kali Ladd told the audience. “We have the future of black children in Oregon that we need to impact in positive ways, and all of you are capable of being part of the solution.”
Whitney Grubbs, executive director of Chalkboard, hopes to forge more such partnerships with community groups. “This kind of event really represents how I want Chalkboard to be and show up in the community,” she said. “What’s important is that we come together on days like this.”
- Student Success
- Professional Learning
- Quality Educators