Jackie Stewart sits outside the principal’s office at her daughter Mariah’s school for the fourth time since school began on August 27. It is only the end of September. A look of annoyance crosses her face as she expresses concern for her child.
“This is ridiculous, Mariah is not a troublemaker. I have never been called to her school in years past for a behavior issue. The only calls I ever got were praising her brilliance. Mariah is an impeccable student, intelligent, active in extracurriculars, I don’t know what is going on this year.” She shakes her head and says to no one in particular. “Let me change that, I know what is going on this year. It’s that teacher. She’s the only one Mariah is having a problem with and the one behind all these suspensions.”
Stewart is speaking about the challenges Mariah has been having in history, a subject she once loved and even considered studying in college. Until this year. This year, her first in high school, Mariah has been dissatisfied with the approach her history teacher has taken to explaining events in Black history.
So far, Mariah has been suspended three times for what the school defined as “disobedient and disruptive behavior.” When asked specifics about Mariah’s actions, Stewart—a history professor at a local college—calmly states, “she challenged her teacher on the tenets of white supremacy.”
Not militant, by her own admission, Stewart, as a scholar of history— specifically African-American history and culture—has spent her entire career and efforts as a parent teaching the past in context. She believes that much of what is deemed as problematic when it comes to educating Black and brown children lies in how negatively their experience is presented to them.
“Our past, as presented, is shrouded in pain,” she says. “They never discuss our triumphs as the the catalyst for change. We are only told that our people are motivated by tragedy and that is just incorrect. Our children are often taught through this distorted lens of history that bends to the myth of complacency among the oppressed. I wanted Mariah to know different, to know the truth of who she was and where she came from. I wanted Mariah to know herself. She does and she is not afraid to speak her truth. For many, particularly white female teachers, that is a scary thing —- a Black woman who knows herself.”
What Mariah challenged was very easily fact-checked in a number of sources. Her teacher allegedly proclaimed Dr. Martin Luther King initiated the modern civil rights movement. Mariah fervently disagreed and informed her teacher and her classmates what she had learned from reading countless books in her home on the subject, that the movement was organic and born out of many catalytic events leading to a groundswell of grassroots activism. Her teacher, Stewart says, like the majority of teachers of Black and brown children was a white, Ivy-league educated female who not only was unappreciative of such a public challenge, she was “unprepared for it.” Mariah was instructed that if she took issue with the lesson as it was being taught should reserve her concern for after class.
Mariah did not not back down.
She openly countered that suggestion by telling her teacher, “but you are giving us misinformation as fact.” This was the statement that got Mariah sent to the principal’s office and suspended for the first time. School had only been in session for a week.
Two similar incidents followed. One was about her teacher refusing to refer to what happened to Native Americans as genocide and challenging the notion that the only remaining Native Americans in the United States were on reservations, a fact Mariah knew to be both untrue and prejudicial. The other was in regard to a discussion on women’s suffrage where Mariah emphatically disagreed that when women were granted the right to vote it included Black women and that the the Voting Rights Acts, which came 45 years later, was made possible by white women and not the deaths of Black children.
The elder Stewart stressed how these virulent exchanges would impact Mariah’s academic future.
“I was warned that one more suspension and Mariah would be removed from that class and put into one where the teacher was better equipped to manage students with behavior issues,” she says. “Mariah doesn’t have behavior issues, she just knows better. They have issues with a Black child who knows more than they do. They don’t know how to teach her so they just try to get rid of her, get rid of the problem.”
Stewart is right.
While most of our attention as a community is focused on the predicament of Black boys in public schools and the “school-to-prison pipeline,” little focus is given to Black girls. While Black women are leading all groups in college enrollment, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, African-American girls are six times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts for minor infractions such as “disobedient and disruptive behavior,” like Mariah was. This is in direct contrast to Black boys who are who are at least three times more likely to be suspended for these minor infractions than white boys for the same behavior. Such policies designated “zero tolerance” punish children of color severely and criminalize them unnecessarily, setting up this current cycle of pushing children out of school and into the criminal justice system.
For the most part, research has looked specifically at the effect of the school-to-prison pipeline on Black and Latino boys. To remedy the effect of such occurrences, programs like My Brothers Keeper, the various Black Male Engagement programs funded by the Knight Foundation and others find ways in which to demonstrate the assets Black men bring to society and foster nurturing environments through which they can find brotherhood and encouragement to overcome great obstacles. As a whole, these large umbrella programs do not exist for Black girls, yet. There is a slight indication that they may, however, in the very near future.
In his address to the Congressional Black Caucus on September 19, President Obama acknowledged the achievements and determination of Black women like his wife and daughters.
“I want them to know how much we appreciate them, how much we admire them, how much we love them,” he said.
President Obama also acknowledged the lack of policies aimed directly at improving life outcomes for Black women. He declared a need for greater focus on raising the minimum wage to help Black women, who are more likely to be relegated to low-wage jobs, to reduce health disparities, incarceration rates for Black women, and ending what he called the “sinister sexual abuse to prison pipeline.”
President Obama’s desire to close this gap is admirable but comes at a time where his influence will be duly limited. African-American women voted for President Obama at a rate of 70 percent according to theWashington Post. With less than 15 months left in his presidency, some women, like Jackie Stewart and her daughter Mariah, wonder if it is too little too late.
“I am sure his heart is in the right place, but where was the support for girls like Mariah when he pushedMy Brother’s Keeper through?” she asks. “Where was My Sister’s Keeper? Who is looking out for Black girls because they are struggling, too.”
*Jackie and Mariah Stewart’s names have been changed to protect their identity
Afro combs were very popular in the 70’s in America among Black youth who protested against repression. They represented both cultural and religious beliefs despite the fact that it was quite fashionable. The artist Fred Martins chose an orange color for showing association with prison. Five African leaders were chosen for their struggle for freedom, social justice, and fairness.
Fred Martins previous collection of art was dedicated to the serious issue of climate change. He is an artist who tries to draw attention to crucial problems of the humanity.
1. “I imagine you already know that I am much more
socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic… [Capitalism] started out
with a noble and high motive… but like most human systems it fell victim to the
very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its
usefulness.” – Letter to Coretta Scott, July 18, 1952.
3. “We must recognize that we can’t solve our
problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political
power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that
the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied
together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others…
the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical
nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.”- Report to SCLC Staff, May
5. “I am now convinced that the simplest approach
will prove to be the most effective – the solution to poverty is to abolish it
directly by a now widely discussed matter: the guaranteed income… The curse of
poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as
the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each
other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume
the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize
ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.” –Where do
We Go from Here? 1967.
6. “[W]e are saying that something is wrong … with
capitalism…. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must
move toward a democratic socialism.” – Speech to his staff, 1966.
7. “If America does not use her vast resources of
wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have
the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.” Speech at Bishop
Charles Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ in support of the Memphis
sanitation workers’ strike on March 18th, 1968, two weeks before he was
8. “I have always been deeply interested in and
sympathetic with the total work of the Planned Parenthood Federation” -1960
9. “Our nation was born in genocide when it
embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior
race.” Why We Can’t Wait
10. “But it is not enough for me to stand
before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me
to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable
conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that
cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in
violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the
language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…It has
failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And
it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned
about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” -The
Other America, 1968
11. “Again we have deluded ourselves into believing
the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard
word and sacrifice. The fact is that Capitalism was built on the exploitation
and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of
the poor – both black and white, both here and abroad.” -The Three Evils of
12. “A nation that continues year after year to
spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is
approaching spiritual death.” Beyond Vietnam, 1967
13. “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not
putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial
ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people
of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial
investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro
neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many
white Americans…These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between
the races. Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about
brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a
credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance
the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far
enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.” Where
Do We Go From Here? 1967
14. “First, I must confess that over the past
few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate.I have
almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling
block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the
Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to
"order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the
absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who
constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot
agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes
he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical
concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more
convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more
frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm
acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.“ Letter From
Birmingham Jail, 1967
this day in 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old black seamstress from
Alabama, refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man. A member
of the NAACP, Parks was returning home from a long day at work when the
bus driver ordered her to give up her seat on the full bus for a white
man. No stranger to civil rights activism, she was
subsequently arrested for civil disobedience in defying the state’s Jim
Crow racial segregation laws. Through this act of
defiance, Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, during which time
African-Americans - under the leadership of a young, charismatic
reverend called Martin Luther King Jr. - refused to use the city buses,
arguing that they should be integrated per the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The boycott was successful in forcing Montgomery to end its
discriminatory segregation laws, and marked the beginning of the main
phase of what is now known as the Civil Rights Movement. From
Montgomery, African-Americans across the United States went on to lead
sit-ins, freedom rides, and political marches, in an attempt to bring an
end to segregation laws which had oppressed their community for so
long. These activists were all indebted to Rosa Parks - known as the
‘mother of the Civil Rights Movement’ - for her simple act of defiance,
firmly asserting her humanity and her rights as an American citizen. As
the movement grew, Parks remained an influential symbol and leader of
the movement, which ultimately brought an end to legal segregation and
forced Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights
Acts. As for Parks herself, the affair of her arrest and the subsequent
boycott caused her to lose her job and made her a victim of harassment
and threats. She moved to Detriot and in 1965 began to work in the
office of Congressman John Conyers. In 1999, Rosa Parks was awarded the
Congressional Gold Medal for her role in transforming American race
relations, and upon her death in 2005 she lay in state at the U.S.
Capitol. Today, 60 years on, we remember Rosa Parks’s personal bravery, the successes of the movement she inspired, and the steps yet to be taken as the struggle against systemic racism continues.
“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I
was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more
tired than I usually was at the end of a working day…No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in”
Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at a rally in Cleveland, Ohio on July 28, 1967
Never be ashamed of the body you been blessed with.
You can be African in the office, at the club, on the streets, at the farm, at school etc.. Black is beautiful therefore you have no reason to be ashamed of who you are. #Love it!