“Ferguson. New York. These are the incidents you hear about, but they are happening everywhere,” Ann Mitchell of AFT’s task force on racial justice said at the forum.
“We can’t be on the sidelines, waiting for somebody else to deal with these issues,” Mitchell added. “These are the kids we teach.”
“The stories of our brothers and sisters at this forum only emphasize the need to begin this journey,” said AFT Connecticut Vice-President and PSRP Council Chair Shellye Davis (pictured above with members of the Hartford Rising! coalition). “I applaud the PPC for beginning conversations that will lead to solutions that we can be a part of,” Davis added.
National PSRP Chair Ruby Newbold, who also chairs AFT’s civil rights committee, described how, as the mother of an African-American teenager, she once saw her son accosted, spread-eagled and patted down by Detroit police for no reason, right after she had dropped him off for football practice. She later asked a friend – a white police officer – why this had happened. He told her that police had the right to stop anyone who looked “suspicious.”
“It will be difficult for us to have this courageous conversation,” said Newbold, who also serves as president of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees. “Let’s have it.”
Several PPC members echoed Newbold’s experience, including Margie Brumfield, president of the Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals, whose son was pulled over because he had a nice car. He complied with police, she said, and now is a police officer himself. Brumfield was adamant that AFT members not blame law enforcement as a whole for the actions of individual cops.
“It’s individual people who are perpetuating racism,” Brumfield said.
Other members of the PSRP’s PPC shared their own viewpoint.
AFT Vice President David Gray said the only time he isn’t dealing with institutional racism is when he’s asleep. Vowing to “fight like hell” for a sustained focus on the issue, the president of the Oklahoma City Federation of Classified Employees said he is deeply concerned about the lingering achievement gap between black and white students.
Carimenia Felecia Hampshire of the Clay County Education Support Personnel Association in Florida said she doesn’t know how you’d persuade people to let go of their biases, but she wants to try.
Donna Jackson of the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals, among other PPC members, advocated talking about racial justice in church and civic groups.
Gregory Jackson, PSRP chair for the United Teachers of New Orleans, shared how local union members and other donors to run the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club, a group of boys at Bethune Elementary School. The Club organizes talks with black male role models and cultural field trips, all aimed at helping the students excel in school.
The work of the AFT’s task force on racial justice springs from resolutions delegates passed at the 2014 convention, calling for our union to raise awareness about resegregation and to address inequality.
for the Resolution Against School Destabilization and Segregation Actions
for the Resolution in Honor of the 60th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board Supreme Court Ruling
for the Resolution to Create Economic Opportunity for all and Reclaiming the Promise of America
Similar conversations will be held over the next few months, with AFT leaders and members and with other interested individuals and organizations. The task force hopes to provide a report with specific recommendations to the AFT executive council by early fall.
“Yes this is a uphill battle but we must, without wavering, stand together to eliminate racial injustices from our schools, communities and society as a whole,” said Davis, who also serves as president of the Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals. “We need to be part of the change.”
Davis and her colleagues have for more than a year supported the efforts of Hartford Rising!, a grassroots coalition of individuals, community organizations, and civic leaders dedicated to social, economic and racial justice. Along with members of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, they recently helped the coalition successfully advocate for city council passage of a “community bill of rights” that addresses racial disparities and inequities.
to learn more about the Hartford Rising! coalition.