Become an equity advocate for our kids, starting right here in Asheville
Ameena Batada, ASHEVILLE CITIZEN TIMES GUEST COLUMNIST Published 1:02 p.m. ET May 14, 2018
As a parent, I am constantly learning from and with my children. Sometimes the
opportunity to see myself and the world more clearly in challenging moments is a
gift. At 6:32 AM on a March morning, I had one of those opportunities. As I walked behind our 6th grader into the school, I noticed that he wasn’t wearing “all-black” shoes, which he was supposed to wear for the out-of-town band adjudication. The judges check for this, as well as a tucked band shirt, black pants, and black socks that cover the ankles (at least for boys).
When I called to my son in panic, he assured me there were “extras” in the band room. But, I thought: What if none of them fit? How could we have forgotten this? The band teacher’s going to think we didn’t prepare! So, I followed him. Entering the noisy band room, I studied children’s feet, hoping. It appeared we were the sole -- so to speak -- family that did not get it together.
After sheepishly telling the band teacher about our predicament, I found myself rummaging around in a bin of black dress shoes at the back of the band room. I felt watched and judged, by the parents standing at the front of the room and by the other students. They probably wouldn’t know we forgot the shoes. I hope they don’t think that we can’t afford them, I thought. And then, a child appeared and asked me for a pair of shoes, making some qualifier: he didn’t think his shoes had “enough black”. And then another, who asked me to find him a pair. I gladly helped these children. Though I didn’t know them, I felt solidarity with them.
A few minutes later, when I could say goodbye properly, my son danced a little in his new shoes. I laughed, realizing just how stressed I had been for the previous six minutes. I was relieved it was over! I also felt sadness about how ashamed I felt about having to borrow from the “extras.” After all, I often tell my children to reduce and re-use and to make less waste.
What I learned from this experience is a little more about the biases I hold, and continue to struggle with because I believe they are inconsistent with my overall perspective. I learned that while I understand that economic circumstance is not associated with a personal or moral deficiency or achievement, and that being prepared is about so much more than being organized, within me I carry contradictory assumptions. Are these inconsistencies a failing on my part? No, but not recognizing and working to address the biases may be.
This is where what happened this morning connects with what happened 12 hours prior. Around that moment, I was sitting in an event on “Equity with Excellence” conducted by the Asheville City Schools (ACS) with organizational support by the Asheville City Schools Foundation (ACSF). As family members and invested community members, we were learning about the Integrated Comprehensive Systems (ICS), which is the school system’s framework for promoting racial, economic, and other types of equity in our schools.
ICS is challenging our school system to take a hard look at how – historically and in the present – our school systems have failed our children, particularly students of color. Through workshops similar to the one we participated in yesterday, school system staff are learning about their biases and how those may contribute to their actions in the classroom and school environment, and the impact they can have on academic and other outcomes. The school system is working to shift from a deficit- to an asset-based way of thinking, and is asking families to do the same.
For many, including me at times, ICS may sound like a past failed attempt at leveling the playing field, just in contemporary clothing. I think there is one way, however, that it can be different; and, it has nothing to do with its “cornerstones” or “steps.” It has to do with the people who are involved. If families from groups that have been historically marginalized from the system are part of this process, then there is a chance for breaking the cycle. If families with economic and social privilege recognize what New York Times author Nikole Hannah-Jones advises, that “we cannot say we want equal educational opportunities for all children and then fight to advantage our own,” I believe there also is a chance.
My opinion is that this work has to be done from the grassroots up. We must sit in rooms with other parents and family members, recognize our biases, engage with others, try to understand one another’s perspectives, and compromise sometimes. I am reminded of what Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian visual artist, activist and academic, stated: “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
To this end, on Wednesday May 16 - the same day that we support teachers in their statewide efforts to obtain equitable treatment and resources - the ACSF will hold the last event of its series, Becoming an Equity Advocate, from 5:45 to 8 p.m. at Asheville Middle School. I hope many families that are interested, involved, and/or invested in public education in Asheville will join this community conversation about promoting racial equity in Asheville City Schools.
To assist in planning for food and childcare, please RSVP on the Asheville City Schools Foundation's facebook page.
Ameena Batada, DrPH, is associate professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina Asheville and board member of the Asheville City Schools Foundation.