Looking to a Future of "Basics" for Black and Brown Kids
Anger, Sadness, and Hope In Response to Budget CutsI've had a lot of time to walk around my neighborhood lately. I've noticed lots of construction and renovation around Highbridge Park, Riverbank Park, and across the Highbridge in the Bronx. When I saw all the improvements what hit me was anger and sadness.
I thought about the years, generations even, that have passed before these communities received these resources. I thought about the activists who fought for their communities. And about how it took years of economic expansion and gentrification to finally bring greater investment into these parks. As we face a dire economic depression ahead, my stomach sunk, thinking about how all the resources these communities fought for would soon disappear again.
Now news of education cuts at the state and city level is coming out. I read about these cuts, and my heart aches. Public schools in Harlem, Washington Heights, the South Bronx, and Black and brown communities throughout New York have been under-funded for decades. Protests and court victories haven't changed this fact. As the economy recovered from the 2009 recession, our schools received more investment, but never the amount that was legally and morally mandated.
Governor Cuomo chose billionaires over public schools in 2011, and this year he chose billionaires again. He has refused to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. He has recommitted to cutting funds from Medicaid and public education. That hit is being replicated at the city level.
According to Chalkbeat, Mayor de Blasio is cutting $221 million from the city's public education budget. "The largest cut — $100 million — would come directly out of the city’s “fair student funding” formula, which directly finances school budgets and is meant to funnel more money to high-need schools."
I had hoped that this disaster might wake us up as a society. We cannot continue to live our lives selfishly. We have to find a way to ensure that everyone's needs are met, because there is enough for everyone. Instead, the past years' progress of inching towards equality, are being reversed in an instant.
To reiterate, the fair student funding still wasn't enough. The state and city's funding for schools like mine in Central Harlem got us closer to equality, but not equity. Equity would look like whole scale reparations at the school and community level that ensured adequate jobs, healthcare, and education for the children and families of Harlem, the Bronx, and elsewhere...
The mayor's cuts also ended two other programs. One provided more counseling for middle schoolers and the other, "College Access for All" was supposed to improve college access for historically marginalized students. The mayor was quoted in the same Chalkbeat article as saying, “They’ve both been areas where we’ve fought inequality,” the mayor said of the programs. “Those are on pause because of the kinds of choices we have to make now — we have to stay on the basics.”
"We have to stay on the basics."
What do the basics look like for Black students, indigenous students, and other students of color? Not the same basics as their white counterparts. So when we "stay on the basics," we're removing any hope of equity. Meanwhile, white kids will continue to have more than "the basics." Access to segregated schools and inherited wealth will ensure that college access isn't a concern. Their schools will continue to have enough counselors and extracurricular activities. If they're not funded by the city, their PTAs will take care of it.
I don't know what to do yet with this hope that's dimming, and anger that's growing. In the past, my instincts were to share my anger with those around me, but I didn't take much action beyond that. This time I have to do more. I want to connect with organizations like the Coalition for Educational Justice and Alliance for Quality Education and join their sustained fight for education justice.
I have been working in marginalized and under-funded schools since 2007, but this anger and sadness feel new. This pandemic had brought a flicker of hope that we would reevaluate the inhumane system we're living in. These education cuts seem to signal the opposite. The lack of imagination that has brought us to this point looks like it will continue.
To be honest, I am a little surprised by the depth of my anger and my sadness. But these feelings are real and they are valid. They won't diminish my hope either. Instead I will use them to redouble my hope and dreams for a better world, because we desperately need one.