Actions for White Education Co-Conspirators - Digital Promise

Actions for White Education Co-Conspirators

Photo of teachers sitting in desks in a circle looking at one another and speaking

July 6, 2020 | By

“The Underground Railroad is considered by many to be the first great freedom movement in the Americas and the first time that people of different races and faiths worked together in harmony for freedom and justice.” 

Dr. Bryan Walls, Freedom Marker Essays

In my recent op-ed, “Black Educators Need White Co-Conspirators to Combat Racism in Schools and Empower Our Students to Succeed,” I propose that a path to systematically address education institutional racism is for white education “co-conspirators” to yield to and support Black and Brown leaders in leading the work.

To date, hundreds of white education leaders have answered the co-conspirator call to action—funders, school board members, policymakers, non- and for-profit leaders, superintendents, and educators. 

The Underground Railroad provides the inspiration for the concept of co-conspirators. Harriet Tubman and the Black “conductors” knew the land, the strategies, the routes, and the signals to lead Black people to freedom. Along the path, white co-conspirators followed their lead by protecting, financing, and supporting them—in deference to the ingenuity, skills, and talents of the conductors in providing Blacks safe passage to the north.

To be a co-conspirator, you must continually be brave, not safe. The paradigm shift from racist to culturally affirming systems requires that you center the perspectives of leaders and teachers of color and support their efforts to achieve bold outcomes for Black and Brown students.

To do this work, white education leaders will need to take Purposeful Actions that demonstrate a commitment to anti-racism. The actions may create discomfort but are critical in uprooting the structures, policies, and practices that define racist education institutions.

Examples of Purposeful Actions:

  • SPEAK: Speak boldly and consistently in defense and support of Black and Brown leaders, teachers, and students, especially among people of power and privilege. If you are silent, you are complicit.
  • AMPLIFY: Success stories should be told by Black and Brown leaders, teachers, and students who have benefitted from your actions. Amplify their stories. Do not center your anti-racist actions.
  • RECOGNIZE: Acknowledge you do not have the lived experience or expertise to create diverse, culturally affirming academic and social systems and programs that honor the identity and needs of Black and Brown educators and students. Invest in and support the leaders and teachers who know how.
  • COLLABORATE: Prioritize building authentic relationships with Black- and Brown-led organizations and educators prior to an urgent need or funding opportunity. Trusted collaborations start when there is no incentive outside of connecting to learn about and support their work.
  • ADVOCATE: Vocally advocate and stand boldly for anti-racist policies with your state and board policymakers. Fight for systemic change as if your own life depended on it. Enlist political leaders who can enact anti-racist policies at the highest levels.
  • CONNECT: Powerful networks of influence are out of reach for Black and Brown leaders due to racist practices. Analyze your sphere of privilege and influence. Make and then follow through on connections that will advance the work of leaders of color.
  • EMPLOY: Hire Black and Brown talent because it is the right thing to do. Don’t pigeonhole people of color in typical diversity or student behavior roles. Provide leadership opportunities of value.
  • INVEST: Organizations led by leaders of color are underfunded. Schools serving Black and Brown students are financially starved. The funding imbalance must stop. Utilize your privilege to change philanthropy and funding formulas. Yes, you may receive less. Co-conspirators focus on the greater good.

No education institution or organization should emerge from 2020 without reconciling racist practices and engaging in transformation. As a Black person in leadership at Digital Promise, I challenge my white colleagues to take purposeful actions in their work. Every step is required.

What awaits on the other side are disruptive, innovative, and differentiated education models, systems, practices and pedagogical approaches centered in the identities and dreams of Black and Brown students. We have an unprecedented opportunity in this moment to work together—across race and difference—“in harmony for freedom and justice.” Now is the time to get to work.

Fill out this form if you are interested in learning about becoming a white education co-conspirator.

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