July 6, 2020 | By Kimberly Smith
“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.”
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:
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.