The SCSCP Project Team and Advisory Council traveled to Miami, Florida to learn more about the innovative work being done to positively impact students and dismantle the pipeline to prison. SCCSD Discipline Coordinator William Murphy wrote of his experience in Miami and how it shaped changes in the district’s new dress code policy.
“Discipline means teach, but we have turned it into punish.”
-Reimagining School Discipline, Miami 2016 Read more
The realities facing young men and boys of color (YMBOC) are real. The institutions that have been designed truly does create environments that are indicative of impartiality and equity—which directly contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline in America. But, the question at the center of the debate around racial equity and impartiality is quite fascinating: If we cannot change the systems, how do we change the current perceptions? It is important to note that if you change how young men and boys of color (YMBOC) perceive themselves then the systems will operate in a place of ineffectiveness—in that, these individual perceptions will propagate into positive actions.
Removing Barriers and Creating Unlimited Opportunities
There exists an old idiom that has been echoed in many circles around this country: What are we going to do to save Young Black Men and Boys of Color (YMBOC)? If it was as easy as it was to type those words, I contend that such conversations would not even be necessary. But, I understand that to even consider such a notion is delving in the realm of obscurity. I think it would be appropriate to proclaim that the challenges that lie ahead are those that will be defining moments in the history of this country. It begs to reason the simple notion: What will we do? Hence, how will we respond?
When such queries are posed, I imagine this idea of hopelessness permeating in the minds of so many. I can hear individuals saying with disgust: what do you do and how do you respond? There have been so many that have come before us who have fought this fight. How do we really judge their success? Do we equate their success to the laws that have been passed by Congress and decisions that have been rendered by the highest court of the land as progression? Or, do we try and determine some common ground in the small successes that have been made around this country? On the other hand, you will have individuals that will assert that despite the laws and Supreme Court decisions, the plight of young black men and boys (YMBOC) are still strenuous and insurmountable. These individuals will say that in areas like the Mississippi Delta, where poverty is ubiquitous, young men and boys (YMBOC) are being lost on the highways from school to prison. They aren’t engaged properly by those who have been entrusted to lead them and provide life’s direction. When they read the newspapers and watch the news on television—what do they see; what do they hear; and how do they feel? It is my distinct pleasure to inform you of that: They feel like the world doesn’t have room for their dreams and their aspirations; they hear that they are hopeless and detrimental to society; and ultimately, they feel disengaged and alienated. I believe that is wholly unacceptable and truly unfair to live in such state.
Nevertheless, the Sunflower County Systems Change Collaborative is designed to engage systems (school, juvenile justice, and media) that perpetuate the current narrative of young men and boys of color (YMBOC). When this project was undertaken in August of 2015, our goal was to engage these three systems in evidence-based practices that would alter the narrative of young men and boys of color (YMBOC) in Sunflower County. In altering the narrative, it would be to simply change: what young men see, what they feel, what they hear, how they think, how they engage one another; and ultimately, how they see themselves in the world. When we speak of changing the current rhetoric that surrounds young men and boys of color (YMBOC), I contend that projects of this nature have the potential to incrementally change the trajectory of how the world see young black men and boys of color (YMBOC)—and that alone provides solace to me in my efforts on this project.
As the Sunflower County Systems Change Project (SCSCP) team started to engage the community and express the purpose of the project, there is always one question asked no matter the setting, “What about the girls?” That question is, by all means, an adequate and fair question to pose given that the project’s purpose is directly geared toward improving outcomes for Young Men and Boys of Color (YMBOC). That alone can definitely come across as being exclusive of girls. However, narrative change, discipline policy adjustments, and improved communication channels between the school district and other systems have positive effects on everyone. Even though the project’s goal is to specifically address disparities amongst males, the implications reach far pass one group; however, there are specific reasons why the focus is on minority males.
Young Men and Boys of Color face a very unique plight in our public schools. Due to harsh discipline policies and negative perceptions of YMBOC, they are vulnerable to disparate treatment in schools. National data shows that YMBOC are three times more likely to be suspended and expelled, and five times more likely to be arrested at school. In some Mississippi school districts, they are eight times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts. These unfortunate statistics are a part of what people call the school to prison pipeline (STPP). This pipeline is credited with funneling children, specifically black males, out of school and into the criminal justice system. The STPP further perpetuates mass incarceration, decreases access to education, and leads to very low outcomes for black males.
During the Obama Administration, notably, there has been a keen focus on improving outcomes for minority males through the My Brother’s Keeper’s Initiatives and reforming the criminal justice system. As the STPP is directly connected with both, the goal of this project is derivative of a national focus on impacting change by specifically focusing on the needs of YMBOC.
Although the project doesn’t directly target girls, there is a broader reach in addressing systemic issues that will enhance their experiences and positively contribute to the notion of having an authentic paradigm shift. The SCSCP seeks to address all of the systems that contribute to the negative impact of STPP policies. Our goal is to foster a community effort that helps to bring awareness and solutions to the problems facing young men in our community, and to improve their outcomes, thereby enhancing our community as a whole.
Advocacy Coordinator for the Sunflower County Systems Change Project
After traveling to Oakland, California to view the success of the African American Male Achievement Program in Oakland Unified School District the Assistant Superintendent of Sunflower County Schools Miskia Davis provides a glance at how the experience inspired her. The AAMA symposium provided educators, district leadership teams, and community members from across the country with insight into their Manhood Development Class, cultural curriculum, and unique engagement of African American male students.
Here’s what she had to say…
Going to Oakland was life altering. First of all, it was my first time going to Oakland, home of Too Short, so that in itself was amazing. Also, I was going to have the opportunity to see young black men being empowered and told of their greatness, as opposed of their failures.
I was expecting to see a group of young men going through the normal routine of being told to pull their pants up, being taught how to give a firm hand shake, tie a tie, you know; the regular jargon that is spewed to young men of African descent when they are being ‘trained’ on how to become productive citizens. Read more