What It's Like Being Young And Black In A Post-Parkland World

Milwaukee youth are calling for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline, policing and criminalization of black youth in schools.

Student and leader Joya Headley speaking up at a rally held by Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) in Milwaukee.
Photo Credit: Photo: Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT)

| April 10 2018,

2:27 pm

It fueled awareness. It fueled anger. It fueled disgust.

And then there was ...

Eric Garner, 2014

Mike Brown, 2014

Tamir Rice, 2014

Dontre Hamilton, 2014

Sandra Bland, 2015

Tony Robinson, 2015

Philando Castille, 2016

Jordan Edwards, 2017

Stephon Clark, 2018

Saheed Vassell, 2018

... and the list continues as our hearts continue to break.

I stare into my phone, another video of an unarmed black man murdered.

Another hashtag.

My eyes water and anger fills my body

Does my life have any value in America?

Does any black life have value in America?

These images, the videos, the proof. They all stood out as innocent black brothers and sisters who fell victim of this institutionalized racist system that I call America. The land of the “free” and “liberty and justice for all."

So many black youth refused to let another unjust murder become a forgotten hashtag. For years we have been screaming, but have been silenced.

Black youth have been protesting, organizing and taking action against gun violence and misconduct by police in our communities, yet we’ve been dismissed.

And then the mass shooting of Stoneman Douglas High School happened.

The youth organizing against gun violence has been acknowledged.

They have received what black and brown youth never received.

American empathy

But we still fight.

We use this platform to ensure that we will not be forgotten and walked over.

We use this platform to point out the lack of support we’ve received for our #BlackLivesMatter movement

We use this platform to address gun violence in our community, as we fight to remove police officers in our schools, which fuels the school-to-prison pipeline and criminalizes black and brown youth.

I reside in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city with America’s highest incarceration rate, and a place that is deemed to be one of the worst cities to raise a black child. Here at “home,” black and brown students (myself included) are organizing against the school-to-prison pipeline because we are witnesses of the criminalization and militarization that we and our peers endure at school.

Knowing the underlying intent is not to educate, but set me up for a prison lifestyle is heartbreaking. Education has always been a priority of mine. I believe that the first step to liberate my community is through education. However, everyday I walk into school understanding that my body is being criminalized, my friends are receiving unofficial penalties for being late or walking in the hallway, and those are all elements of the school-to-prison pipeline.

After 400 plus years of devaluing black bodies, I am tired. I am tired of seeing it in my community, and especially in my Milwaukee Public Schools.

After Parkland, Wisconsin Republicans passed a $100 million school “safety” plan that would arm schools with guards, that would only further criminalize our students. Unbelievable. Picture the police officers that Milwaukee Public Schools already have in their building, times two.

This misguided Republican proposal comes at the same time Milwaukee Public Schools finds itself in the middle of a Resolution Agreement with the U.S Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights regarding the over criminalization of black students through suspensions. That stems from an investigation that found severe racial disparities, including more than 100 instances over a two-year period in which black students were expelled, while white students were only suspended for similar behavior.

Through Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), we have developed a 14-point plan to end the criminalization of black and brown students.

The Youth Power Agenda calls for the end of the school-to-prison pipeline and criminalization of black youth, including removing armed police officers and metal detectors from our schools, and ending suspensions and expulsions.

We are calling for divestment from failure and investment into our future. We demand restorative justice policies like reducing classroom sizes by hiring more teachers, more guidance counselors and social workers, and investing into culturally-responsive courses and training, all of which have been proven to reduce suspensions, arrests and promote a more healthy school environment. We want to feel like we are at a school, not in a prison.

The Youth Power Agenda provides a template to rethink school safety that uplifts the value of black and brown lives. It’s a hope for a better future for black youth. Elected officials should listen and legislate.

We are Martin’s generation.




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