1. The state of Connecticut sentenced Tonya McDowell to five years in jail in part for sending stealing a free education. McDowell, who was homeless at the time, used a babysitter’s address to enroll her son in a school that was not in the district where she had last lived permanently. McDowell wanted to send her child to a school she felt was better and thus made a false claim about where she lived. Although she had lived out of a van and used a homeless shelter in the city where the school was, the state of Connecticut decided that McDowell stole about $15,000 of “free” education.
2. Major cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago are in the process of closing schools that either “underperform” and/or have low populations. As might be expected, these school closings are happening in mostly black and brown neighborhoods. In many cases, these public schools are being replaced by charter schools which are run by private entities. Despite what Waiting for Superman and a Viola Davis character will tell you, charter schools are not far superior to their public counterparts. Unless we mean “help some rich folks get in on this trillion dollar education industry” when we say superior.
3. The jobs report for February indicated that the economy added 236,000 jobs, thus making the unemployment rate the lowest since December 2008. Yay. Hold up, though. Somehow black people got, like, none of those jobs. The black unemployment rate held steady at just over 13%. Not so yay.
Just like MC Lyte, I cram to understand all of this. So, instead of sending her child to a school that many cities are going to close, a black mother sends her child to a school she thinks is better and goes to jail. Perhaps she should’ve waited until the Connecticut neighborhood she used to live in opened a charter school. Of course, what’s the point? It’s not like her child, once educated, can get a job anyway.
I revisit these news items not to connect dots dubiously, but rather to reamplify the ways in which the futures of black and brown youth are being jeopardized, to reiterate that they have no value unless their bodies can be translated to per pupil and/or inmate dollars. This is hardly a conspiracy. It is a blatantly racist effort to undereducate and/or criminalize a generation of youth in a manner than ensures that poverty not only festers but is sweepingly and overwhelmingly of color, two in particular. We live in a when they will jail you for attempting to secure a decent education for your child. We live in a time when public institutions are being replaced with similarly subpar private ones in the spirit of political cronyism. We live in a time when black folks are getting no jobs and being sent to prison for nonviolent “crimes.” We live in a time when lack of a father is to blame for the strategic and the deliberate absence of resources in black communities.
If I did not think the dismantling of already anemic and under-supported institutions was all very carefully planned, I imagine I might consider it absurd. As absurd as sending a woman to jail for stealing something that was free. As absurd as trying to make sense of all of this instead of doing some careful planning of our own. The BYP and other resources like it works diligently to highlight not at-risk black youth, but the myriad ways that power puts our youth–and their parents–at risk. Perhaps now, given all that we continue to learn about the way our society ignores and maligns black youth, is a good time to renew the pledge and work towards all that it entails.