Alliance for racial justice bridging gaps in education
One of the primary missions of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice is to "educate for change through knowledge and understanding of past and current racial issues and conditions." Our education committee's goals are to expand the knowledge of all Delawareans, and to work within the education system to increase all students' understanding of the role of African-Americans in America's history, present and future. The committee also wants to increase the knowledge of past and current racial inequities.
By accomplishing these goals, the alliance believes that as a community we can develop steps to correct such inequities going forward.
The alliance seeks to address the educational needs and gaps in our community. This past year, focus has been on the Cape Henlopen School District. Through partnerships with sister organizations, the alliance has been a member of the Minority Community Liaison Committee in the Cape Henlopen School District. Additional meetings have been held with the superintendent and other school officials to discuss current issues. To be more informed about the school system curriculum and current issues, committee members are attending and monitoring school board meetings.
In addition, the alliance is looking for ways to help promote and achieve a racially diverse faculty. According to Delaware Department of Education school profiles website, Cape has 436 teachers. Of those, 408 are white, and 15 are African-American - less than 4 percent of the total faculty. Two teachers are Asian, and one is American Indian. The lack of role models and teachers of color in the Cape District not only affects African-American and other minority students; the alliance believes it adversely affects all students. It is critically important that all students see teachers and administrators of color on a regular, routine basis. The world does not look like the Cape District; the population of American public schools will consist of a majority of students of color within the next five years.
Working in almost any American urban setting, one will find persons of virtually all races and nationalities. The alliance asks are we preparing our students to live and to work in such a world?
Furthermore, an article in the May 8 Cape Gazette highlighted troubling statistics concerning the disparity in discipline for white students and students of color.
African-American students are disciplined up to four times more than their white classmates in Cape Henlopen schools.
Cape's African-American middle school students received out-of-school suspension nearly four times more than whites, in-school suspensions over two times more, and detention three times more.
African-American high schoolers received out-of-school suspensions two-and-a-half times more, in-school suspensions nearly three times more, and detention twice as often as their white classmates.
We also seek to assist teachers and administrators to update and improve the quality of the educational experience for all students. Disappointedly, the alliance also finds the contributions of African-Americans and the long history of racism and inequality have been largely ignored or glazed over in Delaware's schools.
In response to this gap, the committee is involved in teaching African-American literature and history to students in the Pathways to Success programs at Cape Henlopen High, Seaford High and Sussex Tech.
This program is being led by Dr. Aimee Wiest, PhD, with the assistance of James Sherard and others. The classes introduce and expand students' knowledge of African-American poetry, history and music. The students who have volunteered for the classes are interested in learning more about the African-American experience in America.
Classes continue to be well attended by very enthusiastic and inquisitive students.
Importantly, the alliance recognized that it also must reach out to the public with its educational programs. In October, we showcased a panel of Delaware local and state education leaders to the public at large. This town hall meeting was followed in November by a panel of local students, including students in the Pathways to Success program. This panel indicated they do not have opportunities to discuss and debate topics such as race and discrimination in their classes.
Such opportunities might enhance the curriculum and help students better understand racial inequities and develop solutions in the future.
The alliance also had a detailed presentation from professor Dr. Dan Rich of the School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware on the relationship of poverty, race, and public education in Delaware.
In recognition of February's Black History Month, the alliance's Education Committee collaborated with the Sussex League of Women Voters to sponsor a program titled Poetry and Prose on Family, Faith and Freedom. The program presented poems and writings by African-American poets and writers divided into critical periods of African-American lives (early poets, post-slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, and contemporary poets).
Attendees actively participated with questions and commentary during and after the presentation.
Going forward, the alliance is developing a college scholarship program for students. The goal is to assist primarily Sussex high school graduates to meet some of their future college expenses. As the cost of a college education continues to rise, financial support through a scholarship program can help Delaware students continue their education in Delaware.
It is hoped that such assistance from the local community will encourage more graduates to attend Delaware colleges and universities, and then return to work in our communities.
The SDARJ extends an invitation to the Sussex County community to attend and participate in its forums and educational programs. Volunteers are always welcome. Community input is necessary for the alliance to achieve its goals of educating, informing, and advocating for racial justice, equality, and fair opportunity. Additional information about the SDARJ can be found on its website SDARJ.org.
James Sherard and Drew McKay
Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice