Growing up, I rarely saw my mom. She worked two jobs as a nurse while my dad suffered from multiple bouts of unemployment, a reality that many Black men endure every day. Both of my parents were raised in large families where they had to grow up faster than others, raise their siblings and often go without. Living in the central city with two children, my mom’s goal in life was to move us to “opportunity.”
After my dad finally landed a stable job as a truck driver my parents moved us to Eagan, MN. However, hopes for “opportunity” were short lived as the frequent spray painting of “nigger” on our garage door and the daily harassment my older brother experienced as young Black boy only proved to create tension in my parent’s relationship. Then one day I came to school to find “nigger” etched into my locker. That would be my last day living in the suburbs. Ultimately, my parents moved back to Minneapolis and bought a home in North Minneapolis where I spent most of my adolescent years.
Black families, especially those like my parents who have the privilege of mobility, continue to struggle with the decision of where to send their children to school and how to support their growth, because we know the following to be true: a) public education in America was not created for Black success, b) public schools with majority students of color are always underfunded with the most challenging social and economic dynamics, c) “opportunity” has come to mean close proximity to whiteness, making close proximity to blackness the problem rather than a history of urban disinvestment and public demonization, and d) access to more resources is valued more than our children’s self-esteem and feelings of belonging or connectedness.
As a PhD, a mom to two young Black girls, and a homeowner in North Minneapolis, I am juggling the realities of a City that has perfected the use of the term equity, but resists the type of innovation required to deliver on its promises.
Unfortunately, my parents’ struggle to educate us as young children taught me to expect mediocre politics when it comes to advances toward racial equity in education, with the fleeting hope that someone in a position of power will surprise me and actually move beyond equity rhetoric, and toward intentional action and the redistribution of power and resources.
I struggled with my choice of schooling for my children, not because I am concerned at all about how my school choices will look to others, but rather because of I was trying to find a school with the perfect balance. Access to a rigorous academic environment with a commitment to the arts; a racially conscious social-emotional space that reaffirms the strength of their identity as Black girls; a school that resists the banking model of education and embraces critical thinking for the purpose of making my children civically minded leaders.
However, I never found that place.
I had to compromise for the space that could offer me the most of what I was looking for and then I had to supplement for their inability to serve my children fully.
Embracing what my lived experiences taught me, after downright refusing to send my girls to any other Minneapolis Public School and then threatening to take them out of the district, my children were granted entry into Kenwood Elementary School.
I choose Kenwood for my daughters because it was one of the few arts magnets left in the city, with an active parent community and high academic standards fused with critical thinking as a framework. I was, however, not in any disillusionment about the fact that just because this school had deep resources that my children would automatically benefit from them. I volunteered in the classroom and became a member of the site council to ensure that I would know about every opportunity available for my kids, and advocate for them to be able to take advantage.
Like most public schools in Minneapolis, Kenwood is run by mostly white women, many of whom are struggling with strategies to ensure Black and Brown children feel included, respected, and valued. My presence is to ensure my children’s survival — both for their spirit and their academics.
Unlike the more recent debate among many white “progressive” families who are claiming to be good stewards of democracy by investing in their community schools while looking down on Black and Brown families for seeking alternatives — whether it be schools outside the district, charter schools, or private schools — I am here to say: my struggle is not your struggle. My children will complete their elementary education at Kenwood, outside of their area school designation, and for my oldest who will be in middle school next year we are applying for private schools.
I will never allow the public-school system to experiment on my children’s education and social-emotional wellbeing in an effort to prove something to a nation that has never built an institution for my children’s success. That is simply not a risk I am willing to take.
I will not sacrifice my children’s education for hollow linguistic commitments to racial equity.
I will not sacrifice my young Black girls mental and emotional health for a version of diversity that tokenizes them. I will absolutely not believe that me being a good steward of democracy and investing in my local underachieving community school will deliver results of success for my children — when in actuality it’s an experiment in equity and diversity that history proves will only benefit white children.
Finally, free market ideology assumes that all people irrespective of race, gender, class, and place can make the same choices, but that is an illusion.
I accept that my career has provided a level of financial stability that opens up more options for my family, and afforded me the time to be active in my children’s school. However, most Black families in Minnesota cannot make the same commitments — not because they don’t care, but because they are simply trying to survive economically in a state with one the largest disparities between Black and white families in the nation. So, then, what happens to their children?