Protests over the murder of George Floyd and the senseless deaths of so many African Americans question our integrity and remind us that the struggle for racial equity is never-ending.
I was a college student during the protests of the 1960’s. Photos like this one pushed me out of my white comfort zone then as it does today. Yet, as I marched with my Black peers in Detroit in 1967, I knew then as I know now that anger can mobilize people and societies to change.
Conversation and action about racial inequality go beyond protests, prayers, words from public officials, and justice for George Floyd, to the roots of our integrity. What values do we hold as human beings? How do we live our values in the world?
Historically, protests have played a vital role in social change. How will today’s generation make their mark to end racial inequality? How will adults support and mentor youth in the process?
What is Racial Equity?
Racial equity is a multifaceted concept that embraces the goal of eliminating inequitable life outcomes based on a person’s race. To achieve this goal, society must affect systemic change, including in the following areas:
- The unequal distribution of resources that can be predicted by race
- The false narrative that Black and Brown people are less than White people
- The unfair, discriminatory structures and processes inherent in societal institutions like the criminal justice, healthcare, and educational systems.
- The false narrative that diversity weakens rather than strengthens society
What is Education’s Role in Racial Equity?
To be certain, education plays a critical role in ensuring that children and families, regardless of race or economic differences, have equal opportunities to achieve their goals. Historically, the goal of educational equity has been to raise academic performance levels and graduation rates to match those of more privileged children.
But educational equity is not enough. Children must also have developmental equity, the right to the relationships and experiences that help them thrive in school and throughout life. Because of the systemic issues listed above, many children of color do not have the experiences that are known to build core inner strengths that sustain human flourishing.
In Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, former Yale professor William Deresiewicz blames schools for failing to instill the values that led prior generations of Americans to work toward the betterment of society. He sees today’s privileged students as “sheep” who follow prescribed pathways to material, academic, and self-success, while ignoring the needs of those around them. Deresiewicz convinces us that the goal of education should always be “to leverage learning as an agent of social change — the kind of objective that makes leadership and citizenship into something more than pretty words.”
Anger Drives Social Change
While civic apathy has increased over several decades, there is one psychological motivator that always drives social change—ANGER. Today, we can see, feel, and understand that anger marching in American streets and streets around the world.
When young people care fiercely enough about racial equity, justice, and other societal issues, their voices become powerful agents for change. As Rosa Parks said, “Knowing what must be done does away with fear.” Parents, educators, and community leaders have a responsibility to help young people make meaning from the death of George Floyd and others so that “knowing” and self-awareness become drivers of positive action.
Diverse middle and high school youth, from those living in affluence to those living in poverty, must be given opportunities to talk about racial equity with each other as well as with parents, teachers, and public officials. When youth take part in dialogue; walk together in peaceful protests; problem-solve in their local communities; and add their voices to the solutions, they are no longer sheep. They are formidable leaders.
Will the death of George Floyd be a turning point that changes the shameful practices of systemic racism in America? There is more hope today than there has been in many years. In fact, this may be an educator’s golden opportunity to transform current anger into real learning for American youth.
Resources are available to support young people in their quest for meaning and action. The following organizations offer much guidance and inspiration. The tools provided can help students find their voices in meaningful, nonviolent, artistic, and powerful ways. Your efforts as an educator or parent may turn into one of the greatest civics lesson of the 21st century.
Racial Equity Resources to Help Youth Impact Social Change
The Center for Racial Justice in Education offers trainings, consultation and in-depth partnerships to educators, schools, and educational organizations to want to advance racial equity. The Center has a document filled with resources for talking with kids about race, racism, and racialized violence.
Design for Change USA gives educators and adult leaders the tools to support student-driven social impact by helping students investigate social issues like racial equity, brainstorm solutions, develop action plans, and implement their ideas.
EmbraceRace is a multiracial community of parents, teachers, experts, and other caring adults that support each other to meet the challenges that race poses to children, families, and communities.
The mission of Global Citizen is to build a movement of 100M action-taking global citizens to help end extreme poverty by 2030. Highly committed to racial equity, they have an excellent article: 7 Ways You Can Step Up for Racial Justice Right Now.
Highlander is a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement-building in Appalachia and the South. They work for justice, equality, and sustainability — helping people learn to shape their own destinies.
The NCDD is an excellent resource center, providing a dialogue and deliberation process that helps people come together across differences to tackle societal challenges. Thousands of resources are available on their website, including many for young people wishing to talk about racial equity.
The Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley provides news, research reports, videos, and other educational materials developed to advance the work of inclusion and belonging for all people.
Race Forward catalyzes movement building for racial equity and justice in partnership with communities. Their website has excellent reports, research, and tools that can be used by teachers and students.
A cooperative process aimed at healing those affected by the criminal justice system, restorative justice is a concept gaining momentum worldwide. Edutopia also maintains an excellent list of resources for using restorative justice in schools.
The FreeChild Project provides tools, training, and technical assistance to help create new roles for young people throughout society. They have an amazing collection of resources to help young people create social change.
The Teen Empowerment program in Boston inspires young people and the adults who work with them, to think deeply about the most difficult social problems and provides tools to create positive change.
The Youth Act!® program teaches youth how to advocate for meaningful change in their communities using the legal advocacy process as a guide.
Youth Speaks inspires young artists and visionary activists through written and oral literacies. They challenge youth to find, develop, publicly present, and apply their voices as creators of social change.
Youth Activism in the 21st Century
What will set today’s youth apart from the “sheep” to which Deresiewicz referred is leadership by adults who encourage youth to speak truth to power, help them find non-violent ways to express their feelings and ideas, and support them as they become part of the solution. Through positive youth activism, students change the way they see themselves and the world around them. They see how they can have a lasting and positive impact on society.
If you know of other organizations or programs that provide valuable tools and resources for racial equity and positive youth activism, please feel free to add them in the comments section below. Armed with knowledge, awareness, skills, and a desire for change, today’s youth can and will make their mark on racial inequality.
Image Credit: Anthony Crider