Tonight's Salem-Keizer School Board meeting rocked for me.
First, there were long and competently-led discussions at the Board level and in front of the audience about looking at the school district with an equity and inclusion lens. I have been resistant to using these words, but the planning work done in this area shows real progress which would not be underway were it not for community pressure and presence and people like School Board member Chris Brantley.
I attended the meeting with members of Salem's Racial Justice Organizing Committee, the Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality, the NAACP and the Salem-Keizer Education Association and other community members chiefly in order to support a push for needed resources for African American students. There is an uneven use of school resources here which works to disadvantage these students and results in higher disciplinary actions taken against Black students and lower school successes for these students. Phil Decker made a good argument for finding the means to help Black students and their families, but it was NAACP President Benny Williams who nailed it by providing needed context and noting that the Board has moved "at a snail's pace" in the past when given the opportunity to address these issues. Mr. Williams spoke firmly and well to the student's needs. He was backed by a school classified worker and, later, by a parent who is a special booster for McKay. The community is clearly behind Mr. Williams and Mr. Decker and winning the resources they're arguing for.
The Salem-Keizer Education Association (SKEA) made a special and very positive presentation by presenting a new union policy on equality, education, inclusivity, immigrant students' rights and anti-racism. The union declaration was laid out by several members of the Association who were on point and who were obviously in warm solidarity with the community. Their presentation was backed by two women speaking from the Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality (SKCE), good speakers and activists who are working for progress under difficult times as the Spanish-speaking community struggles with fear and against intimidation. Unity between SKEA and SKCE makes all of the difference. This is a unity which others can add to by joining in on. Under current circumstances, this is also bravery in motion.
Mr. Williams later returned to the speakers' mic to invite everyone to the Black History Month presentation at McKay scheduled for Sunday, February 19 at 6:00 PM. This presentation is centered on the youth and will honor Rosa Parks. As Mr. Williams said, the School Board has been remiss in the past by not properly honoring Black History Month, and this is an opportunity for all of us to get it right this year. The NAACP has taken a great step by helping to anchor this play among the young people.
It was important to hear a Black parent speaking for 500 other parents from Leslie about sports safety and football. It was important to hear the parent previously mentioned who is a school booster and who supports equality. It was important to have RJOC, SKEA, SKCE and NAACP members all in the same room and there for common causes and interests. It was important to hear Chris Brantley talk about the Black Lives Matter webinars and RJOC.
We need to see more students at these meetings and we need to hear moere from them. In the coming Board elections we need to see candidates from the people of color communities who can work together for real progress and democratization of the schools and education. This is not a moment to be cynical or dismissive. The community is clearly concerned about education, prioritizing it at community events. Collective progressive leadership at the base and led by people of color is needed, and it can be built by adding to the great work done tonight.