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When schools in Philadelphia transitioned to distance learning after closing due to the pandemic, many students without access to technology were immediately shut out. Juntos, a community-led, Latinx immigrant organization in South Philadelphia and Communities for Just Schools Fund (CJSF) grantee partner, jumped in to support many of these families. Half of the students in the Juntos network do not have access to the internet or a computer and 85% of Juntos’s community members are out of work. Juntos recently hosted a call to engage its 2,500 members.
Grassroots organizing groups like Juntos are working mightily to keep their (virtual) doors open to communities who rely on them, but they’re also experiencing significant economic distress. In response, CJSF is raising two million dollars to support community leaders who are and have been transforming public education in service of Black and Brown communities nationwide. The Education Anew Fund will provide grassroots education justice organizers with much-needed resources in this time of sickness and disaster, love and growth.
For CJSF, ‘Education Anew’ is a mindset, an aspiration, a mission. Since 2010, when CJSF was created, we have supported grassroots organizers who know that education in this country must be done differently. Education must be a new version of itself in order to serve and prepare global leaders. Global leaders who are fulfilled citizens of the world, who can relate to one another and lead society with critical understanding of their existing context and brilliantly layered vision for what they must craft for the future.
CJSF was started by individuals in philanthropy who understood that, in the ecosystem of education justice, grassroots organizers are the least resourced and the most impactful. CJSF is part of an arc that began with Black parents in Mississippi demanding change in their schools. Their children were being pushed out of school, disproportionately disciplined and arrested for reasons that defied explanation except as symptoms of a pervasive system of racial hierarchy. A movement was born – a movement to end the school-to-prison pipeline, yes, and to change school as we know it. Thanks to that movement, public will began shifting. We started to see decreases in suspensions and expulsions and school-based arrests, because of organizers’ work. School as we know it began to make incremental change, toward a collective vision for schools as welcoming, nurturing and safe places for students, where they have a deep sense of belonging, and where they are challenged to grow.
But, even before global calamity struck, we were still incredibly far from the actualization of that vision. And now, in this coronavirus moment, homes and communities are classrooms. We are a nation in wait. Waiting to see what education will be, what schools will do, what parents and families and communities and teachers can tolerate and perhaps co-create for their children.
If grassroots organizers were adequately resourced, there would be no need to wonder. Their vision, their dreaming of a new system of education, started generations ago. That vision has been cautiously, deliberately molded over years – a pearl protectively grown in the oyster of community. It is time now. Time for that vision to replace what has been, what was. After pause and erasure of old, we are poised to welcome in the new. We need organizers to make it through the now so that we all might thrive in the new future.
Some of those organizers include Letha Muhammad of the Education Justice Alliance, Kesi Foster of Make the Road NY and Urban Youth Collaborative, Erika Guadalupe Núñez of Juntos, and karen “kg” marshall of Rethink. During the briefing to launch the Education Anew Fund, Foster referenced the Ruth Wilson Gilmore quote: “Racism is … group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” Youth in New York City are still working in dangerous jobs where they are now both “hyper-visible and invisibilized,” while having to share a laptop with four and five siblings to complete schoolwork. And, in New Orleans, marshall and Rethink “know how to address harm in our community,” and are creating spaces for young people to be curious and make meaning out of what is happening in the world so that they can transform their reality on a structural level.
During the same briefing, CJSF donor partners from Andrus Family Fund and the Satterberg Foundation implored their colleagues in philanthropy to move resources now and let community expertise guide this and future moments.
As parents and families, communities, schools, and educators pivot now, working together to provide children with the tools they need to lead this nation, our grassroots partners have, as always, stepped into the breach. They are providing crisis intervention in communities even as they continue to dream and build toward the schools, the new system of education, that this country needs. CJSF is doing what we can to maintain and increase support to groups that already were stretched thin by the demands of a society that they are hell-bent on fixing.
We invite you to join us by contributing to the Education Anew Fund, and consider joining the Communities for Just Schools Fund’s donor membership. Together, we can help alleviate the pain of this moment while also supporting the birth of Education Anew.
By Allison Brown, Executive Director, Communities for Just Schools Fund.