The African American Mobilization for Education sees two specific problems in the Minneapolis Public Schools: African American children aren’t being properly educated and the African American community hasn’t been given a voice and opportunity to collaborate to help address this crisis. To address these problems, the AAME proposes a Covenant between the community and the school board. (For full text of Covenant, click on PDF below.)
The Covenant is the product of more than a year’s work by multiple partners, including the Minneapolis Urban League, the YWCA and the We Win Institute. It seeks to lay the groundwork for an ongoing collaboration between the Minneapolis Public Schools and the African American community. A concentrated effort by numerous leaders in the African American community brought the Covenant to the school board on May 27.
There is no disagreement with the facts, as documented in the Covenant:
Seventy-three percent of students suspended were African American students (African Americans comprise 39.6 % of the district’s student population);
Minnesota had the second-largest gap between black and white scores for 8th grade math and the fourth-largest gap for reading (2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress);
“There is something very unnatural about so many black children continually failing year after year after year,” said Titilayo Bediako, founder of the We Win Institute, and one of the collaborators on the Covenant.
Giving the Community a Voice
School board member Chris Stewart says he saw the need for an agreement similar to the one the American Indian community made with the school system in October 2006. During his involvement in the Northside Initiative planning, Stewart became even more aware of the need. He contacted many of the Covenant organizers.
“I pressed them to work on a formal document,” said Stewart, citing the need for a document similar to the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the American Indian community,
When Stewart was seated on the board in January 2007, he became part of a historic first majority-minority school board, along with Theartrice Williams, Sharon Henry-Blythe, Peggy Flanagan, and current Board chair Lydia Lee. Stewart believes the change has helped the school district make progress on issues of race, but collaboration with the community is still needed.
“Just because you have representatives in place doesn’t mean the institution has corrected itself.” said Stewart. “We don’t exist as black leaders in a political vacuum.”
A Community Collaboration
The collaborators and supporters of the covenant came together, motivated by a wide range of reasons, but focused on a collective goal.
“We were sick and tired of being sick and tired of the way our children were being educated in the Minneapolis Public Schools and the way our children were failing,” said Titilayo Bediako, founder of the We Win Institute, of the first meeting of the Mobilization group over a year ago.
Kinshasha Kambui, who has been the lead organizer on the Covenant, at the board meeting on Tuesday, acknowledged the diversity of community members involved in the covenant, “Folks who might not get along on any other area, moved our differences aside because of our love of our children.”
Kate Towle, a community activist and self-described “white ally” of the Covenant, who sends her two children to Minneapolis Public Schools, was one of the supporters who came out on Tuesday to support the signing of the covenant.
“My children can not take pride in their education until all children are succeeding,” said Towle. “At the end of the day, it reflects on our city.”
Bill English of the Coalition of Black Churches and the African American Leadership Summit was one of the representatives of the Covenant at the May 27 school board meeting and spoke to its significance to the community, “It allows us to equalize ourselves as stake holders.”
An Equal Partnership
The issue of an equal partnership is a crucial component to the Covenant, according to both the school board and the community partners.
“We have not had an equal relationship with the district at this point. Certainly the concerns the African American community have had in terms of its children have been continually ignored,” said Kinshasha Kambui. The Covenant says:
“Both parties agree to meet regularly over the next three months to work out the specifics of a targeted strategy for successful educational outcomes for African American children. Most importantly, both parties to the Covenant must hold each other and themselves accountable for carrying out the Covenant.”
Board member T. Williams emphasized the value a partnership could bring to the success of the children. “[The district] needs to find ways to work constructively with the community,” says Williams, but acknowledged it’s “going to depend a lot on the individuals who step forward.”
The School Board has given Superintendent Green the responsibility of delegating a team from the administration to begin meeting with the African American Covenant group. Kambui asked the board to agree to the “spirit of the Covenant” on June 10, which will be the Board’s first opportunity to have an official vote on the document. Board member Tom Madden, though currently not in total agreement with some points of the Covenant, agreed, “The spirit of the covenant is more of a partnership. A tone that speaks to the future that doesn’t look back—it looks forward.”
Both the school board and the Covenant partners seemed to have a positive outlook on the meetings and progress to come. “You don’t have to be African American to want the best for black children,” said Bediako, “because at some point we’ll get to the point of understanding that African American children are all of our children.”
Ariah Fine is a freelance writer living in North Minneapolis.