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EmbraceRace

Organizing for Racial Learning and Educational Justice

We know that the ability of educators to draw on their expertise and engage children in conversations about accurate history, human diversity, and unequal opportunity is under threat all over the country. How do we bring people together to build campaigns supporting healthy racial learning in schools? How do we work to ensure that equity- and justice-minded folx are elected to our school boards? How do we build coalitions among parents and teachers?

Watch this conversation with organizers and community members who are in the mix, trying to figure that out in their communities. Free to join with registration.

This webinar is part of a series we've hosted over the last few months organized around the theme Organizing in Defense of Racial Learning. Find the links to the other conversations in the series below.

EmbraceRace: Tonight we're very excited to be having a very important conversation. We always have important conversations, but this is something that we've been thinking about for a while as schools started in September and as elections near, and that is the fight over racial learning in our schools, over the right for our kids to learn accurate history. There's even some discussions and arguments around social-emotional learning (SEL), around gender equity and about racial equity and the history of both. It's been crazy. Tonight, we have some guests on who have been organizing- as organizers, as parents, as both, to defend our teachers, our students, and their right to learn accurate history and to be in a place that's safe for racial learning, for learning about gender and other things.

Zakiyah Ansari, she/her/hers, is the advocacy director of the New York State Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), which is the leading statewide organization fighting for educational justice in New York State. Zakiyah has huge skills and experience developed from being a parent of eight New York City public school students, being a parent activist, and working for the AQE for more than a decade. Zakiyah volunteered with the New York Justice League, which works to end childhood incarceration. Zakiyah, thank you so much for that work. It's great to have you.

And Zakiyah is joined by her colleague in this work, James Haslam, he/him/his, who serves as Senior Fellow at Race Forward leading the H.E.A.L Initiative, which of course we'll talk about. The H.E.A.L Initiative works to build strong organizing models for parents and students and to advance high quality public education as a building block for multiracial democracy. James brings over two decades of labor, community and political organizing experience. He has been deeply involved in pivoting our social and racial justice movements toward electoral strategies that bring our movement leaders into governance.

Let me start with this observation. You have both spent a lot of time, Zakiyah, you doing educational justice work for over 20 years at least, as well as the ending childhood incarceration work. James, I know you've done a broad range of racial and social justice movement work.

James, how did you come to this work? Give us something that helps explain why you personally would be drawn to all the work that you've done in racial and social justice.

James Haslam: Well, first off, thank you so much for having me on here, and it's an honor to be doing this work with Zakiyah and folks around the country. And thank you, everyone, who tuned in tonight to join us on this conversation. So I've been an organizer up in the northeast part of the country, mainly in New England. I live in Vermont, but been organizing for about 23 years in labor movement, fighting for universal healthcare, climate justice. But I'm also a dad and I'm married to a longtime educator. I started an organization in Vermont and New Hampshire called Rights & Democracy (RAD) seven years ago. We started seeing the importance of the school district as a place of where communities come together, really the hearts of communities.

And then when the culture wars that you referenced around the attacks on critical race theory, the attacks on teaching the truth in schools started happening in 2021. It became something that I just couldn't ignore. New Hampshire was one of the states that we had one of these educational gag order bills, the divisive concepts bill that was trying to prevent and eventually did pass from having educators be able to teach the truth about structural racism in this country. And then in my own kids' school where as a dad of two kids that are now in middle school that became ground zero in Vermont for this work. It just seemed like the perfect storm of how there's powerful forces that want to keep our communities divided, and don't want to have a true multiracial democracy. And so that was why I became really passionate about this struggle and really fill out a responsibility as a white dad that has a lot of privilege and sees a lot of people that look like me in this country that are voting in terrible ways and supporting policies that are not benefiting our communities. I had to do my part and help folks organize.

EmbraceRace: Zakiyah, how did you arrive at this work?

Zakiyah Ansari: Yeah, hi everyone. I graduated 8 children on New York City public schools. While I don't take MSNBC and CNN as the gospel, you could not, since the pandemic, not watch those things and understand, every time you heard CRT, something is brewing here. It's like everybody starts talking about this, even Fox and CNN, what is happening? And I didn't understand what it was, I didn't know what CRT was either. But I knew it was becoming a catch phrase just to talk about race in general. It had race in it, it was big enough, it was fine. And then you start seeing who was behind it and the goal of what they were trying to do. And so I started to put out the warning to folks at Metro Center, longtime friend Megan Hester and others and people. Then you started to see really explode and blow up. And it was just really this moment of, "Are we really going to do this now, after all we've been through under the last president, and all the things that were happening, are we really going to go here now and attack telling the truth and speaking the truth?" And then ultimately, you realize it actually makes sense, the reality that this is where they were trying to go to silence the truth for teachers and attack, was not different than what we were experiencing around privatization.

It is an opportunity now to get rid of labor, to badmouth them, to badmouth public schools. Which really is the last bastion public anything that we have, everything else has been privatized. And so some people might say, "Wow, that's a big stretch." It is not. It is just another that way folks on the right, to be quite honest, and those who are trying to dismantle public education, of which I've been at the forefront of fighting back against for two decades now. They just figured out a new way. And the reason they can do that is because they have an abundance of dollars. It was as an attack on the work that organizations in New York City called The Coalition of Education Justice and Metro Center had been doing around fighting for cultural responsiveness in education, for much longer than the CRT pushback has been happening.

And so we knew it was an attack on us actually getting some traction, not only in New York City, not only in New York state, but it started to happen all across the country. And it's very familiar when we get two steps ahead of trying to get anything that's set as a semblance of justice, racial justice or any other justice, the forces of evil will coalesce together to be like, "No, we're not going to have that." I think the difference is, and I know we'll talk about this more, is that there's a lot more at stake than just public education. Our democracy at stake in this moment.

There's a lot more at stake than just public education. Our democracy at stake in this moment.

Zakiyah Ansari

EmbraceRace: Thank you Zakiyah. Absolutely. So let's get into, and you already referenced Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Program at Metro Center at NYU and your involvement there. I know that they're a partner of Healing Together.

James, can you speak broadly about the H.E.A.L Together? What is it? What does it look like across the country? What is H.E.A.L doing?

James Haslam: Thank you. Yes. And the NYU Metro Center, along with the Schott Foundation for Public Education, are partners with Race Forward, that are the organizations that launch this H.E.A.L Together initiative. I'm based at Race Forward. H.E.A.L Together stands for Honest Education Action and Leadership. And we added "together" because in a period our country's history when democracy is in crisis. And we don't just think that, but we know that in polls that have come out recently, that vast majority of people in this country, do believe that the American democracy is in a crisis and we're struggling. We do think that part of what the response is, as Zakiyah was talking about, these efforts to deny future generations of the history of this country, and these efforts to pit our communities against each other, are part of a politics of division, of a powerful forces in this country that benefit from the status quo, that benefit from being able to have enormous power and enormous wealth, and see multiracial democracy as a threat.

And so we see H.E.A.L Together as an effort to help organize, on the school district level, as part of responding to these culture wars, these attacks on teaching the truth. But also we understand that the attacks on teaching the truth, these efforts for ultimately passing these educational gag orders. Our part is, as a Zakiyah mentioned, it's not just that they want to prevent teaching the truth. There's efforts and longtime strategic plans that folks are pushing to dismantle public education. What they're really after, is they're really after preventing multiracial democracy. They're really after preventing a challenge to their power and their enormous control of wealth. And this is a core strategy to that.

Since January of 2021, there's been 183 educational gag orders that have been introduced in over 40 states, and 19 have become law in 15 states. Currently 122 million Americans live in a state where there's an educational gag order in effect. So they've been relatively pretty successful in this effort. And part of this initiative is about organizing our communities in a way to support certainly honest education, teaching the truth, but also fully funded public education as a foundation for multiracial democracy.

And the truth is that the majority of people in our communities actually support that. And so we see it as an organizing challenge that yes, they've been able to be successful in these efforts. But if we can bring people together, parents, students, educators, families, that we can create a political mandate for teaching the truth, for public education, and for having the kind of communities that benefit everyone. That's what we're after. So it's been really powerful to be able to work with groups around the country and national groups that really see that they're stakeholders in public education, and they're stakeholders in actually achieving the promise of our country of a multiracial democracy.

There's efforts and longtime strategic plans that folks are pushing to dismantle public education. What they're really after, is they're really after preventing multiracial democracy. They're really after preventing a challenge to their power and their enormous control of wealth. And [the anti-CRT movement] is a core strategy to that.

James Haslam

EmbraceRace: And you've got a lot of amazing partners. So you were able to mobilize pretty quickly.

Zakiyah, how do you fit into H.E.A.L Together and these partnerships in New York?

Zakiyah Ansari: So the Alliance for Quality Education is the leading statewide advocacy group in New York, and us and Metro Center have been joined at the hip for a long time. So we strategize together, we work together around their curriculum scorecard that they created around 2021, 2020 or something around there. We have been instrumental in supporting those trainings that have been happening around that. And so pretty much what Metro Center has done in their brilliance is, create a scorecard where you can get your English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum, and you can have scorecard parties and see if your curriculum is culturally responsive or culturally destructive. And unfortunately we have many of those conversations in New York and at the end of all of them, we found out that our curriculum was culturally destructive on many occasions.

I think it's a powerful tool to be able to use. And we were doing that before the Critical Race Theory Boogieman had exploded onto the scene. Which is why I say that it was an absolute attack on that work. And what we do not want to do is chase down the road of where they're trying to lead us. Which is to fight against Critical Race Theory when the theory is correct. But we want to ensure the things we want, which are a cultural responsive and sustaining education, where a curriculum that all children can see themselves in. Metro Center and The Coalition for Educational Justice also put forth the report, it was like how curriculums so white, which showed that in grades K through eight, you were more likely to read a book that had an animal on the cover than a Black, Brown or Indigenous person.

Meanwhile New York City is more than 70% Black, Brown, and Latinx. So we will chase down the road, with H.E.A.L, around the things that we want, the schools that deserve our children, the curriculum that our children deserve to have, and the right for our educators to be able to teach that curriculum. And once you see books like Ruby Bridges getting banned, you already know something is not right. And they are connected to not just the curriculum, but law and policy as James said.

So a conversation that I just saw on TV turned into multiple laws. So it was the simmering and the beginning of something and they have not stopped. I think the difference is that between H.E.A.L, the work that we've been doing, Metro Center and just the collective of organizing the ground, this is bigger than the grass tops. This is ensuring that folks on the ground who are actually impacted by everything that's happening, from school board elections to educators just trying to teach and potentially losing their jobs.

These are things we have to pull together and offer a semblance of hope to the community, that even though it looks like they are louder, and their bark is louder, the ground is fighting back. And not fighting back against CRT, they are fighting for the things that they want to see, which is how Black, Brown and marginalized communities have always did. It's the thing that we want, we already know what we don't want. We are fighting for the things we want. And that's the connection between H.E.A.L and The Metro Center and all the amazing work that everybody has been doing.

EmbraceRace: I want to dig into who this fight is against, or who this fight is with. So you both said the prominent target for a long time is public education. Public education is such a prominent target because it is sort of a vehicle to a thriving, multiracial democracy or not. Zakiyah, you said it was one of the very few still public institutions in this country. That multiracial democracy in the end is sort of the big target. Perhaps in the anti CRT movement context, maybe the most striking images we've seen are the ones of parents going to school board meetings, disrupting those meetings, being incredibly angry and so on. But James, you said that most people in community actually aren't supportive of anti-CRT.

Who are the anti-CRT folks? Do those include a lot of community members? I think it is dismaying for a lot of people to think, "Oh, it could be other people who seem to be like me." So are those folks being manipulated?

Are the community members that we see at the school board meetings motivated by the same things that "the powerful" that you refer to are motivated by? And who are those powerful folks? And what does the H.E.A.L Together initiative look like vis-a-vie community members who are disrupting those meetings?

James Haslam: As Zakiyah lays out, that this has been a long time struggle, so even before this most recent chapter around these strategic advancements by the opponents of racial justice and public education to target critical race theory. This is a longstanding fight. So we see this, actually the irony of the fight is that some of the history that they're trying to deny teaching in schools is really very critical to understand the current struggle that they're part of. There's the history around having public education, and having a multiracial democracy.

The country wasn't really set up to be a multiracial democracy. Certainly the public education system wasn't set up to be multiracial, but that's been part of the struggle and the promise of justice for all of having the kind of country that everyone could thrive. And so this is a chapter that we are in that has us being able to have a challenge of coming up against really what was a manufactured culture war with Fox News. Race Forward did a study in terms of the amount of times "critical race theory" in 2021 was said in mainstream press, and particularly in Fox News, over the course of that year and just how it just accelerated and accelerated months to month, doubling in mentions in the news as they ratcheted that up.

And they've been able to mobilize through having that kind of platform of a national media channel with Fox, and other ways to engage it. They've been able to galvanize parents and people all over the country to see this as a threat to democracy and make it this boogeyman. And what we see is that actually there is a portion of the communities that can be galvanized, that can come out loud and be fired up around these issues, but it doesn't go that deep. And that everything that we've seen from our work, from our organizing, and from the research that's been done is that the vast majority of parents and students and community members do support honest, accurate, and fully funded public education. So our goal with this has been, even though this was a culture war that wasn't started, this conversation around tackling critical race theory was not something that was originated out of communities.

It really was manufactured by think tanks. And there's been a lot of good research that you can look up around the efforts, how this came to be. But so even if they start the culture war, we think that actually it can backfire on them. That we can unite our communities because public schools are the hearts of communities, and that most people want their kids to not be denied history. And most kids certainly want to know actual history. And so even though they started these fights, they don't have to win it. So that's as we see this as an organizing challenge and we've seen it over the country that even when these culture wars erupt in communities, that they don't have to win. Whether it's a school board raised, if it's a fight around an equity policy in a school district, that we can unite the vast majority of our community behind those areas. And that actually in many ways, more people can be engaged in their public school system at the end of this fight then they were before it started.

EmbraceRace: Zakiyah, part of what you're trying to use is mobilize people, mobilize parents, mobilize others to speak up on behalf of these issues and to appreciate what's at stake and so on. Who else are you trying to move, and in particular, how are you trying to do it? So just give us a sense of your week to week, your month to month, what does success look like for you in terms of moving people?

Zakiyah Ansari: Yeah, so I think it's moving people, but it's also educating, because that's how they've been able to do this, with misinformation. And so it's not enough just to organize folks, they have to understand, because what they're going up against is a messaging juggernaut that has spread this false information, out and out lies about potentially what's actually happening in their school, what's happening in their district, and ultimately really organizations like Moms for Liberty, what's happening across the country. And they're writing legislation, and they're the Alec of the world, like the American Legislative Exchange something C, I can't remember what it stands for.

But anyway, they're like this machine that just churns out policies, gives it to an elected official and all you got to do is fill in the blanks. This Mom's for Liberty and others, that's what they're doing. They're just pushing out this information and they're using fear. Fear has been the thing that pushes folks to just be hair on fire. And we live in a world right now that all you have to do is put the poison in the well. It doesn't have to be true. And you have social media, you have bots, people have so much money they can put any information out there they want to. They have this churning machine potentially of places like Fox News or other publications that just churn it even more. And they turn it and turn it.

And so we work with an organization through H.E.A.L and Metro Center that we were able to fund called Black in the Burbs. And so there, it's a Black mom who has white comrades in this struggle who lives in the suburbs in Rochester, New York. And she had an organization that she was already doing work. You could imagine a Black woman raising children in the suburbs can be challenging. It was experiencing all these things. And then all of a sudden the Critical Race Theory thing was the one that popped up and it had all these different folks who were running for office to get on the school board, who their narrative was absolutely the same messaging points that you kept hearing on TV. They weren't steeped in any facts. It was all about fear: "This is what you're teaching your children. We can't allow this to happen," et cetera.

And through the work and the support we were able to do with Race Forward and Metro Center, we were able to support them on that messaging narrative and just having conversations. You'd be surprised how just having someone to talk to about what you're doing, "Are we moving in the right direction?" And also the connection to understanding that you're not the only one doing this fight. That there are folks in Kentucky, there are young people in Kentucky, there are parents in other places. There are many of them in the suburbs too, and many of them communities that normally would not be engaging in a culturally responsive education. And so now we have an opportunity behind H.E.A.L to support organization like Black in the Burbs, and young people who are fighting book bans with supports and trainings. But it's also connections. You're not in a silo by yourself anymore. There are other folks who are fighting this fight right alongside you. And that is powerful. We cannot underestimate how powerful that is.

And resources run not just financially, which are important, but run to the connection of, "I'm not sure how to write this op-ed. I don't know how to talk to my elected official about this. I don't know how to organize the meeting. What do I begin to do? Where do I start at? How do I engage folks who I normally don't work with?" So there's a real opportunity in this moment, I believe it, but it's also a level of urgency because we can't sleep on this moment. These are the same folks that are saying science is not real, even though the weather is changing in front of us. We have hurricanes left and right, and all these things are happening and we know something is wrong. So it's connected to more than just this.

But I think through H.E.A.L and Metro Center and others, we have been able to literally touch, whether it's virtual trainings or not, folks who would just like, "I don't know what to do." Hands up in the air screaming for help and support and offering that in this moment. So now they have an outlet to not just heal, but also to other organizations that we've been able to support through resources and others to make the connection. I've seen the power in that alone. I think people underestimate what it looks like to feel hopeful, and to just give a little drop of hope in a space. It could last you a whole year.

EmbraceRace: Yeah, that's so true. When I watch a little bit too much TV on this stuff, then I just get in this place where I feel sort of besieged, that this anti-CRT movement is too big. And I know from the work I do that that's not true, but you just feel it. And not feeling that way, just having that community is so important. So there really have been a lot of people writing in saying, "I have lost hope. I live in Florida. This is what's happening in Virginia. We're trying to go under the radar in Virginia and other places."

What do the different landscapes look like? You probably have to approach things very differently with your trainings and these communities have to have different approaches. What do you tell people like these people in Florida, Virginia or New York? Because we know that even in progressive places, people are not doing culturally competent education to the extent that our kids need. So what do you say to those folks and where should they go? What are the resources? How do they join you?

James Haslam: It's fascinating to be doing this work with partners around the country. And the fascinating part about it, is there really is something every single person can do. We all live in a school district, whether we're a parent, we're an alumni, we're a student, we're a teacher, the educator. We're all stakeholders in that public school district that we live in. And it really is fundamentally part of the future of our community. This is where we are helping cultivate the future leaders of civil society in our communities. And so it is something we all can do, but even though there's a lot of the things that are the same everywhere, a lot of what my situation is in Vermont is very similar to folks in Arizona.

There's obviously very big differences from state to state. And it's so many states where public education is fundamentally under attack. So there's places where there's been huge progress made. We really do see this as, from a historical lens, we haven't actually got to a multiracial democracy. We haven't actually really tapped into the promise and the potential of what public education can do for our communities, and for our country. So we're still in that kind of early stages. In some places we've made some big progress. Zakiyah's work and the work that you referenced in New York, there's been some tremendous victories that have been made in some communities. In my state, Vermont and other places, there have been big progress in terms of advancing policies to have Ethnic Studies, to have cultural responsive curriculum to teach the truth in schools and to move forward.

And then in those other places where as we've seen and we talked about these educational gag orders have come out. There's many places where they're actually just coming full out and saying, "We want to dismantle public education. We want universal school choice. We don't want to have this. We think people should have some sort of accounts that they can pay, any kind of private school." And so there's real efforts to dismantle it. So we think the answer everywhere is the same, is folks need to organize. We're up against powerful resources, that have whole kinds of political infrastructure, media infrastructure, every kind of infrastructure you can imagine to try to prevent democracy. And doing everything they can to stop that from happening.

We're never going to have as much money as they do. We have more people and we can organize. And the values that of public education, of democracy are things that are supported by the vast majority of people in our communities. And so that is what we're trying to really center. Partly, we think school districts are the place where we need to focus our organizing, and start our organizing. But oftentimes there is state policies, as we've talked about, that impact all school districts in our states. So that's part of what the H.E.A.L Together initiative is about, is supporting people on a local level, helping make sure that they can hold their school board accountable, that they can make sure that the will of their communities is articulated in the policies that come up.

All of these things are public policies that communities can rally around and make reality if they show the amount of support and they have the support on the school board, and make that support in the administration. And so we're trying to do it on the school board level. And then also connect in states so those school district efforts can be in connected to statewide strategies. Places like North Carolina, they've launched a H.E.A.L Together in North Carolina that is anchored by a couple of organizing groups, Education Justice Alliance in North Carolina. And we are driving home the North Carolina rural organizing effort. And they're organizing across almost a dozen school districts, and trying to build from there. So that's a lot of what our initiative is trying to do, is help support both the local and then also the statewide organizing, how people can come together to advance these ultimately policies and connect their communities.

We all live in a school district, whether we're a parent, we're an alumni, we're a student, we're a teacher, the educator. We're all stakeholders in that public school district that we live in. And it really is fundamentally part of the future of our community. This is where we are helping cultivate the future leaders of civil society in our communities... We're up against powerful resources... We're never going to have as much money as they do. We have more people and we can organize.

James Haslam

EmbraceRace: You both pointed to this connection between public education, what it can be, culturally responsive pedagogy. We could probably talk about equitable disciplinary policies. We could talk about resources and funding for public education. A lot of things we could talk about. I think we may have a decent grasp on what strong public education which we really invested for all students might look like.

Could you say a bit more about how the future of multiracial democracy depends on public education? What is the connection that you see between public education and multiracial democracy?

Zakiyah Ansari: I think New York City is, we hear it as a melting pot. I think post 2016, so whenever Trump was elected, I'm going to say the name, I normally try not to say this Voldemort, someone say the name. We can no longer be afraid to acknowledge these things. But I think since then we saw what happened in schools with immigrant children when we came back into spaces, and key things like , "Build the wall," and all those things were being said. A curriculum that does not allow children to see themselves, others them. We had an administration that othered everybody. If you were on white and pretty much male, you were othered. And it set us back quite a bit. It pulled out the sleeping giant of many folks who were deeply racist and now they're just overtly racist, when it was quiet.

And so a multiracial democracy when it works well, we run towards difference and embrace it. We're excited to get there and see what difference looks like. We don't run the other way. We don't see that something wrong- and that's differently abled, how you learn, what you look like, your culture, what language you speak- it is run towards and it is embraced. And so I think it's no different than a multiracial democracy. If we are doing that, then that means that when we see immigrant children and immigrants themselves being in cages, that we will rally around like nobody's business. Doesn't matter where we're at. When we see Muslim communities across the globe or here locally being abused or slaughtered, we will rush to their aid. I mean as big as that, and as small as ensuring that our schools have everything they need to be successful and that we protect the history.

It's not one sided, the history of this nation. We know that. And so how on earth could we be embracing the even possibility that we will tell the history that we want to tell, as opposed to the true history of this country? And it comes with all the things, the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly disgusting part of it. And we owe it. And if folks don't want to hear that, that's okay. That doesn't mean that it should not be told. History's not about making you feel good. It's about so we don't make those same mistakes again. And guess what? Because we are trying, there are folks out there who are trying to have this happen to us. We are doing very much the same things. We are repeating the history that we said it couldn't happen again. It only took 50 or so years to dismantle Roe v Wade. It only took 50 years, meanwhile we were hundreds of years and slavery and all other things.

I think a multiracial democracy runs towards all the beauty and differences, whatever that looks like and whatever that means. It means that we stand together to say we see science and it matters. And I personally have grandchildren that I want them not to have to be wearing gas masks when they're like 50 years old, turning to me and saying, "What were you doing when I was growing up and now I can't breathe the air that is here right now?" And then lastly, I'll just say, on October 18th, I saw some questions about the curriculum post. So Metro Center has a new report on cultural responsive education and how the USELA, which is English Language Arts Curriculum, scored on cultural responsiveness. And that's going to be on October 18th.

We will drop a link in there for you to register. It's important for us to know that it's not just in one place across the country. The curriculum is extremely racist and we could do something better about it and we should. And then also, these folks are winning elections on this narrative, on this lie, on this misinformation, they're running for office. Some of these folks are election deniers, right? So to the point of democracy, that's where I'm getting at. Some of these people who are the loudest are pushing horrible policies, are going to make horrible elected officials who will overturn so many things that keep us in a semblance of safety, not even really safe.

And so a multiracial democracy when it works well, we run towards difference and embrace it. We're excited to get there and see what difference looks like. We don't run the other way. We don't see that something wrong- and that's differently abled, how you learn, what you look like, your culture, what language you speak- it is run towards and it is embraced.

Zakiyah Ansari

EmbraceRace: I believe it's true right now, that a majority of children, those 17 and younger, are children of color. Increasingly it will be true that as they go, and this is by no means to suggest that this numerical tipping point is something magical. I mean white identified people are obviously a significant part and very much part of this nation. But if we don't adopt a more inclusive view of who matters, who we care for, whose welfare we care about, whose wellbeing we care about, then whether you look at the economy, at healthcare, housing, you name it, climate change. Anything you care about, we will go as most of us goes, or even as significant minorities of us go. And the truth is that we are increasingly a people of color country. So we have to figure it out.

Where can people start? Where among your many resources would you all recommend that folks who are just trying to get their feet wet, go?

James Haslam: Yeah, well thank you so much and it's great to just see so many people interested in organizing. Here is our organizing toolkit. This is something that we released when we launched earlier in the spring. This is an organizing toolkit that groups that we're working with around the country are using as a resource. And we're going to be continuing to update it with lessons learned from some of these efforts that are happening in areas. That is a key resource.

One of my colleagues that work with Zakiyah and I on H.E.A.L Together is on this event, Anastasia Ordonez, who's working with school board members around the country that want to advance racial equity, want to advance fully funded public education. A lot of what we've seen with these culture wars, I mean we've been in some ways nice about what we're up against. I mean there's been some really ugly stuff that has happened in school boards, in school districts around the country. There've been school board members that are trying to do the right thing, have faced probably as hard a time as ever in many communities on the country.

And so we think partly a lot of the organizing that we want to do is be able to build that support and that mandate for equity work in school districts and show that school board members that are championing that stuff, that the community has their back. Parents are out there, students are out there, educators and so on. And so that's a lot of what we're trying to do. And so we'll be doing a training series that we'll talk about on October 18th, the training around the curriculum report. We want to talk to anyone can that wants to do this work, to think about how to get those key stakeholders in their community engaged and give them the tools to succeed in uniting their communities around honest, accurate, fully funded public education. So I really appreciate this opportunity.

EmbraceRace: There's a question from Stacy who says, "For the first time ever we have a contested school board election, five candidates for two positions. There is a meet the candidate's event next week. What are some good questions to ask to draw out who are the opponents and supporters of inclusive education without being drawn into their fight?" Any ideas about that?

Zakiyah Ansari: Reach out to Anastasia and see she might have some better idea. James might have some, but I'm like, she's doing school board stuff, she probably has some really right off the cuff. She might even want to put some in the chat, but I think it's a great asset there to ask and yeah, I'll leave it there.

EmbraceRace: Bruce asks, "Please share your thoughts on two ways to do your work- work quietly with allies and those in agreement, or stand up publicly loudly and in opposition to those who hate? What's more productive?"

Zakiyah Ansari: Sometimes you need both. Sometimes if you get things done behind the scenes, that's cool, because a lot of you are without support from other folks, they will come for you. So I think it's building up. Sometimes we get caught up and think we need 25 to 100 people. Building up a strong core of folks who can speak to the issue area, who have relationships and work those relationships. Again, sometimes being quiet is good in this moment, and other times when they're not doing what you need to do, you might have to get a little loud. But you get loud in front of a group of folks and try to bring more people along.

EmbraceRace: Do you have any thoughts about multiracial coalitions in terms of who speaks up? Because that's often an issue, that there aren't enough white people to hold the water as well, to speak for racial justice. It's not that people don't agree, but it's that they allow the folks of color to step forward. Any thoughts strategically about who speaks in this movement?

James Haslam: As I mentioned the beginning, there's a certain responsibility. It's easy for me to not say anything. I could be real quiet and be totally fine. I got lot of privilege in this country, but I'm a stakeholder in public education. I'm a stakeholder in democracy for my own benefit, for my kids' benefit, for their future kids' benefit. I'm terrified, as Zakiyah was saying, about the future. If we don't actually have a democracy, what will happen to our country and in our world? And so I feel personally incredibly compelled to talk to people like me, in our communities, who are oftentimes the people that need to be talked to.

So I think there's a certain responsibility for folks to speak up. At the same time, obviously we want to center the voices of those most impacted in our work. And so we think this effort is, it's critical to be centering, multiracial organizing as we're fighting for multiracial public education and multiracial democracy.

EmbraceRace: I want to go back just for a moment to Bruce's question, and the two routes he suggested as working quietly or standing up publicly and loudly. And it's not the same thing certainly, but I think about how much that relates to showing emotion, being angry, showing that you are emotionally invested and how so often people of color in particular, but in a way those on the left, the so-called left in general, are essentially de-fanged, right? Because we are told that it's illegitimate to be angry. Nevermind that literally lots of lives and communities are at stake. The stakes could not be more significant. And yet we're told that the only legitimate way to offer an argument to make the case is to do it quietly, to do it respectfully.

There's a lot of talk about being civil and not that there aren't places for those of course, but if we can't get worked up and certainly angry at times, hopefully productively so, around this, what can we get upset and angry about? And isn't that part of the message is to say... And you think about, again, I go back to all those parents going to the school board meetings. Part of what made them so intimidating is not the shared numbers, it's that they were really angry, really invested, and a lot of people felt intimidated by that. I think, all to say that to me there is a relationship, again, it's not the same, between speaking up and letting people know what's in your heart, as well as what's in your mind, because that measures the depth of your investment in these things that we're talking about.

Zakiyah Ansari: Can I just say real quick, I think as a Black Muslim woman watching white folks be really angry with their tears about they don't want their children feel upset. It is insulting that their fear, that's not a real fear, is more important and gets more attention than the actual pain and suffering of the Black and Brown folks who they are just dismissing. It's insulting, but it's historical in its country. And so it's really important for us to not no longer be afraid to actually call these things out because that is actually what they're trying to do.

What they're trying to do with the attack on critical race theory, like this history piece. If we allow this to happen, January 6th will not be in our history books. Let's be clear. That will not be something you will ever read about, if they're allowed to do this. If they're allowed to win some of these elections, get back in these spaces, that will not be something we will ever be talking about again. And so many other things. So again, it's historical. That's why they don't want us to know about this. That's why they are taking books like Ruby Bridges and things about potty training children are no longer books you want to read because it's sexual in nature. It's all baloney.

And lastly, I'll just say the piece around folks' voices. If you're going to be a white person speaking about issues, it's important to bring those Black and Brown marginalized communities into the narrative, so you are making sure that you are bringing what they want into the what you don't like to see. Because sometimes we ask for things and right now the curriculum we have is not culturally responsive, based on if you come to October 18th, you will see that it's not. So the things that we're fighting for don't even exist in our schools already. And that's what Black, Brown parents, students, and educators have been fighting for a very long time.

Don't fall for the boogeyman. Stay focused. Talk to Black and Brown communities who are being marginalized, that includes young people. And organize yourselves together. Connect to heal, connect to Metro Center. We don't have all the answers, but it's a start.

EmbraceRace: A growing community, which is great. And we're glad to be connected to you all and thank you so much for this conversation and for giving us and everyone out there, so many places to go, so many ways to get involved, and to just start. So we really appreciate you. We hope to talk to you later in this fight when we're all making more progress than we can even imagine right now. We so appreciate the insight. We so appreciate the work and your time with us this evening. Thank you James and Zakiyah, thank you so much. Take care folks.

Related Resources

H.E.A.L. (Honest Education Action & Leadership) Together is a new Race Forward initiative that is building a movement of students, educators, and parents in school districts across the United States who believe that an honest, accurate and fully funded public education is the foundation for a just, multiracial democracy. Join their growing community and check out their fantastic resources at these links:

How culturally responsive is your curriculum? Check out resources about Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) from NYU Metro Center's Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative (EJ-ROC):

Zakiyah Shaakir-Ansari

Zakiyah Shaakir-Ansari (she/her/hers) is advocacy director of the New York State Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), the leading statewide organization that has been fighting for educational justice in New York State. She has 20 years of experience in organizing and advocacy for education justice as both a leader and staff member. Zakiyah has tremendous skills and experience developed from being a parent of eight New York City public school students, being a parent activist, and working for AQE for more than a decade. In addition, Zakiyah volunteers with the NY Justice League which works to end childhood incarceration and is the Rapid Response Coordinator for the Resistance Revival Chorus. More about Zakiyah >
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James Haslam

James Haslam (he/him/his) serves as Senior Fellow at Race Forward leading the H.E.A.L Initiative, which works to build strong organizing models for parents and students to advance high quality public education as a building block for multiracial democracy. He brings over two decades of labor, community, and political organizing experience. He is the founder of Rights & Democracy (RAD), a bistate grassroots movement organization in Vermont and New Hampshire with the mission to establish multi-issue organizing strategies to building power for working-class communities to advance human rights and a strong multiracial democracy. Before founding RAD, James spent over 15 years as the executive director and chief organizer with the Vermont Workers’ Center. James has been deeply involved in pivoting our social and racial justice movements towards electoral strategies that bring our movement leaders into governance. More about James >
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