Imani Perry tells us why we need to advocate for our children
Imani Perry, professor of African American studies at Princeton University, gives her thoughts about our children to the Ebony.
In my upcoming book on the history of the Black national anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, I talk about the National Association for Teachers in Colored Schools (NATCS), [which folded into the National Education Association]. The leading Black intellectuals of the 19th century—W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, [Howard University President Mordecai Wyatt Johnson] and others—were members. They came together to try and come up with solutions to the complex educational issues and racial disparities African-American teachers and youth faced. We ought to revisit historical models such as NATCS and think about all we could accomplish if we shared insights and resources aimed at overcoming the obstacles we face as a community.
There are people already doing this: A teacher in Cambridge, Mass., runs reading clubs for Black boys and has provided instructions to others on how to duplicate her efforts. Because we are in this digital age, we could be more effective in the way we teach our kids—sharing community-based agendas and curriculum, whether that’s through a website or an institution responsible for collecting and sharing models throughout the country. That way, a parent or school’s success in properly preparing children academically wouldn’t depend on whom they know locally; they could be in the middle of Oklahoma or in Alabama or Mississippi—or in any other place where Black folks are often isolated and where there’s this revival of old-fashioned racism—and have the same access to a national communitywide bank of knowledge. Think of how life-changing that could be.
We’re going to have to advocate for оur children’s safety, self-respect and knowledge of history now more than ever. So how do we give children the resources to be prepared to light as they enter adulthood? How do we equip them to fight for the kind of respect and recognition they deserve, backed by a community that is supportive of them? What must we do as adults in this community to fortify them and ourselves for the struggle?
A big part of that is more diligently challenging the way our youth are talked about. There needs to be a public acknowledgment that police brutality is a moral failure that is not ours. We need to have a frank conversation about the fact that body cams don’t work, officer training doesn’t work and that giving police officers more money because now they’ve been trained doesn’t work.
And if all of these things don’t work, what will? Since we don’t yet have a solution, there are ways of demonstrating our rage and mistrust of the system that can have an impact. Historically, uprisings and protest marches that disrupt traffic or shopping, for example, in some cases have had a stronger impact than court cases. If you disrupt the functioning of municipalities, those types of protests are productive because the state generally does respond to them. Also, keep in mind that the first time large numbers of Black people were admitted into predominately White private universities, the first time Black people were on TV, the first time Black people began being appointed to judgeships—those came after the riots, not the marches.
What does it mean for us to be able to have these types of conversations in safe spaces? What is our responsibility to Black newspapers and institutions such as EBONY? I have my students search through [old] Black press articles now that so much has been digitized, and they are dumbfounded by the breadth and depth [of information and knowledge shared]. There’s an article about a small town in Georgia right next to one about Ethiopia. The Black world is so vast and complex. You can learn virtually everything about human history just by looking at Black experiences through the prism of the present day.
Black children is our future, and it’s natural that it’s our responsibility for their education. We create future with our hands, no one will help us with it.