Inspiration calls us to be who we are. IDRA’s cross-sector and cross-race leadership development work has spanned several years of issuing a call and offering inspiration and support for leaders within communities to take up the charge of strengthening their public schools.
In 1999, inspired by the national One America initiative to engage the nation in moving toward a stronger, more just and united country, offering opportunity and fairness for all people, a collaborative was created between IDRA and several organizations in the San Antonio community. In an effort to engage individuals and organizations in dialogue about issues related to race and ethnicity, the goals of the One America initiative were to promote a vision of a unified community, engage in constructive dialogue to work through the issues of race and identity, and develop solutions in critical areas, such as education, economic opportunity and health care.
More recently, with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and with support from the U.S. Department of Education-funded South Central Collaborative for Equity, IDRA launched its Blueprints for Action initiative, a series of community dialogues aimed at fostering cross-race, joint African American and Latino leadership in education. In 2006, IDRA hosted three “Blueprints for Action” community dialogues in Dallas, Houston and Tyler, Texas. In 2007, with encouragement and support from a national consultative group of civil rights leaders, IDRA expanded the dialogues to Albuquerque and Little Rock. This year and next, with continued Annie E. Casey Foundation funding and additional support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, IDRA is hosting dialogues in four more states: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma.
A Cross-Sector Multi-Racial Approach
The dialogues use a cross-sector multi-racial approach for gathering educators, parents, business and community representatives, and state educational leaders to engage in the tough work of joint planning and action in tackling their communities’ persistent problems in education: equitable funding, quality schooling, high school graduation and access to higher education. Building on past dialogues and incorporating the voices of participants, IDRA uses a three-part process to support joint leadership at the pre-event, event and post-event levels.
Student voices are a critical component to the process. For example, in Albuquerque, students presented a photo gallery of their perspectives within their school district about the fulfillment of the promise of equity made by the court rulings in Brown vs. Board of Education and Mendez vs. Westminster. These powerful images and stories became the center of discussions on what remains to be done.
In Little Rock, students gave oral presentations and wrote articles about equity and access to quality education within the historic Central High School. Working in teams, students identified eight concerns and issued a call to action. An article by student, Brandon Love (printed in the April 2007 issue of the IDRA Newsletter) riveted the community in discussions that are continuing today.
The dialogue process is building momentum and having lasting impact. Beyond just talk, communities are taking up the charge through action after these events take place. For example, in Dallas, participants created the South Dallas Consortium involving five communities, including school districts, chambers of commerce and institutions of higher education. Their goal is to ensure that minority students graduate from high school and go on to college. This group has created a five-year strategic plan to accomplish this with assistance from the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity.
In Little Rock, participants have become part of two key taskforces for their school district, one of which works on increasing student achievement for all learners based on a new legislative initiative. They are using the dialogue documents as part of their foundation for the taskforce work and are creating recommendations to address the state-level mandate for educational improvement. The other taskforce is investigating school environmental and policy issues.
The action planning process is an effective prototype for inspiring local leaders from all walks of life to tackle hard issues, set aside differences that have kept them apart and build a strong common vision for success for their children. Together, local leaders…
Build cross-sector and cross-race alliances as advocates in education to catalyze local action;
Create a common discourse on the proper ends of education, based on what forms a good and just society that supports and prepares all children for graduation, college and civic engagement;
Begin to build policy agendas and action blueprints on dropout prevention for improved graduation rates;
Create a legacy of shared leadership, accountability and joint action around education issues for minority children; and
Leverage and complement work underway to address the education needs of all youth.
IDRA is leveraging its work through technology enhancements that are underway to help prepare and orient participants prior to and after their dialogues and to encourage the exchange of information. Web site enhancements are being designed to facilitate a sustained engagement process beyond the dialogues that will help connect communities across states and regions.
Through these enhancements, information is available about the two historic Brown and Mendez cases that undergird this work. Both cases concluded that the obligation of public schools to provide access to non-segregated and quality educational experiences is a matter of equal protection of rights under the U.S. Constitution.
The Challenge of Brown and Mendez
Every year, more than 1.2 million children are “lost” or drop out prior to their high school graduation. One student is lost from public school enrollment every two minutes. This tragic loss is felt in families, communities and at the national level. We must maintain uncompromising efforts in our expectation for graduating all students. As such, IDRA’s president and CEO, Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel has issued a call to immediate action to address these issues. The key principle in her call to action is that all students should be expected and supported to graduate from high school.
We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history with the upcoming reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. Most of us would agree that our children deserve to be nurtured and supported to become the powerful creators of their future they are born to be. Each generation merits our support throughout their schooling, from pre-K through college, to be, do and have all they can dream in this lifetime.
But how can our society build confident young leaders for the future when divisions among our groups continue to persist and erode the very social capital our diversity represents? More than ever, what is needed is broad and deep engagement of diverse racial communities acting together in building strong and responsive public schools that value and support Latino, African American and other minority children.
The challenge that lies before us is to create new networks of collective action built on trust and a shared vision of success for all youth. In cultivating a just and civil society, we must mitigate our differences and forge new alliances to create a blueprint for access, equity and excellence in education that will ensure the fulfillment of the Brown and Mendez rulings for every child.
This is our national imperative: increase support for public schools and the communities they serve to ensure that diverse learners are not denied access to an excellent education that will facilitate college success and lead to a full and productive life. The blueprints for change – while critical for the success of minority students, whose achievement lags well below their Anglo counterparts in all indices of well-being, including education, health and college attendance – are vitally important for all children.
Will our diverse communities and sectors pull together and concentrate on building a better educational future? IDRA believes that communities and public schools, given equitable and appropriate support, are the hope for the future for all children. Unleashing the potential of joint leadership in action has power to transcend differences and build upon the cultural, linguistic and racial strength of this nation that is reflected in our diversity.
In his dissenting opinion in the Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District No.1 case, Justice Breyer wrote: “For much of this nation’s history, the races remained divided. It was not long ago that people of different races drank from separate fountains, rode on separate busses and studied in separate schools. In this court’s finest hour, Brown vs. Board of Education challenged this history and helped to change it. For Brown held out a promise… It was the promise of true racial equality – not as a matter of fine words on paper, but as a matter of everyday life in the nation’s cities and schools. It was about the nature of a democracy that must work for all Americans.” (2007)
The challenge lies before us in the decisions we make and the actions we take, together. Let us not turn our backs on so many minority children who continue to be trapped in a mire of tragic inequity, with under resourced schools and less than excellent teaching. This nation was built on the premise that our public schools are the bedrock of democracy, the great equalizing factor in preparing citizens for the future.
Julian Bond said: “We must persevere… only with renewed commitment can our country become the nation it should be. Only with renewed commitment will we fulfill the promise of Brown.” (2007)
Together, we can create that reality. The moment for joint leadership is long overdue. Our power is in our now.
Bond, J. “We Must Persevere,” Teaching Tolerance (Fall, 2007) pg. 19.
Breyer, S. Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District No.1, dissenting opinion (Supreme Court of the United States, June 28, 2007). http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/06pdf/05-908.pdf
Love, B. “A Tale of Two Centrals,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, April 2007).
Rodríguez, R.G., and B. Scott. “Expanding Blueprints for Action – Children’s Outcomes, Access, Treatment, Learning, Resources, Accountability,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2007).
Robledo Montecel, M. “Fulfilling the Promise of Brown vs. Board of Education,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2003).
Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is the director of development. Bradley Scott, Ph.D., is a senior education associate in the IDRA Field Services and directs the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2008, IDRA. The following article originally appeared in the June – July 2008 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]