(1) This isn’t new work.
O.N.E. Charlotte is bringing new energy to tackle a long-standing problem in CMS schools. The Public Action event at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center last Tuesday kicked off with a crowd warmup (the wobble) and featured a series of speakers – from talented students reading original poetry, to Earnest Winston, the CMS Chief of Staff, publicly announcing Superintendent Ann Clark’s commitment to working with O.N.E. Charlotte for Restorative Justice. CMS has already voiced similar goals in the past. But, as the numbers demonstrate, there is still work to be done. In 2013, CMS African American students accounted for over 77% of suspensions in the district, while they only make up 41% of the student population. (Spoiler alert: this isn’t a coincidence – and it’s not only in Charlotte.)
(2) Restorative Justice is a win-win.
Restorative Justice is a framework for dealing with the racism and inequity that still plagues our schools. O.N.E. Charlotte and Superintendent Clark have committed to creating a board of experts that will “develop and implement Restorative Justice practices in 6 schools in the 2015-2016 school year, with the goal of reducing out of school suspensions, particularly for students of color.” Why? School suspension is often the first stop on the school-to-prison pipeline. Students who are suspended miss valuable class time and fall even further behind. Students who are suspended are three times more likely to drop out by the 10th grade. Dropping out, in turn, triples the likelihood that a person will be incarcerated later in life. See the pattern here?
Breaking the school-to-prison pipeline is good for everyone – not just the population most closely affected. Besides being an incredible economic waste, the school-to-prison pipeline is a huge waste of talent. A waste of humor. A waste of invention, of resourcefulness, of possibility. We need all the talent we can get – and we need it not in prison.
(3) O.N.E. Charlotte is changing the story.
One thing O.N.E. Charlotte made very clear during the Public Action meeting: this is only the beginning. Reverend Tiffany Thomas spoke at the meeting, saying she hears two different stories about the children she interacts with at her church. The first is a story of precocious, intelligent children. The second is a story of “bad” children, who can’t seem to stay on track at school, who are suspended constantly, and are forever falling behind. Are these really different children, or is there a systemic problem at play in our schools? As Reverend Thomas said, “someone needs to change the story that has been told about them.” O.N.E. Charlotte is determined to change it.
Interested in getting involved? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.