Will put recommendations before AFT executive council later this fall
LORRETTA JOHNSON wants it to be known that the AFT’s task force on racial equity is not strictly about the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in New York or Freddie Gray in her hometown of Baltimore, all on a long list of unarmed black men killed at the hands of police.
“Ferguson is not the issue. The real issue is closing the achievement gap for African-American males,” Johnson told hundreds of PSRPs gathered last spring in Washington, D.C. Our union’s secretary-treasurer and longtime PSRP chair is looking for answers from an AFT task force that has prompted courageous conversations among members this year. At the PSRP conference, members said children of color need more nurturing, and need adults who don’t merely say what kinds of behavior they expect but who, as professionals, model that behavior. Kids need to see more people of color in leadership.
School safety officer and athletic coach Mark Griffin of California confirmed that young black males often lack good role models. “All they see is what’s on TV—athletes or thugs,” he said. “That’s what they see as success. They need someone to tell them they can be somebody.” As a black man raising five children, Griffin emphasized the need for African-American history in the curriculum.
The first meeting of the task force, June 19-20 in Baltimore, represented affiliates throughout the nation. Across differences in race, ethnicity and gender, members brought their experiences to bear in developing recommendations in education, economics and criminal justice. Proposals ranged from interventions with male students of color to working with police unions on racial awareness.
Johnson commends them. “I am so proud of the way AFT members brought their sledgehammers to Baltimore and started swinging away to dismantle racism,” she said. “Human beings constructed racism. Human beings can tear it down.”
PSRP leader Shelvy Y. Abrams, an AFT vice president from the United Federation of Teachers in New York, said she was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of members who volunteered for the task force.
The task force continued work at a second meeting Aug. 20-23 in St. Louis, aiming to bring recommendations to the AFT executive council in October. AFT leaders expressed readiness to put the results into action.