Relevant Context for Productive Conversations

I hope you’re all staying dry in another week full of nothing but rain. If you’re looking for some reading while you stay indoors and relax, I’m including some new resources for you at the end of this email.
Please keep considering whether you are able to attend a few School Board meetings over the coming school year. If you can, please let me know.
I had a meeting with the recently elected Democratic candidate for County Board last week to talk about equity issues, which he has been involved in for a long time in various ways. He’s interested in meeting with our group (not necessarily election-related), so please let me know if you have interest in attending this and I’ll try to set something up. Please note that this is not a political endorsement, just more networking with people working on these issues in our community.
I was really interested in Monica Hesse’s article in the Washington Post last week in which she had a productive conversation with a person who was assuming his feelings were facts, something many of us do to varying degrees. What was particularly interesting to me was that she was able to engage with him in a way that validated his feelings, led him to be open to being wrong, and to change his perceptions when faced with facts from an experiment they conducted together. It made me think about all of these biases we have in ourselves and how we might find ways to challenge those assumptions we make about other people and stay open to seeking out the truth and accepting what we find.
I also had some time to go back to some of the links I had saved to read and I found some really interesting resources:
(1) The Economic Policy Institute wrote a comparison of the state of things when the Kerner Commission clearly identified “white racism” as the source of inequalities between white and black Americans in 1968 and today’s challenges. “While African Americans are in many ways better off in absolute terms than they were in 1968, they are still disadvantaged in important ways relative to whites. In several important respects, African Americans have actually lost ground relative to whites, and, in a few cases, even relative to African Americans in 1968.”
(2) Shaun King wrote in The Intercept about Larry Krasner, a longtime civil rights attorney who was elected DA in Philadelphia and the amazing policies and progress he’s making.
(3) Tom Jacobs wrote in CityLab about white flight persisting in suburban neighborhoods, saying “Whites continue to leave neighborhoods with significant levels of non-white residential growth.”
(4) Also related to the justice system, and in light of the recent executive order from the administration, Lauren-Brooke Eisen and Miriam Aroni Krinsky wrote in CityLab about the importance of US attorneys and prosecutors in playing a role in reducing incarceration.
(5) If you’re interested in affordable housing efforts, the term “inclusionary zoning” might be particularly of interest — check out CityLab’s take.
For those of you involved in PTA efforts in our communities as you plan for the coming school year, please keep equity in mind as you participate in these spaces, asking questions, thinking about who is not at the table or being considered, and pushing your school community to improve. If you want more ideas, you can refer to the Diversity and Inclusion toolkit at National PTA.
Listen, Amplify, Follow.

Setting Your Mindset for the Coming School Year

Thanks to those who shared their availability for our small group meetings for the rest of the summer. If you haven’t had a chance to do so, please let me know. I’ll set meeting dates next week.
For those of you who are relatively new to the group, I wanted to point out our resource list. This is a good place for referencing past articles and resources that have been shared, and organizations working in this space both nationally and locally. I’m a bit behind in updating it with the most recent things I have shared, but it’s a good start. I have also linked my Medium thread in case you know of anyone who is interested in this conversation but who might be unable or unready to join the email group themselves. Please feel free to share this.
I’m thinking about this coming year and I’d love to have a few volunteers during the school year who are sometimes able to attend School Board meetings. I’d like to set up a rotating schedule for those who are able to attend School Board meetings on a more regular basis, to speak at the meeting about something on the agenda through an equity lens. The agendas are posted on Mondays before the Thursday meetings, so I can help put together wording if you want it. You can sign up to speak online or in person. The goal is for our School Board members to hear about equity in many contexts, on many topics, consistently. The more they hear that this is important, the more likely it is they will embrace it and act on it. Please let me know, even if you can only do one or two for the whole year.
One of our members sent a study to me called “Parenting during Ferguson: making sense of white parents’ silence.” (PDF) This is a great example of how difficult these conversations can be and how important they are to have anyway, with our children, family members, and community members. It’s a long article, but well worth the read. It’s also a good piece for considering how our language conveys bias and might reinforce stereotypes even when we are trying to say the opposite. Having conversations with like-minded people can help you be more comfortable learning the language to speak about these issues. There are also programs/presentations out there about how to talk to our children about race. Please ask if you’d like a recommendation!
Many of you may be aware, but the Unite the Right 2.0 Rally is scheduled for August 11–12 in DC. Many groups are organizing to create a counter-rally that weekend. SURJ is conducting trainings for de-escalators. You can find out more at Shut It Down DC. If any of you want to go to show support for the counter-rally, I encourage you to do so, understanding that this follows last year’s Charlottesville rally and that this year is likely to be just as tense if not more so. Please take the necessary precautions.
Leslie Mac wrote a great piece for the Black Youth Project about the disconnect many people, even activists, have when it comes to advocating for justice. The separations at the border are immediate and undeniable, and separations like them happen every day to American citizens who are not afforded equal treatment under the law or by society because of the color of their skin. The outrage should be similar and it isn’t. This is an issue that must stay at the forefront of our minds when we are outraged by injustice — how can we change our own actions to be sure that similar things aren’t happening to our neighbors and community members?
Related to this is the tendency for activism to come around a specific issue when it directly impacts ourselves or our families, which is very natural. I would love to see those moved to action embrace the bigger picture of systemic racism and economic discrimination, to see those advocates listen, amplify, and follow (not lead) those communities that are systematically denied equality and who have been advocating without being heard. When you take on a cause, find someone who has been doing the work already and support their efforts whenever possible. White people, white women in particular, are socialized to lead (especially in social justice circles) and we must be mindful and intentional about following POC-led efforts instead of leading our own. That is why this group is not its own organization — that is why we strive for accountability and work to be a coalition, amplifying voices of color and following their lead in finding the way forward.
I have reached out to one of our County Board members, inspired by his comments at the recent Leckey Forum. I’m hoping to set up a meeting with him over the summer as I would love to hear his perspective on equity issues in our county and the way forward for better collaboration between the schools and county government.
I had a meeting with a parent at a local elementary school who is starting to advocate more strongly for equity and conversations around racial equity in particular. I’m excited to hear what the group does and how things develop.
I had a meeting with one of the School Board members last week about upcoming opportunities to engage our district on equity. We discussed the danger of equity becoming a buzzword like diversity and losing its some of its power and meaning, so as we move forward, we need to be clear about what we mean by equity. Some things to keep an eye on as the school year begins: restructuring at the Office of Minority Achievement related to measuring effectiveness; K-12 instructional vision (draft in October) for how to make the overall system more cohesive (like grouping paths for students geographically, thematically, etc.); and, evaluation of middle school rigor, which will impact gifted program/AP course dynamics and will include consideration of how to avoid “tracking” students (which generally exacerbates inequities). We should watch for these things and others in the School Board’s meeting agendas and speak about them as much as we are able.
Keep striving!

Big Ideas with an Equity Lens

I wanted to write up my thoughts from the Big Idea Roundtable I was able to attend a few weeks ago (I was added from the waitlist at the last minute and I saw a few of you there!). I heard a few people talk about equity issues in a really positive way and they are clearly working on these issues themselves, including a former school board member currently working on health equity issues and who is collaborating with the County on taking an “equity lens” to everything we do, who I’ll hopefully be meeting with over the summer) and another community member who I’m working on getting connected to as well. The Chair of the County Board was also at my session, and she continues to be an advocate for equity issues in our community.
The discussion ranged among many topics, but the ones that stuck out at me had to do not just with how our county should grow, but how it should thrive. Standard of living, green spaces (building nature into the urban environment), the shifting structure of county government and how citizens will be heard, especially as our population grows, a better connection between the county and schools, “complete communities” (everyone should be able to live here), and incentives for families to use public transportation. One of the things that the county needs help with is how to engage more population groups, especially those far less represented in the methods used now. If you have things to suggest, please reach out to County leadership to share your thoughts with them.
And please encourage an equity lens in everything you do, just to see how it might work. How does what I’m doing affect those not at the table? Who are the stakeholders and how can we engage them? It’s a difficult and challenging and time-consuming process, and the results are often better and certainly more representative and considerate than they would be otherwise. Try it out, at home, work, wherever.
I also went back over my notes from our meeting with the Chair of the School Board. She stated that for those interested in directly influencing the emerging equity policy, the Advisory Council on Instruction is the best way to do that. Please let me know if you need any support in being considered.
She also mentioned that a super lottery option is being researched over the summer, which could be very interesting in terms of opening up schools as option choices and could go a long way towards desegregating our schools if it is managed well and if the public is educated properly about the choices available. The conversations we are all having with our fellow community members can contribute to a culture change around these issues. Please keep advocating and speaking up!
I also wanted to call attention to recent data on economic inequities in our country and in our community. Doorways for Women and Families sends out a really informative and broad-ranging newsletter each month. This month, it included data from a HuffingtonPost article about housing affordability, which uses data from a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. From the newsletter, Arlington and DC have the same housing wage level of $34.48/hour to afford a modest two-bedroom rented home, but because VA’s minimum wage is lower, the income gap is higher than in DC, making our county less affordable for renters earning lower incomes. Problems like this are why it is harder and harder for our county to keep teachers, police officers, firefighters, bus drivers, etc. employed locally. It’s going to take intentional action to address it — as someone said in the Big Idea Roundtable, this is not something that fixes itself naturally.
Also, if you missed the discussion started by one of our members about contributing towards putting together backpacks for children housed by APAH, please contact her and/or check out the information on their website. Thanks to those who have already contributed!

Staying Aware and Finding Opportunities

Our meeting with the Chair of the School Board was very good last week. We had about 15 people attend and it was a useful discussion and an opportunity to share with her some of our experiences of inequity among our county’s schools. We will be staying in touch with her as things move forward, especially because an Equity Policy will be crafted to coincide with Equity being one of the main focuses of the newly approved Strategic Plan.
Here’s an article I came across recently about economic segregation that is very important to keep in mind as we work in educational equity efforts in our community.
Don’t forget about the June 30 march in DC — I know many of you are planning on attending.
I’m sure many of you saw the school district news about Virginia recognizing 14 Arlington Schools for Excellence in Education and that all of those schools are located on the north side of our community. The group focusing on the 4th HS equality advocacy pointed it out within their email list and I wrote to invite anyone interested in working on this in the community as a whole to join our group. Welcome to those of you who have joined us!
SURJ National sent out an opportunity last week to participate in a sponsorship program to “offer support to those who are detained, increase the likelihood of folks being released from detention, and create “organizing hubs” across the country to pressure local communities to distance themselves from detention practices. If you’re interested in serving as a sponsor or helping out in another way (financial, social media, engaging your faith community, etc), sign up here and we’ll be in touch with you soon."
Lawrence Crosby is a PhD graduate in materials engineering. He wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post about getting arrested for stealing a car, despite the fact that the car was his own. Police behavior is obviously a well-documented problem. However, as people with privilege, we must remember that the decision to call the police about something can irrevocably change someone’s life, could endanger that person’s life. Please consider other options before making that decision.
One of our members shared this article with me, from The Interpreter (a newsletter from the New York Times) “Does Calling Out Racism Change Anyone’s Mind?” I’d love to hear your thoughts since some of the conversations we have with our community members are intended to raise awareness about our own/each others’ covert racism and I’d like to think that minds can be changed.
Keep the conversations going!