Unarmed and black, Gray joined Michael Brown, Eric Garner and many others on the long list of black men whose recent violent deaths helped motivate the AFT executive council to create the task force in October 2014.
for our report on the racial justice forum organized for AFT’s Paraprofessionals and School-Related Personnel (PSRPs) earlier this year..
The task force is an all-volunteer group of member leaders representing locals throughout the nation. Across their differences in race, ethnicity and gender identities, members brought their experience, expertise and commitment to solution-focused discussions in Baltimore.
Their common goal was to develop recommendations to address the particularly devastating impact of structural racism on the lives of black men and boys in three key areas: our educational, economic and criminal justice systems.
“Structural racism is the 400-year-old foundation that props up today’s barriers to equitable opportunities for black men and boys,” said task force chair and AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson. “Human beings constructed racism. Human beings can tear it down,” she said.
Work groups developed many thoughtful recommendations during the meeting. They range from intervention steps focused on male students of color, to addressing internal AFT diversity issues, to working with police organizations to create anti-racism workshops.
AFT Connecticut Vice-President for PSRPs Shellye Davis attended and was assigned to the Educational Justice work group. She and her colleagues took on several issues, including how community schools can improve racial equity and how to resolve resource shortfalls that disproportionately impact schools in communities of color.
“We need to rethink from a blank slate how education is funded and delivered in Connecticut,” said Davis. “The student living in Simsbury and the student living in Hartford should have access to an equal playing field. But the current system of funding our schools through local property taxes has resulted in very different, and highly unequal experiences. It’s not just an unfair system; it’s unjust,” she said.
Katie Zaman, a member of the Teaching Assistants’ Association in Madison, WI, said she joined the task force because she believes “anti-racism work is some of the most important work that unions should be doing today. If we can move our unions toward a social justice frame, not only will it help make the world a better place, it will also make our union stronger,” she said.
for reporting on the wider labor movement’s efforts to achieve racial justice in the U.S.
Steve Rooney, an AFT vice president from the National Federation of Nurses (NFN), described the importance of white people participating with people of color in racial equity work.
“By sharing our stories, we understand each other better and also understand the reason we’re here is to create something better for the future,” Rooney said. “People in my community have to help create the change as well..guys who look like me rule this world, and those of us in the white community have to be part of the solution,” he added.
The first meeting of the task force was informed by a stellar group of experts in the field of racial equity, including economist and educator Julianne Malveaux, Richard Gray of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, economist and educator William Spriggs, and Tory Russell of Hands Up United in Ferguson, MO.
The task force will work on sharpening their recommendations during its next meeting, planned for next month in St. Louis. The group is working on a timetable that would enable them to present recommendations to the AFT executive council by October 2015. AFT officers and leaders have expressed their readiness to put these recommendations into action at every level of the union, once the council approves them.
“I am so proud of the way AFT members brought their sledgehammers to Baltimore and started swinging away to dismantle it,” said Johnson. Our goal must be to put a sledgehammer of awareness, commitment and action into every hand that wants to swing one.”