Dear YGB Community,
Last May, the state of Alabama passed a near-total ban on abortion, restricting women’s reproductive rights even in cases of rape and incest. It’s just another example of those in power taking away the human rights of vulnerable and marginalized populations.
Politicians only think they can get away with acts like this when they are unafraid of pushback, protests, and civil disobedience from the grassroots. That’s why we need to build power and fight back!
A key part of fighting back is supporting youth of color in their development. Our partner and fellow member of the Movement Fund, Youth Emerging Successfully (YES!), is leading a POWERFUL, game-changing program to teach 28 underserved, system-involved youth of color how to use strategic development to build their own movements.
We currently have 28 youth registered, but we only have enough funding for 10 kids. $32,000 more is needed to fill in the gap.
We would feel horrible if we couldn’t provide this service to EVERY child who could benefit from it. Can you make a donation to YES! through the Movement Fund to help us reach $32,000?
To make a donation to help YES! complete this fantastic program, please click here.
In addition to supporting these youth, we also need to show up and show out at social and racial justice-focused events across Madison and the state of Wisconsin. Please consider attending the events below:
PrideFest Milwaukee 2019
June 6-9 - Milwaukee Pride (200 N Harbor Dr in Milwaukee)
From June 6 to June 9, celebrate pride and Wisconsin’s diverse LGBTQ cultures and communities on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. To get tickets and learn more, click here.
Be sure not to miss specific events during the festival, including the QTPOC Pride Social, a community space for LGBTQ people of color on the night of June 8, and the Milwaukee Pride Parade, which will take place on the afternoon of June 9.
Social Justice Saturday: Talk with Your Kids about Reparations
Saturday, June 8, at 10am - Freedom Inc (1810 South Park Street)
Hosted by Freedom Inc. and Families for Justice, this family-friendly workshop will focus on reparations and how to talk to children about the concept. The adults will begin by discussing the historical legacies that lead to calls for reparations today, followed by a series of activities with the children. Snacks and coffee provided. For more info, click here.
Wellthy Woman Empowerment Series
Saturday, June 8 at 11am - Summit Credit Union (2939 S Fish Hatchery Rd in Fitchburg)
Hosted by the Foundation for Black Women's Wellness, this free event will help you improve your health, your money, and your life. Part of a four part series, this workshop will lead you through a journey of honesty and self-reflection, including tips, skills and strategies for budgeting, smart spending, saving, repairing your credit, and building wealth. For more info, click here.
Racism in Healthcare Panel - Black Women Birthing
Tuesday, June 11, at 6:30pm - 88Nine Radio Milwaukee (220 E Pittsburgh Ave in Milwaukee)
This panel discussion will be centered on racism in the health care Black womxn receive, specifically focusing on the birthing experience. The panel will also cover the work that the panelists are doing to combat these issues to fight for reproductive justice. For more info, click here.
Mental Health Peer Support Group for LGBTQ Youth
Wednesday, June 12 and 26, at 4pm - MKE LGBT Community Center's Project Q Youth Services (1110 N Market St #2 in Milwaukee)
With the LGBTQ community being especially vulnerable to mental health issues, this open peer support group will provide a free and confidential space for LGBTQ+ youth experiencing one or more mental health diagnoses. Meetings are biweekly. For more info, click here.
Latinx Lgbtq+ Support Group
Thursday, June 13 at 5:30pm - Aurora WALKER'S POINT CLINIC (130 W Bruce St, Ste 200 in Milwaukee)
This support group is designated for LGBTQ members of the Latinx community. For more info, click here.
Juneteenth Day Festival 2019
Wednesday, June 19, at 10am - Starting at the corner of North 19th and West Atkinson Avenues in Milwaukee
The 58th Annual Juneteenth Day Festival will feature a parade, musical performances, numerous vendors from food to toys, and community organizations sharing helpful resources for residents of all ages. For more info and the sign-up to be in the parade, click here.
Meet Patrick Jones, author of the Selma of the North
Thursday, June 20, at 6pm - Coffee Makes You Black (2803 N Teutonia Ave in Milwaukee)
This event will allow you to meet Patrick Jones, the author of The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee, describing the distinctive movement for racial justice in Milwaukee. For more info, click here.
2nd Annual Eastside Juneteenth Soul Food Brunch
Saturday, June 22, at 11am - Goodman Community Center Brassworks Building (214 Waubesa Street)
This Juneteenth soul food brunch will serve as a block party and a community forum to celebrate African American culture. 3-on-3 basketball games will be included. For more info and tickets, click here.
Amplify: Advocates of Color Conference 2019
June 27 and June 28 at 10:15am - Hilton Garden Inn Milwaukee Northwest Conference Center (11600 W Park Pl in Milwaukee)
This free annual conference for advocates of color in Wisconsin will create a safe space of healing and self-reflection, ONLY for folks that identify as people of color and/or Native/Indigenous. The space is also perfect for folks that work in the domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking fields. For more info, click here.
To truly understand the history of racism and Black history in the United States, it is vital that we understand how the Supreme Court has ruled on important racial matters, and how these rulings have set the stage for the issues we face today.
Although it is not nearly an all-encompassing list, the three important Supreme Court decisions below are some of the most vital rulings concerning Black Americans in United States history.
The Scottsboro Boys were a group of nine Black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931. Despite committing no crimes, the boys spent years in Alabama prisons, eight were sentenced to death, and they were threatened with lynchings by angry mobs outside the jail.
After multiple trials, the case went to the Supreme Court. In Powell v. Alabama, the Court ruled that the defendants had been denied their right to due process under the 14th Amendment and remanded the case to lower courts.
However, prosecutors then put the case in front of a more sympathetic judge, and the boys were given death sentences again. In Norris v. Alabama, the Supreme Court again overturned the verdicts, ruling that a fair trial did not take place. This ruling was a huge victory for groups like the NAACP.
Read more by clicking here.
Loving v. Virginia
In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down state laws that banned interracial marriage, deciding that they were unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The ruling allowed Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and black woman who were arrested by Virginia police for their marriage, to legally marry in Virginia. It also influenced Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that legalized gay marriage in the United States.
Read more by clicking here.
Brown v. Board of Education
This landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 ruled that “separate-but-equal” segregated schools were not equal between whites and blacks, and therefore violated the 14th Amendment. In the ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” largely because of the significantly higher levels of quality of white schools compared with Black schools. This case overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, which ruled that racially segregated public facilities were constitutional, so long as the quality was equal for all races.
Brown v. Board of Education fueled the Civil Rights Movement and has influenced Supreme Court rulings for decades.
Read more by clicking here.
Support YGB when you purchase Evicted.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond outlines “poverty and profit in the American city,” detailing how economic exploitation and issues with affordable housing can enhance extreme poverty in the United States, especially in communities of color. In the book, Desmond follows the lives of eight families in low-income neighborhoods in Milwaukee as they face eviction and struggle to pay the rent that their landlords are demanding.
Support YGB when you purchase Evicted with the Amazon link below.
If you would like to see our entire list of book recommendations, please click here.
Support YGB when you purchase Just Mercy.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is an account of Stevenson’s work as a young lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal firm that defends those who are most desperate in society - including people of color, the poor, women and children, and those who are wrongly condemned. The book follows the case of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to death for a murder he said he didn’t commit. Overall, the book sheds light on the politics and injustice of America’s criminal justice system and the coming of age of Stevenson as a lawyer and person.
Support YGB when you purchase Just Mercy with the Amazon link below.
If you would like to see our entire list of book recommendations, please click here.
Support YGB when you purchase All About Love.
All About Love by bell hooks discusses love and romance in the context of gender and sexism in the United States. In the book, hooks argues that in modern society, men have been conditioned to resist love, while women have been conditioned to sometimes love too much - even when that love is not reciprocated. Themes of the book include respect, trust, care, self-love, and open and honest communication.
Support YGB when you purchase All About Love with the Amazon link below.
If you would like to see our entire list of book recommendations, please click here.
Support YGB when you purchase Between the World and Me.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a letter to Coates’ teenage son describing the harsh realities of being Black in the United States. Drawing upon his childhood and the racism he experienced in school and day-to-day life, Coates explains that "racist violence that has been woven into American culture” and argues that white supremacy is important to fight against, but can never be fully erased from American life.
Support YGB when you purchase Between the World and Me with the Amazon link below.
If you would like to see our entire list of book recommendations, please click here.
Dear YGB Community,
As we aim to shift power to the people, to self determine and meet our own needs, we’re building the Movement Fund that will support local grassroots social justice initiatives. Please consider joining The Movement by making a monthly donation at MovementFund.com.
In addition to joining The Movement, below are some key events to help you stay engaged. Please attend and share...
2019 WI LGBTQ Summit
Saturday, March 2 at 8:30am - The Westin Milwaukee (550 N Van Buren St in Milwaukee)
This summit will create a network of members of the LGBTQ community and allies to understand LGBTQ issues and join efforts to fight against homophobia and transphobia. For more info and tickets, click here.
Immigration Policies: DACA and Keeping Families Together
Saturday, March 2 at 9:30am - Alverno College (3400 S. 43rd Street in Milwaukee)
This free event, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County, will discuss DACA and the family separation policies executed by ICE. For more info, click here.
Hashtag to Headlines: the Gaza Great March of Return
Sunday, March 3 at 2pm - First Unitarian Society (900 University Bay Dr)
Palestinians - like Black Americans - are facing occupation, criminalization, and a systemically oppressive and unequal state. On Sunday, Ahmed Abu Artema, a Palestinian refugee, activist, and writer, will talk about the future of nonviolent actions in Palestine and the prospects of peace. For more info, click here.
BAMFest Opening Event & Panel
Monday, March 4 at 7:30pm - MSC Lounge at the Red Gym (716 Langdon St)
BAMFest - or the Black Arts Matter Fest - will kick off on Monday with an art gallery and several performances. For more info, click here.
EXPO MKE March Meeting
Tuesday, March 5 at 6pm - Welford Sanders Enterprise Center (2821 N. Vel Phillips Avenue in Milwaukee)
This monthly meeting from EXPO (Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing) will discuss the Columbia University Justice Lab's report on mass supervision in Wisconsin, including testimonies from people impacted by Wisconsin’s punitive system of mass supervision. For more info, click here.
Milwaukee Women's Strike Film
Friday, March 8 at 6pm - King Drive Commons Gallery and Studio Gallery (2775 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr in Milwaukee)
To celebrate International Women’s Day, this event will feature a free screening of Say Here Name, the Life and Death of Sandra Bland, followed by a panel discussion. For more info, click here.
Community Coworking Day at the Progress Center for Black Women
Wednesday, March 13 at 8am - Progress Center for Black Women (5936 Seminole Centre Ct in Fitchburg)
This event - held every second Wednesday of the month - will offer Black women the perfect opportunity to work alongside fellow community members in an inclusive and inspiring workspace. Wifi and refreshments will be offered. For more info, click here.
Social Justice & Evaluation Conference
Friday, March 15 in Madison WI | Exact time and location TBD
This social justice-focused conference will be led by Vu Le, the Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps, a Seattle nonprofit that strengthens organizations led by people of color and collaborates with diverse communities. For more info and registration, click here.
WI Youth Strike for Climate Justice
Friday, March 15 at 11:30am - Madison East High School (2222 E Washington Ave)
Climate change already kills hundreds of thousands of people every year - disproportionately those who are impoverished and oppressed - and it’s only getting worse. On March 15, hundreds of students in Madison will march from East High School to the Wisconsin State Capitol to demand climate justice. Buses will be available at Madison high schools and cities across Wisconsin to transport youth. For more info and to RSVP, click here.
Trans/forming Allyship: Awareness to Action for Trans Inclusion
Saturday, March 16 at 9am - James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation (2146 E Johnson St)
This event will discuss the discrimination faced by transgender Americans and strategies for allies to support transgender community members. For more info and tickets, click here.
Annual Latino Business Excellence Awards Gala
Saturday, March 16 at 5pm - Monona Terrace (1 John Nolen Dr)
The Latino Business Excellence Awards Gala of 2019 will offer Spanish cuisine, music, art, dancing, and a program highlighting the Latino Chamber of Commerce’s accomplishments. Proceeds will go towards community services and business programs. For more info, click here.
Monday, March 18 at 6pm - Alumni Memorial Union (1442 W Wisconsin Ave in Milwaukee)
This discussion will delve into Afrofuturism, which imagines a future in which arts, science, and technology are seen through a Black lens. For more info and registration, click here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Phone: (608) 618-0942
What follows is an op-ed by Brandi Grayson, responding to Jen Cheatham’s open letter to the community more than a week after the incident at Whitehorse Middle School where an 11 year old black girl was physically attacked by a school administrator.
The superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District, Jennifer Cheatham. wrote a letter to the Madison Community on 2/28/19, acknowledging the failure of MMSD to protect Black children. She acknowledged that MMSD should be held to a higher standard. She acknowledged that incidents are increasing with time. The problem with her letter is, and was, that she gaslit the hell out of us via wordsmithing.
Before I explain how she did it let me first define gaslighting and wordsmithing. Both are used in abusive relationships. Gaslighting is a term coined to describe a series of manipulative behavior resulting in emotional and mental abuse which causes the targeted individual(s) to begin questioning their feelings and emotions. One way Jennifer Cheatham did this is by downplaying incidents of racism and physical abuse. She often responds to concerns and demands from the Black community as overreactive, over-dramatized, or unnecessary, but never directly uses those words. That’s where wordsmithing comes in. Wordsmithing is defined as a person skillfully using words to convey a certain message or thought indirectly. It’s used by abusers to redirect, reframe, oppose, and downplay.
On 2/13/18, an eleven year old Black girl was brutalized at Whitehorse elementary school by an administrator. The school district didn’t respond to the incident until 9 days later. Jennifer Cheatham did not send out a letter to the community expressing her discontent following the incident, nor did she acknowledge the incident had occurred. An eleven year old Black girl was brutalized in front of her class. The principal for the day, Rob Mueller-Owens, 52, threw her to the ground, pulled her hair out, and then preceded to punch an 11 year old Black girl in the face.
What did the school district do by way of their superintendent? They denied that the brutal incident occurred. Denial is one of the first techniques used by an abuser. They simply deny that it ever occurred. Despite the evidence. Recall, gas-lighting makes the victim (overtime) doubt their own emotions and feelings, and because Jennifer Cheatham denied that the incident occurred by failing to acknowledge it publicly, she — as representative of MMSD — began gas-lighting the public. Because who would believe the incident was as bad as “they” described it when MMSD themselves didn’t report the incident to the public or Child Protective Services. By not reporting it, they indirectly denied its occurrence. By not reporting it, they upheld the idea that Black lives don’t matter. That Black children don’t matter. That Black children are not worthy of compassion, or even recognition, during and after a situation that Jennifer Cheatham later framed as horrific.
On 2/20/19 Madison365 released an article detailing the abuse suffered by an 11 year old at the hands of a MMSD teacher. In the article the author details how the events unfolded. You can read the details here. The day after the article was published by Madison365, Jennifer Cheatham/MMSD publicly acknowledges the incident. 9 days after the incident occurred.
Jennifer Cheatham begins the letter by describing the incident as a serious conflict. “The incident involved a staff person responding to a call for assistance in a classroom, which unfortunately resulted in a serious conflict between the staff person and a student”. This is the same incident we now know was violent, brutal, and downright criminal. Remember, gaslighting is psychological manipulation overtime. And recall, I defined her use of gas-lighting as wordsmithing. She first denied the incident occurred, and then she downplayed the incident, describing the brutalization of a Black baby’s body as a conflict. Recall, one of the strategies of gas-lighting is to downplay a situation that hurts someone, making them doubt their emotions, their perception, and their sanity. In a society rooted in white supremacy racism, this particular microaggression upholds narratives and ideologies that are rooted in the idea that Black bodies are NOT deserving of protection or recognition. This is the very definition of anti-Blackness, and because we’re all socialized to be anti-Black, and Jennifer Cheatham is perceived as being a good white woman by leaders, by design she is able to switch the narrative of the incident from being traumatic, horrific, unthinkable act, to merely a “conflict.”
You see the difference? You see how her use of words downplay and minimize the severity of the incident?
Later in the letter she uses words like healing, affirming, and protection to insinuate that they are valued and practiced by MMSD without saying so. To say they uphold these values directly would have created a Blacklash, because Black families know that this is not true. But to imply MMSD hold such values – or would like to hold such values – creates a sense of partnership and compassion without it having to be true.
This is wordsmithing, which is used by abusers and politicians to implant self-doubt, and to change the narrative of a Black child being a victim to the Black child being the cause of their own abuse. Framing an eleven year old Black as the problem vs a 52 year old white man trained in cultural responsiveness and racial justice. Which upholds and reinforces ideas of white supremacy racism that says Black bodies are undeserving of protection. She enforces and upholds white supremacy racism without having to say it directly. Without having to change or acknowledge the root of the problem, which of course allows the problem to continue. The root being anti-blackness, embedded in all of MMSD polices, practices and responses.
She goes on to say, “Our focus now is on fully supporting the student and family as well as the Whitehorse community as a whole.” The problem is they didn’t support the mom or the little girl. The mom felt talked at and around. They didn’t contact Child Protective Services, and they didn’t file a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. They also didn’t contact the police, the mom did. Again, Jennifer Cheatham downplayed the severity of the incident and failed to hold her self and her administrators accountable, framing the Black little girl as the problem, NOT the paid, trained staff. Jennifer Cheatham and her administrators, as well as her boss – the board of MMSD – failed to acknowledge and respond to the harm caused by so many at Whitehorse and MMSD.
Jennifer Cheatham follows up with, “As a school district, we must be the healers and protectors that our students deserve and ensure that our schools and classrooms are places that value, affirm and uplift our students”. First of all, there’s nothing affirming about being brutalized at school by a teacher, in front of your class. There’s nothing uplifting as a parent being called to the school by your daughter, NOT a teacher, and being told by your daughter, not an administrator, that she’s been badly injured by an administrator. MMSD failed this little girl and her family. Jennifer Cheatham covered it up by using words of sympathy and compassion while failing to act in, or extend—sympathy, compassion, and healing to the family. MMSD also failed to adhere to what Jennifer Cheatham refers to as “what the school must be,” but never addressed the realities of what the school district continues to actually be for Black students.
MMSD as a whole not only support policies that ensure microaggressions AKA racism, such as police in schools and metal detectors, MMSD also fails to do anything about the consequences of their decisions and indecisions. Instead they add additional funding to police Black bodies. That is the very definition of insanity: doing the same thing (criminalizing Black bodies) and expecting a different result. Jennifer Cheatham suggest that the values of MMSD are that of healing and being protectors that are affirming and uplifting, but how is that true when Mr. Owens was not arrested, the police were not called, CPS was not called, DPI was not called and the mother was NOT called by the school but by the injured child? When do values translate into action? And when does the action and words of the superintendent and MMSD translate into protecting Black children?
MMSD and Whitehorse elementary school failed all the way around in providing protection for this little girl, but because Jennifer is so talented at gas-lighting she has some of us thinking her words are rooted in reality, when reality is in direct opposition to her words. She goes on to say, “Whenever these systems fail, or when we face an incident that counters our values, we pause, review our processes and procedures to ensure that something like this can never happen again.” It’s crazy to me that she says this. One, because as you will see in the coming months, there are hundreds of incidents reported to schools that are not reported to the public. That hasn’t prompted the school district in any way to review and/or change its policies or processes to ensure that “it never happens again.” Did you hear about the principal at Blackhawk Middle School who purposely triggered a student and then headbutted him? Yeah. I didn’t hear about it either. The school district failed to take any real actions in response to that situation.
In fact, abuse by the hands of administrators and staff is very common throughout MMSD. I’ve taken reports of several Black parent detailing their experience with MMSD and the abuse their children suffered. Including a high school student at East High school who was roughed up by a teacher in another teachers class. MMSD was given ample opportunity to “be” the MMSD Jen so eloquently describes. Each incident was handled the same. The child was suspended. Nothing happen to the teacher. Police report filed. Nothing happens. Complaint filed with DPI. Parent(s) get tired of fighting in an unmovable system alone. And the cycle continues.
Despite the latest incident being public, it was still handled the same way. The child was suspended. Nothing happened to the administrator. No charges have been filed. Instead of Whitehorse doing what their superintendent implied should be done, they did the opposite. They denied the brutalization of an 11 year old Black girl occurred. They denied the mother protection by not contacting the appropriate authorities. They failed to do anything when another parent filed a complaint against Rob Muller Owens at Whitehorse Elementary for pushing her child against a locker months before the 11 year old Black girl was brutalized. Consequently, they (Whitehorse & MMSD) sent a message that racism in the form of anti-Blackness will continue to be tolerated and they (MMSD) will continue to do nothing.
Her second letter was sent out on 2/28/19. Following the MMSD school board meeting on 2/25/18, at which time she and the school board were put on notice by youth organizers and community activists that a rapid response team and a legal team was being formed for the purpose of protecting students and families, and for collecting & documenting stories of abuse and racism.
Per her letter:
A new required professional development series for all staff on racial identity, implicit bias, and racial inequity in the United States, along with a refined support and accountability system to monitor progress
According to Jen, a new system is set to launch in the spring to report incidents, but this system was not discussed with staff, or the school board, or the people that will be most impacted by it, Black students and families. NO one knows what this system is or how it will function, but supposedly it’s set to launch in a few weeks?
I explicitly talked at the school board meeting on 2/25/19 about a community initiative that was set to launch that week. An initiative that would include a system for reporting incidents of racism and abuse centering Black students and families which would expose MMSD’s habit of sweeping racist incidents and abuse under the rug. Forcing them to deal with the outrageous number of cases of physical abuse. Making them visible via videos and blogs.
Her lack of details concerning a “new” system, and the fact that no one’s heard of this “new” system, leads one to ask, where did her idea come from? A Black activist? Me? Who she failed to give credit to? That is white supremacy in action. Her attempt to gas light us and then steal ideas presented by the community without crediting the community is not only disheartening but also telling of MMSD’s inability to build collaborative partnerships with the community. And when we dig deeper into the question of what is this “new” system, we have to ask who will control this system? The perpetrators? The school district is going to control a system that’s supposedly set up to hold them accountable? Doesn’t that sound counter-intuitive?
She goes on to offer, “A full review of investigation and critical response protocols to ensure they are culturally responsive, grounded in restoration, and more transparent.” Wasn’t the person who brutally attacked an 11 year old Black girl, Robert Owens, the director of their restorative justice program and director of inclusion/diversity? We should trust MMSD to review their own process for improvement? More disturbing is her use of words such as review that imply action, without having to take any actions. Again, Jennifer Cheatham is an expert at wordsmithing and upholding white supremacy racism. What does this mean? It means that if MMSD is serious about doing the “work” they have to hire outside, community based organizations to do the work.
It doesn’t make sense and it stands in opposition of the work required if MMSD administrators, the perpetrators, are responsible for investigating and responding to incidence(s) of racism. Not to mention, what is culturally responsive? And who gets to define culturally responsiveness? Nonprofit organizations that reflect the status quo? Or people directly responsible for maintaining police presence within our schools. Will they define cultural responsiveness? The people who think the answer to the challenges Black children face is to put police in schools? The same police that are violating Black bodies in Black communities? Will MMSD board members define culturally responsiveness? Folks who are removed from the realities of Black experiences? So much so, that every decision they make causes more harm to Black children vs eliminating it.
Her next actionable step is a full review and investigation of an equity tool that hasn’t worked and doesn’t work by the same folks who created it? Who thought the equity tool was culturally responsive? It’s so absurd that no further words are needed to explain why it’s absurd.
She goes on to offer a “refresh” of the School Improvement Plan, a plan that’s not culturally responsive. A plan that lacks resources to implement. A plan not supported by all teachers or students. A plan that isn’t working will be refreshed? What is refresh? What does that mean? Again, another example of Jen’s amazing ability to wordsmith us.
“Refresh”? How does something that isn’t working be “refreshed”? When I tell you that Jennifer Cheatham is an expert at wordsmithing, she is an expert. She is brilliant. The problem is, that we, the People, see her and we hear her regurgitation of our words and our desires framed to fit her white constituents desires of inaction and it will not be tolerated.
Her last action step was a “personal development series for all staff on racial identity”, etc. Which sounds great on paper. However, what does personal development in relations to a culture rooted in anti Blackness mean? What’s the purpose of focusing on personal development when it doesn’t address MMSD’s culture and history of anti Blackness? The issue, Jen, is that the culture of the school district is entrenched in white supremacy racism, and NO personal development series will unpack and/or recreate the district’s culture. Any and all training and/or initiatives must deal with and address all levels of racism that are active within Madison’s school district. Which are personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural racism. For change to be genuine and lasting, it must encompass all four levels/realms. These four realms are inextricably related. They feed into one another. As mentioned by Jen, MMSD must be willing to do whatever it takes to disrupt racism. If they are serious about disrupting racism, then they have to start at all levels. If they’re serious about interrupting their own institutional culture rooted in the criminalization of Black bodies, Jennifer Cheatham, MMSD—then they should listen, engage, and allocate funds to community/grass-root focused initiatives.
Her continual dismissal and failure to reach out to the folks that are in the trenches picking up the pieces of broken families impacted by the school district’s policies and practices is telling of whether or not the school district is serious about disrupting racism. As stated by Jennifer Cheatham,
“If we are serious about our vision — that every school is a thriving school — we have to
disrupt racism in all of its forms. We cannot be silent. We cannot perpetuate it. We must
What really are they willing to examine if they don’t form real partnerships with the people that are doing the work? How do you disrupt and/or dismantle racism while oppressing Black children? The two are incongruent. How do you celebrate Black history month with Black Lives Matter curriculum while allowing the perpetrators of violence towards Black children (police) to roam the building locking up Black children? Our children see MMSD half efforts, which compounds their feelings of unworthiness and upholds
the notion that they are indeed undeserving of protection and edification.
MMSD decisions and in actions sends the message to the Black community that they (MMSD) can not be trusted. And Jennifer Cheatham’s open letter to the community confirms that we, the Black community, are right.
Throughout her letters she undermines the efforts of the folks that are in the trenches by suggesting indirectly that the work that we’re demanding is already being done. However, as a mother and a community activist, I know this to be false and I am not alone. MMSD coordinators and other Black faces hired to do the work are not supported, nor do they have the resources to do said work. Their positions and efforts sound good on paper (like Jen’s letters). The reality is, without real actions and real results, their positions and efforts were and continue to be a public relations move, and we, the people are demanding real results and efforts. As she pointed out, if MMSD is serious about disrupting racism, MMSD should be diligent in doing so. However, all we’ve gotten from the district is lip service, fancy strategic plans, and planning that lacks a backbone (collaborative community centered support) and funding.
Recall, gas-lighting is manipulation. Gas lighting is abuse. Maybe it wasn’t her intention to be abusive and dismissive, but as she pointed out, intention is not necessary for racism to be carried out. Dear MMSD and Jennifer Cheatham, put your money where your mouth is.
We the people demand action over lip service. We the people demand results. WE, the people, will not stand by while you continue to play respectability politics with Black children lives and give us nothing more than lip service.
It was imperative for me to write this long op-ed to help folks understand how racism is upheld by folks who may or may not mean to be racist. As Jennifer Cheatham stated, “It is at times intentional and unintentional. It is everywhere, every day. It is within us and surrounds us. Any school district is a microcosm of the society we live in.” Its an honor to know Jen that you listen to my live videos, but you’re going to have to do more then repeat my words—you’re going to have to do the work demanded by those most impacted by MMSD’s culture of white supremacy racism.
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