That’s one reason why, on July 30, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would be expanding the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative. Higher education institutions can apply to be considered for the 2022-23 academic year.
Specifically, the number of colleges and universities providing higher education under Second Chance Pell will reach 200. That’s significantly more than the 130 sites operating in 42 states and the District of Columbia as of 2020.
As someone who studies correctional education and prisoner reentry, I see this expanded access to higher education in prison as something that will bring many benefits to not only the incarcerated individuals who get an education but to society as well.
Even before Second Chance Pell, prison education had already been proved as an effective way to prevent crime.
A commonly cited 2013 RAND Corporation study found that those who participate in prison education were 43% less likely to re-offend when released. In 2018, the RAND Corporation expanded their research and found that the impact was even greater – with prison education participants 48% less likely to re-offend.
If re-offense rates remain low as Second Chance Pell expands, states would likely begin to spend less taxpayer money on prison costs. A 2019 cost savings analysis by Georgetown University projected that states would save over US$300 million a year because of lower re-offense rates among Second Chance Pell participants.
People who participate in education programs in prison are 13% more likely to get jobs upon release than those who do not participate. The unemployment rate for someone with a bachelor’s degree is 3.7% compared with 6.7% for someone with a high school diploma or equivalent.
This suggests that the higher the level of education a person gets while incarcerated, the more likely they are to find work and pay taxes upon release.
There has been no large-scale study to test whether Second Chance Pell participation reduces re-offending and improves employment outcomes. However, a 2021 report shows that the first four years of the Second Chance Pell experiment yielded participation from 22,000 students, with 7,000 credentials awarded, including 3,499 certificates, 3,035 associate degrees and 540 bachelor degrees.
This willingness is likely to increase once the federal ban on Pell Grants to incarcerated students is fully lifted in 2023. These developments also come at a time when states are investing in opportunities to provide more higher education to people in prison as a way to improve their social and economic mobility when released.
This article hits close to home. My oldest son graduated from high school in 2012. His friend, a young lady who had been the number one ranked student in his class since freshman year and who had been named as valedictorian was told on the last day of school that she had been replaced as valedictorian by an Asian student. The reason given was that the other student had taken one more AP class, however, many suspected foul play. The young lady, who was also the daughter of my co-worker was named salutatorian and the situation ruined her graduation experience. Tragically, the young lady died in an auto accident while returning to the school where she was working towards her Master's Degree.
by Jamel K. Donnor, William & Mary
Two Black students – Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple – were named valedictorian and salutatorian at West Point High School in Mississippi in 2021. Shortly afterward, two white parents questioned whether school officials had correctly calculated the top academic honors.
Ultimately, the school superintendent named two white students as “co-valedictorian” and “co-salutatorian” on the day of graduation.
High school seniors with the highest GPA in their graduating class are chosen to be valedictorians and are often responsible for delivering the graduating speech. Salutatorians, who are high school seniors with the second-highest GPA in their graduating class, often give the opening remarks.
The superintendent attributed the mix-up to a new school counselor who was given incorrect information on how to calculate class rankings.
As an educational researcher who focuses on race and inequality, I am aware that the controversy at West Point High School is by no means isolated.
A history of overlooking Black valedictorians
Back in 1991 a federal judge in Covington, Georgia, resolved a dispute a Black high school senior had with a white student over who gets to be valedictorian by making them share the honor.
In 2011, Kymberly Wimberly, a Black student in Little Rock, Arkansas, had her valedictorian honor stripped away by her principal to be given to a white student with a lower GPA. Wimberly’s lowest grade during all four years of high school was a B. In the rest of Wimberly’s courses, honors and Advanced Placement courses, she received A’s.
In her lawsuit, Wimberly claimed that a day after being informed that she was the valedictorian for McGehee High School, the principal told her mother, Molly Bratton, that he “decided to name a white student as co-valedictorian.”
I became familiar with these kinds of valedictorian disputes when I examined the 2017 lawsuit of Jasmine Shepard. A student at Cleveland High School in Mississippi, Shepard had the highest grade-point average in her class.
However, the day before graduation, she was forced to be co-valedictorian with Heather Bouse, a white student with a lower GPA.
In my analysis, I conclude that the decisions to force Black students to share top honors with white students result from a psychological discomfort known as “white fragility.” This is a state of stress experienced by some white people when they are presented with information about people of color that challenges their sense of entitlement.
I maintain that when students of color are named top students in their graduating class, as Shepard was in 2016, white society may begin to fear that students of color are encroaching upon their social turf, so to speak.
A legal perspective
I believe the disputes that arise when Black students are named valedictorian should be viewed in the context of white fragility.
For example, consider what happened when a federal judge ordered the Cleveland, Mississippi, school district to desegregate in 2017 after having failed to do so in 1969 after the Brown v. Board of Education case.
After the 2017 order, The New York Times reported that many whites in Cleveland “feared” that “dismantling the system would prompt whites to do what they have done in so many other Delta cities: decamp en masse for private schools, or move away.” This is known as “white flight.”
In the instance of Jasmine Shepard, too, I contend that white fragility and the fear of white flight were at play.
A key factor contributing to Heather Bouse’s being named co-valedictorian with Shepard was that Bouse had received credit for an unapproved Advanced Placement course in online physics, according to court transcripts that I examined.
The school policy requires that it publicize all of the courses available to students in the district. Unfortunately, the school administrators failed to inform students, parents and school counselors that the online physics course was available.
According to Judge Debra M. Brown, the superintendent and the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum assessment and instruction “incorrectly believed” that the school district was authorized to offer online courses for credit that would count toward students’ graduation requirements. Bouse’s online physics course was “designated as advanced, which resulted in six rank points.”
Based on the credit awarded for this unapproved online physics course, Bouse’s overall GPA was inflated, while Shepard’s GPA was wrongly calculated. This was because her guidance counselor had re-enrolled her in a desktop publishing course in which she had already received an A.
A different student filed a very similar lawsuit to Shepard’s in 2018. In that lawsuit, Olecia James argued that Cleveland School District officials were “reducing the quality points she earned from courses she had taken.” Quality points are another metric of a student’s grades.
Ultimately this prevented her from becoming Cleveland High School’s first Black salutatorian.
Unfortunately, as in the incident involving Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple at West Point High School reveals, when the honorees are African American, there have been instances in which people have questioned the validity of the outcome.
My research suggests that whenever a Black student’s status as valedictorian or salutatorian is questioned, it pays to ask questions. Is it being questioned for a legitimate reason? Or might racism or white fragility be at play?
Every institution in the United States has declared war on black people and as Sun tzu stated over 2,500 hundred years ago; "All warfare is based on deception".
The educational system does not educate people about black history, except for a white washed version of slavery and the peaceful non-threatning aspects of the civil rights movement. King's "I have a dream" speech is front and center, ommitted is his "I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house speech".
Many people today don't realize that even the church participated in deception during slavery by providing a "slave version" of the bible which only contained parts of 14 of the 66 to 73 books of the Protestant or Catholic versions of the bible. Most people until recently had never heard of the Tulsa Massacre. Several entities including law enforcement participated in the destruction of Black Wallstreet and other sucessful black areas. After stealing our boots those same entities asked, why can't black people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
If not but for the Internet, most people would still be oblivious to most issues of race. The most glaring recent example is, Darnella Frazier, the teenage girl who filmed and uploaded a video of the police torture and murder of George Floyd. Racial misinformation is another form of oppression. When you don't understand that racism has negatively impacted every aspect of society, it's impossible to understand how to take corrective measures.
Critial race theory's purpose is to reveal how oppressive laws and history are still causing harmful effects. Those who wish to promote false narratives and half truths demonize the implementation of critical race theory.
by David Miguel Gray, University of Memphis
U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana sent a letter to fellow Republicans on June 24, 2021, stating: “As Republicans, we reject the racial essentialism that critical race theory teaches … that our institutions are racist and need to be destroyed from the ground up.”
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and central figure in the development of critical race theory, said in a recent interview that critical race theory “just says, let’s pay attention to what has happened in this country, and how what has happened in this country is continuing to create differential outcomes. … Critical Race Theory … is more patriotic than those who are opposed to it because … we believe in the promises of equality. And we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality.”
Rep. Banks’ account is demonstrably false and typical of many people publicly declaring their opposition to critical race theory. Crenshaw’s characterization, while true, does not detail its main features. So what is critical race theory and what brought it into existence?
The development of critical race theory by legal scholars such as Derrick Belland Crenshaw was largely a response to the slow legal progress and setbacks faced by African Americans from the end of the Civil War, in 1865, through the end of the civil rights era, in 1968. To understand critical race theory, you need to first understand the history of African American rights in the U.S.
This early progress was subsequently diminished by state laws throughout the American South called “Black Codes,” which limited voting rights, property rights and compensation for work; made it illegal to be unemployed or not have documented proof of employment; and could subject prisoners to work without pay on behalf of the state. These legal rollbacks were worsened by the spread of “Jim Crow” laws throughout the country requiring segregation in almost all aspects of life.
Grassroots struggles for civil rights were constant in post-Civil War America. Some historians even refer to the period from the New Deal Era, which began in 1933, to the present as “The Long Civil Rights Movement.”
The civil rights movement used practices such as civil disobedience, nonviolent protest, grassroots organizing and legal challenges to advance civil rights. The U.S.’s need to improve its image abroad during the Cold War importantly aided these advancements. The movement succeeded in banning explicit legal discrimination and segregation, promoted equal access to work and housing and extended federal protection of voting rights.
However, the movement that produced legal advances had no effect on the increasing racial wealth gap between Blacks and whites, while school and housing segregation persisted.
Through the study of law and U.S. history, it attempts to reveal how racial oppression shaped the legal fabric of the U.S. Critical race theory is traditionally less concerned with how racism manifests itself in interactions with individuals and more concerned with how racism has been, and is, codified into the law.
There are a few beliefs commonly held by most critical race theorists.
First, race is not fundamentally or essentially a matter of biology, but rather a social construct. While physical features and geographic origin play a part in making up what we think of as race, societies will often make up the rest of what we think of as race. For instance, 19th- and early-20th-century scientists and politicians frequently described people of color as intellectually or morally inferior, and used those false descriptions to justify oppression and discrimination.
Second, these racial views have been codified into the nation’s foundational documents and legal system. For evidence of that, look no further than the “Three-Fifths Compromise” in the Constitution, whereby slaves, denied the right to vote, were nonetheless treated as part of the population for increasing congressional representation of slave-holding states.
Third, given the pervasiveness of racism in our legal system and institutions, racism is not aberrant, but a normal part of life.
But what is being banned in education, and what many media outlets and legislators are calling “critical race theory,” is far from it. Here are sections from identical legislation in Oklahoma and Tennessee that propose to ban the teaching of these concepts. As a philosopher of race and racism, I can safely say that critical race theory does not assert the following:
(1) One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
(2) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;
(3) An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race or sex;
(4) An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex;
(5) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
(6) An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.
What most of these bills go on to do is limit the presentation of educational materials that suggest that Americans do not live in a meritocracy, that foundational elements of U.S. laws are racist, and that racism is a perpetual struggle from which America has not escaped.
Americans are used to viewing their history through a triumphalist lens, where we overcome hardships, defeat our British oppressors and create a country where all are free with equal access to opportunities.
Obviously, not all of that is true.
Critical race theory provides techniques to analyze U.S. history and legal institutions by acknowledging that racial problems do not go away when we leave them unaddressed.
Sumner High School has been under repeated threats of closure from the school board and the superintendent, who cite declining enrollment. The most recent such threat arose in December 2020.
Established in 1875, Sumner High is named after a former U.S. senator who vehemently opposed slavery. The school’s alumni represent a who’s who of Black people, including rock stars Tina Turner and Chuck Berry, comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory and tennis legend Arthur Ashe.
But other historically Black schools, such as Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary in St. Louis, have not been so lucky. Dunbar Elementary, named after the famous Black poet and writer, will no longer physically enroll students. District leaders said they want to convert Dunbar to a virtual school beginning in August 2021. This led parents, community members and activists to protest the superintendent and school board’s decision, asserting that the physical closing of the school removes a key pillar in the historic Black Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood.
Two urban schools that I have researched, both renowned for educating low-income Black students, were also recently shuttered. Gentrification and the emergence of charter schools contributed to an enrollment decline at Whitefoord Elementary in Atlanta, leading it to close its doors in 2017 after serving the community for 93 years. Farragut Elementary in St. Louis – also located in The Ville – closed in May 2021. The rationale once more: declining enrollment.
Black and poor students are disproportionately affected by these closures. For example, Black students comprise 31% of the students in urban public schools but represent 61% of students in those that closed.
Sumner High School stands just 10 miles from the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, where protesters marched throughout the summer of 2014 to demand justice for the police killing of Michael Brown.
Amid national rallying cries and hashtags that “Black Lives Matter,” I believe greater attention needs to be given to efforts aimed at stopping the closing of Black K-12 public schools. Just as the Black Lives Matter movement demands a stop to the unjust killing of Black people, residents of predominantly Black communities throughout the U.S. are also fighting to stop the killing of their communities through school closures.
Superintendents and school boards often present their cases for closing schools using race-neutral language and statistics about low performance, dwindling enrollments and high operating costs. Rarely factored into the equation are the historical and social circumstances and policies – racism, persistent underfunding of Black education, redlining, disinvestment in Black neighborhoods and desegregation – that gave rise to those statistics.
Moreover, missing from these analyses are the human costs related to closing schools in already struggling neighborhoods. When policymakers remove schools from vulnerable communities, they remove some of the few stabilizing institutions. These buildings often sit vacant for years and become eyesores and objects of vandalism.
I raise these concerns within this time of racial reckoning that purports to value Black institutions. A rush of philanthropic and governmental dollars as a result of protests for Black lives has recently targeted Black businesses, civil rights and social justice organizations, as well as historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs.
HBCUs have rightfully received additional resources for their work educating generations of Black students. But I believe that to serve Black children, proponents of Black education must extend this support to include Black K-12 public schools. I see three main reasons for this.
First, of the 7.7 million Black children who attend public elementary or high schools today, 3.3 million go to schools that are 50% or more Black. Almost 2 million Black students attend schools that are at least 75% Black. Conversely, roughly 200,000 Black students attended the nation’s HBCUs in 2018.
I find it disingenuous for governmental agencies and philanthropies to provide economic support to Black students at the university level but not at the K-12 level, which comprises the most critical phases of their educational and social development.
Second, the circumstances for Black students who abruptly leave closed schools do not get better. Students from closed schools often experience a decline in math test scores, rarely transfer to better-performing schools and suffer social and academic disruption.
And finally, saving Black K-12 public schools is linked to broader efforts to support Black communities, families and children. In supporting Black schools, policymakers can help re-anchor struggling Black communities. This holistic focus entails supporting families with education and job-training programs, stimulating local Black-owned businesses and supporting neighborhood organizations that serve kids and families.
How can this be done? As with the recent passage of stimulus bills to stabilize the economy and families affected by COVID-19, governmental and philanthropic dollars must complement local dollars to counter funding gaps for schools that predominantly serve Black students and improve the infrastructure of those schools.
Providing financial support to end the massive closing of K-12 Black public schools – which are charged with educating millions of Black students on the racial and economic margins – would make an emphatic statement that Black lives truly matter.
How is applying for federal student financial aid about to change?
The good news is the FAFSA will go from having 108 questions to 36 questions, and most students will only have to answer a smaller set of questions about family income and household size. The not-so-good news is that this simplified form will not be available to students until October 2022 to determine aid for the 2023-24 academic year.
Also, students with family incomes below 175% or 225% of the federal poverty line (which one depends on their family circumstances) will automatically qualify for the maximum Pell Grant, which is the main federal grant given to students from low- to middle-income families as of 2023.
For example, a high school senior in a family of three led by a single parent would receive the maximum Pell grant if their parent’s income is below about $50,000 per year. Currently, only about one in five students with family incomes around $50,000 per year gets the maximum Pell grant. Currently, most students have to file the FAFSA to know the size of their Pell grant.
Automatic qualification will make it easier for students to know how much federal financial aid they can count on getting well in advance of going to college.
Also, Pell Grant eligibility is being reset for students who went to colleges that closed while they attended. This means these students can finish their studies elsewhere. Without this change, anyone who had exhausted their Pell eligibility after 12 semesters would likely struggle to find the money they need to finish up their degree at another college.
Is the ‘expected family contribution’ a thing of the past?
Yes – sort of. Ever since 1992, the FAFSA has generated an “expected family contribution.” This number determines how much money students and their families can receive in federal financial aid. It is based on how much money the federal government expects students and their families to contribute toward the price of their education.
However, families are often unable or unwilling to pay this amount of money. The formula has also been adjusted over the years to decrease the number of students who receive the maximum Pell Grant, requiring families to pay more for college. In reality, the expected family contribution provides a rough ranking of families’ resources to help the federal government and others give out limited aid dollars.
Beginning in October 2022, the government will ditch the term “expected family contribution.” It will instead rely on a “student aid index,” the same term that had been used before 1992, that more accurately reflects how the FAFSA is used to determine financial aid. The index also does not send the message that students have to contribute a certain amount.
But in reality, the student aid index is still the amount that the federal government will expect students and families to pay for college.
In good news for students and their families, the law allows for the student aid index to be as low as -$1,500 instead of being limited to zero. This is something that I have called forin my research because it allows students to get more financial aid and helps colleges and states identify students with the greatest financial need. The change in the student aid index will not give students more financial aid from the federal government, but it will allow them to obtain up to $1,500 more in grants, loans and other financial aid from other sources.
Is the government increasing federal student financial aid in any way?
The government is also increasing the maximum Pell Grant to $6,495, a $150 increase, in the 2021-22 academic year. This is basically enough to keep up with inflation. A bigger change is that more students will qualify for the maximum Pell Grant because of increases to the income limits for receiving the grant. But while more students will receive federal grants, students with the greatest financial need will not see increases in their Pell grants other than to keep up with inflation.
In our School to Prison Pipeline page, I wrote about how my youngest son was unfairly penalized with suspension for a very minor offense that would not have even been written up when I was in school. Most of my teachers were black, while most of my son's teacher's were white, which might help explain the harser treatment.
by Charles Bell, Illinois State University
School suspensions are intended to deter violence and punish students who demonstrate problematic behavior.
Yet, when I interviewed 30 Black high school students in southeast Michigan who had been suspended from school and 30 of their parents, I learned that many students were suspended because school officials misinterpreted their behaviors. Additionally, the suspensions led to students’ grades dropping significantly and to some parents withdrawing their children from their school districts.
You might assume that these punitive disciplinary practices have stopped since so many children are not physically in school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You would be wrong. News reports show that suspensions have continued throughout the pandemic, while children are attending school remotely from their homes.
For example, in September, school officials suspended 9-year-old Louisiana student Ka’Mauri Harrison for six days because he placed a BB gun on a shelf in his room after one of his siblings tripped over it during virtual learning. In other incidents, such as when 12-year-old Isaiah Elliot played with a toy gun during virtual art class, school officials sent law enforcement officers to his home – terrifying everyone in their household. Although these cases attracted considerable media attention, I believe most do not.
Collectively, these instances of unwarranted school punishment raise important questions about their impact on millions of individuals – particularly Black students and parents. The most recent data shows Black students represent 15% of K-12 public school students in the U.S. but receive 39% of school suspensions.
Students and parents silenced
In one interview after another, students told me they were denied the opportunity to explain their side, which could have led school officials to determine a suspension was unnecessary. Parents also said educators and administrators ignored them throughout the disciplinary process.
For example, Sandra, a ninth grader, received a five-day suspension for deescalating a fight between peers.
“I feel like they didn’t hear me out,” she said. “I told my mom and my dad and they was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t see why they suspended you.’ … [T]he [school officials] was like, ‘We feel like you threatened her.’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t, and the girl even said I didn’t threaten her.’ When I came back to school she was like, ‘Why did you get suspended?’ and I was like, ‘[Because] they said I threatened you,’ and she was like, ‘How did you threaten me?’ I’m like, exactly. So, I just felt like they should have listened to me and let me explain the whole situation.”
Mike’s daughter Kimberly, a ninth grade student, received a five-day suspension for hugging a boy.
“To suspend a child for five days for giving a person a hug is ridiculous,” he said. “I raised my voice about it many times. Their policies around suspension are very unnecessary.”
Students also told me their achievement declined by as much as two letter grades due to suspensions. Students and parents attributed the academic declines to missing high-point-value assignments, experiencing difficulty catching up, missing vital instruction and educators’ unwillingness to distribute makeup assignments to suspended students.
“[School discipline] affected my grades a lot,” said Marcus, a 10th grade student who received a 39-day suspension after he punched a gated window in response to his teacher calling him a “failure.” “I go up there to get my work, but it’s hard to do the work when you are outside of school. You get where you’re not receiving the proper guidance to do the work.”
Tangie’s 10th grade son received a 10-day suspension for defending himself after several gang members attacked him at school.
“I was going back up to the school every other day, fighting to get his makeup work from the teachers,” she said. “I kept calling and calling, and finally I ended up taking him to [a new school], which is terrible. But I had to because his teachers would not give me the damn work.”
Black educational flight
Several parents told me that excessive school suspensions motivated them to remove their child from a school district.
Lisa’s son, a 10th grader, borrowed a cellphone from a classmate. Then another student stole the cellphone from him. In response, school officials handcuffed him to a railing, suspended him for five days, and referred the case to the local prosecutor.
“I just feel at that time they failed him,” she told me. “He is asking to be transferred so I am looking into another school for him.”
Patrice met with school officials after her son was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in order to create an individualized education plan for him. Although school officials created the plan, she said, they didn’t implement it. Instead, they continued to suspend him.
“He is going to another school this year,” she said. “How are you going to have an IEP and not follow through with what’s on the IEP? That’s a big issue! It’s just a lack of communication and too much suspension.”
Rethinking school discipline
My findings suggest that schools should use alternatives to school suspensions. They also suggest that teachers should be required to distribute assignments to students who receive suspensions, and consider using virtual learning to reduce the negative impact of suspensions on student achievement.
Schools should also better understand how students and parents view school discipline and involve them in establishing school rules. Students changing schools is a major concern for administrators, and my study shows excessive school discipline motivates Black families to leave a district.
Several states, such as Michigan and Illinois, have passed school discipline reforms to reduce suspension rates. However, the data I collected, which will be featured in my upcoming book “Code of the School,” suggests the discipline reforms have been ineffective in some districts because school suspension data is not publicly available.
School discipline data that is anonymous and separated by race, gender, disability and infraction type should be published annually on the district’s website. Without school discipline transparency, parents and legislators cannot hold school districts accountable for the disciplinary reforms. I am working with Michigan legislators to resolve this issue.
There is a lot of money at stake. Before he became an NBA star, Zion Williamson was worth an estimated US$5 million per year for Duke University. That figure is based on media exposure, marketing deals and ticket sales.
HBCUs are historically underfunded. For that reason, HBCUs can’t recruit as competitively as some of their Division I peers. Without the funds to build programs and modern facilities capable to showcase star players in their quest to go pro, HBCUs are unlikely landing spots for the country’s most talented student athletes.
When HBCUs can’t attract the best young players, they miss out on the larger shares of NCAA revenue they could get from televised games, March Madness tournament participation and apparel and ticket sales. An HBCU has never won an NCAA national championship in football or men’s basketball. Instead, HBCUs compete in their own championship tournaments for the semi-segregated Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Atlantic Conference (SWAC). One player may not change the entire system, but one player can make a big difference for an individual school.
2. Is there anything special about the timing?
The convergence of increased discontent regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, news coverage of videos that show the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police, and the persistence of racist rhetoric, has created a perfect storm to re-envision which college a young black student should choose. College men’s basketball teams are made up of 56% black players student-athletes, but only about half of those athletes graduate from college after six years, in some cases that number is well below 50%. Less than 2% will be drafted into professional leagues.
These are black kids who are grappling in real time with their own racial identities, their place in the social hierarchy, and the systemic disadvantages of race in the U.S.
As the NCAA tries to maintain institutional status quo where student-athletes are prevented from being paid for sports participation, while players advocate for their right to generate their own revenue, black student-athletes like Williams are recognizing their role in the financial health of the schools for which they choose to play. As Williams stated on Instagram, “WE ARE THE REASON THAT THESE SCHOOLS HAVE SUCH BIG NAMES AND SUCH GOOD HISTORY … But in the end what do we get out of it?”
Committing to play for an HBCU isn’t just a neutral, short-term decision in this case. The potential for change instigated as a result of a top player rejecting a predominantly white college in favor of an HBCU is particularly significant, specifically in 2020 as black colleges struggle to stay afloat, but also more possible than ever.
3. Can just one player shake things up?
In the short term, probably not. However, Williams has the potential to influence other players in the future – and that may be more important. Colleges and universities depend heavily on revenue from men’s basketball and football games to maintain stable operating budgets across the entire institution. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how precarious the financial relationship is between sports and Division I programs. Forfeiting 2020 revenue means these schools will have even thinner margins, and reduced budgets in the years immediately after the pandemic. This will create greater opportunity for a reorganization of the Division I sports hierarchy.
If Williams were to attend an HBCU, his presence would immediately improve the school’s bargaining position for television contracts and marketing deals. It could also lead to an increase in ticket sales and attract additional potential star players.
His decision could ultimately change how star high school athletes choose which college to attend. And if more choose HBCUs, these players have the power to shift a longstanding system which benefits predominantly white schools, to one where black colleges can become more competitive in sports.
April 15, 2020 marks 60 years since the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, perhaps better known as SNCC, and usually pronounced as “snick.” SNCC became one of the most important organizations to engage in grassroots organizing during the modern civil rights movement and radically transformed youth culture during the decade. Jelani Favors, an associate professor of history and author of a book on how historically black colleges and universities ushered in a new era of activism and leadership, discusses SNCC’s legacy and what lessons it can offer today’s activists.
What role did SNCC play in the civil rights movement?
The founding of SNCC in April 1960 represented an important paradigm shift within the modern civil rights movement. SNCC encouraged black youth to defiantly enter spaces that they had been told to avoid all of their lives. The founding in 1960 resulted in a wave of SNCC activists being sent into the most hostile environments to register voters and mobilize African Americans for change. In doing so, SNCC ushered in the direct action phase of the movement.
Previous generations of activists had embraced lawsuits, such as the 1944 Smith v. Allwright against racial discrimination in voting, and the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case against racial segregation in public schools. Previous generations also embraced non-direct protest tactics, such as boycotts, to bring slow change. But the sit-ins – popularized by black college students who would later form SNCC – placed black bodies on the line in ways that other tactics had not. They clogged “five and dime” stores across the South, effectively shutting them down, dramatizing the movement for black liberation as the entire world looked on through television and media coverage.
Black youth courageously courted the danger that often accompanied breaking the color line in the racially segregated South. Their actions resulted in violent clashes that fully displayed the immorality of white segregationists and simultaneously captured the nobility and courage of black youth. Perhaps most importantly, SNCC radically transformed youth culture in America. The organization took a generation of youth that Time magazine had previously labeled in 1951 as the “silent generation,” and ushered in a decade – the 1960s – that would be widely characterized and defined by the militancy and dissent of young Americans.
How did historically black colleges and universities help form SNCC and its agenda?
Black colleges served as the incubators for this militancy. For generations, historically black colleges and universities – also known as HBCUs – exposed students to a “second curriculum” that was defined by race consciousness, idealism and cultural nationalism. These concepts not only blunted the toxic effects of white supremacy, but they also empowered youth and deliberately fitted them with a mission to serve as change agents within their respective communities and professional fields. It was not happenstance that the origins of SNCC were rooted within the crucial intellectual and social spaces that were carved out within HBCUs.
The overwhelming majority of students who convened in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 15, 1960 were from southern black colleges where the sit-ins had unfolded. And it was also no mistake that they met at Shaw University, an HBCU located in Raleigh. After all, the woman who had the vision to bring those students together – Ella Baker – was a 1927 graduate of Shaw.
For generations, black college alumni like Baker worked within religious institutions, civil rights organizations, labor unions and special interests groups. Their work within these spaces was largely informed by the “second curriculum” they had been exposed to as HBCU students. SNCC was therefore part of a long tradition of radicalism that was cultivated and produced within black colleges. This exposure equipped them with the necessary intellectual and political tools they would use to take on white supremacy and Jim Crow – the system of legalized segregation in the South.
What is SNCC’s legacy?
SNCC had a relatively short lifespan compared to other civil rights organizations. By the end of the decade their operations were defunct. Much of this was due to both external and internal pressures. Nevertheless, SNCC distinguished itself as “the most powerful energy machine” for the freedom struggle. I argue that SNCC was the most important and effective civil rights organization of the 1960s.
Unlike most other organizations, SNCC eschewed “top-down” operations that fostered elitism and “helicopter” tactics in which organizers would swoop in to inspire local folks and then leave them to manage local struggles on their own. SNCC’s objectives were completely opposite. They entered into the most dangerous, racially hostile and violent regions of the country, such as Albany, Georgia, the Delta region of Mississippi, and Lowndes County, Alabama. Once there, they set up operations that listened to and empowered local people, such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Amzie Moore, Unita Blackwell and countless others.
The relationship between SNCC and local people was reciprocal. SNCC activists learned and lived among the black proletariat – sharecroppers, farmers and day laborers. These people’s wisdom, shrewdness and practical knowledge of how to survive and navigate the worst of the Jim Crow South proved invaluable as SNCC took the fight for black liberation into the rural communities and remote areas of the South. Their blueprint became the template for local organizing for the Black Power Movement and beyond. Perhaps most importantly, their actions played a crucial role in expanding the ballot to millions of Americans who had been marginalized by racist policies and violence.
What lessons can today’s student activists learn from SNCC?
Both SNCC’s victories and defeats are very informative on the history of black social movements. Internal debates are both necessary and healthy for activist organizations. However, by 1964 SNCC’s ability to function as a cohesive unit was under serious threat. Disagreements concerning the infusion of young white activists in the organization and field operations, arguments concerning the use of non-violence as a tactic, and debate over other competing ideological tenets, such as Marxism and Black Nationalism, greatly impaired the organization’s ability to keep a unified front.
Perhaps most challenging were the external threats to SNCC’s existence. The potency of SNCC drew the attention of federal and state agencies that wanted to curb its influence and power. SNCC activists were constantly under surveillance. They lived their lives under the looming shadow of intimidation from law enforcement and the threat of being infiltrated. Today’s student activists can and should be wary of arguments that are unproductive and those who seek to derail their organizations with their own toxic agendas.
In spite of these challenges, SNCC presented a model that empowered local communities and radically transformed American democracy. By listening to and learning from aggrieved populations and empowering local folks to carry out their own agendas, today’s student activists can extend the radical tradition established by SNCC.
We'll Never Turn Back (1963) | SNCC Film feat. Fannie Lou Hamer
The measure, championed by Ben Baker, a Republican lawmaker, calls for establishing review boards who would determine whether materials in libraries contain or promote “nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse.” In addition, the boards, which would be comprised of parents, would root out materials lacking “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Librarians who defy the review boards by buying and lending such materials would be subject to misdemeanor charges, fines upward of US$500, and a potential jail sentence up to one year.
The children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole, was challenged and banned from libraries around the country for many years after its publication in 2005. The picture book is based on a true story of two male penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo who adopt and care for an egg and then keep caring for their daughter, Tango, after she hatched.
Separately, opponents of the storytime program known as “Drag Queen Story Hour” at libraries and other community venues, have held protests to ban and condemn such events aimed at children. The objections voiced by protesters stem from their belief that drag performers are evil and amoral and that exposure to drag queens will, in their view, cause children to become gay.
The Missouri bill is not the first of its kind. State lawmakers in Colorado and Maine both tried to pass similar legislation in 2019. Both efforts failed.
Librarians are professionals. Librarians working in K-12 school libraries also earn certification as school library media specialists. Librarians have expertise in children’s literature, collection development, child development, psychology, readers’ advisory, reference services and other specialized skills needed to serve children and young adults in a variety of settings.
In short, librarians are more than capable of selecting and purchasing quality books and other materials for people of all ages.
To imply otherwise, as I believe the proposed Missouri measure would, is to insult these skilled educators. If it should be enacted, I would consider it a potential threat to information access, intellectual freedom and the freedom to read.
As a historian of mathematics, I have studied women in that field and use the book “Hidden Figures” in my classroom. I can point to some contemporary ideas we can all benefit from when examining Johnson’s life.
1. Mentors make a difference
Early in her life, Johnson’s parents fostered her intellectual prowess.
While at West Virginia State, Johnson took classes with Angie Turner King. King taught at the laboratory high school while she worked to become one of the first African-American women to earn masters degrees in math and chemistry. She would go on to earn a Ph.D. in math education in 1955.
King taught Johnson geometry and encouraged her mathematical pursuits. Thirteen years older than Johnson, she modeled a life of possibility.
Once Johnson completed the standard mathematics curriculum at West Virginia State College, Claytor created advanced classes just for her, including a course on analytic geometry.
Mathematics concepts build on one another and the mathematics she learned in this class helped her in her work at NASA many years later. She used these analytical skills to verify the computer calculations for John Glenn’s orbit around the earth and to help determine the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon, among others.
3. Grit matters
Long before psychologist Angela Duckworth called attention to the power of passion and perseverance in the form of grit, Katherine Johnson modeled this stalwart characteristic.
Initially, Johnson would ask questions about the briefings and “listen and listen.” Eventually, she asked if she could attend. Apparently, the men grew tired of her questions and finally allowed her to attend the briefings.
Later, she joined the West Computing Group at Langley Research Center where women “found jobs and each other.” They checked each other’s work and made sure nothing left the office with an error. They worked together to advance each other individually and collectively as they performed calculations for space missions and aviation research.
6. The power of women advocating for women
Although Johnson started as a human computer in the West Computing Group, after two weeks she moved to the Maneuver Load Branch of the Flight Research Division under the direction of Henry Pearson.