‘Flood of Money’ to BLM Is a Racist Deception

Education Justice Leaders Require More Resources, Not Less, to Eliminate Racism in Schools and Build a Liberated System of Education

Courtesy of The Root

After the horrific school shootings in Newtown and Parkland, the mostly white, middle-class students in those places returned to schools that were ready to receive them with mental-health supports, empathy, gentleness. Black students returned to schools that had been hardened with increased police presence and more metal detectors and policing equipment that were turned inward, to viciously police Black students, rather than outward, to protect and serve them. This, despite the fact that shootings like those that happened at Sandy Hook and Marjory Stoneman Douglas rarely happen in Black schools. The police-free schools movement has worked for decades to change the attitudes, policies, and resource allocations that allow for such a cruel mirage of possibility as poison. A twisting that can be explained only as racism.

The New York Times recently printed a story about the movement to save Black lives. That story is misleading, superficial, and irresponsible. Using words like “deluge,” “flood,” and “flush with cash,” the story would purport to tell an objective story about the large donations that some Black-led movement organizations are seeing right now. Instead, the story paints a false picture of organizations drowning in a tidal wave of cash, unable to find their footing.

I am offended. Ensuring that the system of education in this country is safe, equitable, healthy, and nurturing for Black children has been my life’s work, and it is an uphill climb. I have worked in philanthropy for nearly a decade. Before that, I was a consultant on these issues and an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Educational Opportunities Section. The New York Times story was flippant, unnecessary, and dangerous to a movement that has done so much to make this country what it claims to be in its own words: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That Black-led movement is filled with people who are resilient and strong, yes, and they also are insightful and brilliant, capable and competent beyond measure. This story would have you believe they are less than that.

Rather than a close examination of the tremendous impact these donations are having as lifelines (finally!) to a movement that is hell-bent on freeing us all from the chokehold of racism, this story glibly suggests through erasure and insinuation that (a) the groups are too small and inexperienced to know what to do with money they receive, and (b) money may be ‘squandered’ unless policed in some way by people (read: white people) who merely by virtue of their being white are more knowledgeable. This is a paternalistic and patronizing take.

The reader of the New York Times piece is left wondering — what if bail funds were able to release every detained protester back into the streets to keep up the drumbeat for Freedom that is moving mountains? What if the electoral strategy of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) was engaged fully, in this enormous time before an election that will determine whether this country lives as a superpower or dies as a failure? What if the Counselors Not Cops campaign of the Education Justice Alliance in North Carolina and its help to propel momentum of the police-free schools movement was touted as “news fit to print,” the New York Times motto? What if the complex organizing strategy of an organization like Coleman Advocates in Oakland was covered to examine what organizing is and what impact it has had, with very few resources, to confront racism in our schools? What if news media covered the ways in which groups like Baltimore Algebra Project, a youth-run organization, could use resources to continue advocating for and through math to end the school-to-prison pipeline that every day catches Black students in its valves?

That is the power of money, why philanthropy matters. Philanthropy has the power to make the dreams of the ones who will make us better as a nation come true. It is, in the truest sense, putting our money where our mouth (the golden words of belief found in the Constitution) is.

For a while there, education justice efforts were relatively well funded, primarily by institutional philanthropy — Atlantic Philanthropies, The California Endowment, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Open Society Foundations where I worked as program officer for the racial justice portfolio, and others. Beginning in about 2010, philanthropic institutions worked together to fund a then years-old movement of Black and Brown young people, parents and families, and communities to lead an ecosystem. That ecosystem was working to end the school-to-prison pipeline and remove police from schools and included researchers, practitioners, policymakers, local and state government, and even the feds (I was an attorney at the Department of Justice and helped launch the Civil Rights Division’s effort to end the school-to-prison pipeline).

Today, though, only 10 years later and with much to show for that work, the education justice movement is again severely under-funded. The community leaders of that movement accomplish the impossible while facing down white-led organizations that are situating themselves in Black community and claiming to work and advocate on their behalf, instead perpetuating the criminalization and mis-education of Black children and receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and donations as reward. Over the past five years, we have seen a retrenchment of institutional philanthropy from Black-led organizing for education justice and only a distracted public rage that does not translate into resources for the work to end incidents in which Black and Brown children are brutalized by police in their schools.

11-year-old Black girl brutally assaulted by police officer in her school
High-school Black girl brutalized by school resource officer
Six-year-old Black girl handcuffed by school resource officer

Education justice dollars have disappeared and the hurdles to acquire funding are ever higher. Despite this, these groups are winning. In the shadows, with little or no resources. They are toiling for the sake of their children. Toiling for the sake of a nation. Toiling for the good of all of us. Today, the police-free schools movement is winning because of their commitment and despite a lack of real money.

The intentionally leaderless movement for Black lives shows us groups that are in the spotlight right now figuring out how to share resources with their sibling groups who are not, but who are just as important in the fight for liberation. There are hundreds of groups who may still be invisible to you but who have brought you police-free schools victories in Minneapolis, Portland, Denver, Rochester, Oakland, Milwaukee, and soon in Chicago and elsewhere. That work will continue long after the nation’s attention has shifted, and groups that are receiving resources right now also are figuring out how to sustain this work in the long term.

Divide and conquer remains a viable tool of (the myth of) white supremacy, one of the oldest tactics used since well before COINTELPRO to destroy Black-led movements for justice. To destroy Black people’s efforts to just live, without interference, without persecution, without state-led attempts on their lives. The New York Times story offers no context or history or empathy and simply launches a grenade into a movement. As a result, groups will be under surveillance and scrutiny like never before, forced to do the work of defending themselves to a people it is their mission to set free. Philanthropy will require more onerous reporting and evaluation of outcomes within white-centered frames. The ones who will lead us, who must, will be waterboarded with irrelevance, distractions, minutiae.

Well-funded, historically white-led organizations like American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and Human Rights Watch understandably enjoy gleaming physical and procedural infrastructure, deference to their leadership and expertise, celebration of their victories, and forgiveness of their losses as necessary learning opportunities in a quilt of work that ultimately will inform the future to keep us all warm. Despite the “flood” of resources, these things are still not yet within reach for today’s Black-led movement.

I, for one, say don’t touch that spigot. Turn it up some notches.

Allison R. Brown is the Co-Director of the Communities for Just Schools Fund.

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Communities for Just Schools Fund

Communities for Just Schools Fund (CJSF) is a national collaborative that links philanthropy with the power of grassroots organizing to transform schools.