Over the last week Old Dominion University hosted a series of events to discuss topics pertaining to African-Americans and people-of-color in general, ranging from black womanhood and leadership to the inequities in education in underprivileged communities. Each event sparked discussion and reflection amongst the attendees.
Teach For America and Minds About progress hosted a presentation and discussion on what is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline” on the evening of Feb. 10.
“We don’t say that, you know, children being black and getting pushed through the education system is leading them into prisons, but that’s the reality of the situation… Schools rely on suspension, expulsion, citations, summonses and arrests to handle disciplinary problems like bringing cell phones and iPods to school, smoking cigarettes and skipping class. Students who might easily be disciplined through a visit to the principal’s office end up in jail cells. This is the essence of the Pipeline,” MAP president Ariel Branch said, citing a New York Civil Liberties Union report.
According to the presentation, only 8 percent of kids who grow up in low-income communities graduate college by age 24, compared to 80 percent in higher-income communities. Similarly, 70 percent of U.S. prisoners fall into the lowest two reading levels, illustrating a connection between education and incarceration.
While African American’s and Hispanics make up about a quarter of the overall U.S. population, according to the NAACP, together they comprise a majority of the prison population.
The topic, which has galvanized prison and education reform advocates for years, was hotly discussed amongst the attendees.
Feb. 11 saw the annual NAACP-sponsored “State of the African-American Woman,” in which a panel of distinguished “super women” from the community discussed struggles, obstacles and triumphs.
Asked to describe incredible women whom they look up to, the panelists each named, among others, their mothers, illustrating strong family ties and the importance of having reliable role models.
Several also pointed to faith and religious beliefs as direction and encouragement.
“I consider myself a lowly servant,” Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Co Chair and community leader Chloe Jones said. “I’m not [a super woman], I know help is needed… The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few.”
The panel discussed the obstacles associated with being both African-American and female in a white male-dominated world.
“We know it’s not an even playing field, no matter how much they say it is. You gotta role up your sleeves and go to work,” panelist Jody Nelson, who works with the ABC Community Empowerment Center, said. “Having to prove yourself as an African-American woman… is a huge obstacle.”
“Some male leaders have a problem hearing a strong woman challenge them,” Jones agreed.
“But women are obstacles to women too,” Jones continued, “we are some catty mean-spirited people… we are our worst enemies.”
The panelists stressed the importance of surrounding oneself with encouraging individuals and finding a “partner that believes in you, your dreams and your goals,” as well as loving others and oneself.
The discussion saw performances by Cierra Wilson, who danced to Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman,” and India Tyree who sang Leanna Hava’s “Lost and Found.”
By Sean Davis