By Dr. Amanda Wilkerson
Osceola County is continuing to reel from video footage of a black female student slammed down on the concrete pavement as a white officer stood over and subsequently handcuffed her motionless body.
The tension between black and brown students and law enforcement do not exist in a vacuum. Unfortunately, because of the increasing number of occurrences as this one in our community, academics are examining the impact of school officers in learning settings. As we mark the beginning of Black History Month, I challenge us as neighbors, coworkers, and friends to examine the issue through the lens of Dr. King’s final published work where he prophetically posed an urgent question; Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community.
Our community is at a crossroads. Over the past week and into the weekend several groups organized panel discussions predicated on Dr. King’s final question. From these discussions, emerged a very revealing point about our current state of affairs: a polarizing difference of opinion. On one hand, some folks strongly believed the actions of the officer were questionable, they also wondered about the mental wellness of Taylor Bracey and expected some resolution. On the other hand, others were paralyzed by fear. While they saw the video as disturbing, the arrival of Ben Crump and his perceived “race-baiting crew” were viewed as unwelcome intruders to a local concern. Overall, each gathering inspired new conversations on recurring topics, but occasionally empowered little to no action.
Nevertheless, all of the aforementioned hit home for me in a more direct manner. First, I am a black woman. I am a product of Florida’s K-12 public schools. Additionally, I took my public-school education and channeled those experiences to pursue post-secondary credentials. Currently, I serve as a faculty member, in a college of education. In my capacity, I work to educate the next generation of scholars who will undoubtedly utilize the democratizing force of public schooling to focus on the potential that education can provide learners. Yet, I asked myself how I can use my privilege as a Black female public education scholar to take action, in an applied manner where I live and serve.
There is no quick answer, but on Tuesday night the school board will meet. To move beyond our current crossroads will take both internal and external work. Moreover, while acknowledging the travesty that occurred, I will not devalue the horror Taylor experienced. Nor will I glaze over the realities of racism or unconscious bias, as an axiom to understand the current situation. As a result, I offer recommendations rooted in the work of Estela Mara Bensimon, a Latinx equity scholar, as considerations to re-focus our commitment to support learning.
1. Overall, initiate a formal review of the policy statement that governs SROs interactions with students on campus, formally or informally, allow professionals, students, and parents to provide feedback on the policy and invest in developing culturally relevant approaches that diffuse highly volatile situations,
2. Parents, incidences of unexamined school violence unknowingly silence us (students, teachers, parents) all. In some cases, silence turns into corrosive family-school engagement that can weaken our ability to thoughtfully confront matters that make us uneasy. Commit to joining and being a part of the frank, and hard dialogues about the climate surrounding this incident. Additionally, be prepared with working solutions that you can recommend, and
3. Educators, we are vanguards for developing the most precious asset this community has, the learning and development of children. How can their professional practice be used as a bridge to inform the training and or practices of SROs?
Collective action begins with each of us identifying how we can lend our talents, time, or treasure to moving our community forward. I will offer my experience in the classroom and lived experience as a Black woman with Black nephews in public school to work alongside the astute leadership of the district and this community to reach the overarching goal of Osceola County School District’s mission which is “Inspiring all learners to reach their highest potential.” Because if I were to answer Dr. King’s question about our current crossroads, my response would be to take the road of community over chaos.