By: NOC Education organizer Marcus Harcus
Last week, on Wednesday, February 26, I joined more than 100 students, parents, educators and other community members in a student-led rally to protest the school to prison pipeline outside of St. Paul Central high school. This direct action was conceived of by Dua Saleh, the Chair of the St. Paul NAACP’s Youth and Collegiate committee. As a former student at Central, she had been outraged by the racial injustices in school discipline policies and systemic practices of racial tracking/segregation in academic programming. The students aptly named the rally, “Unchain Our Children.”
Dua reached out to seek NOC as a coalition partner and we wholeheartedly supported her vision of taking direct action. The goals of the event overlapped with our Education Workgroup which has two parallel priorities: A Campaign to Stop the School to Prison Pipeline and a student-led Minnesota Student Bill of Rights Campaign. The outrageous racial disparities in suspensions, expulsions, push-outs and drop outs and their correlation to the racial disparities in mass-incarceration have reached a tipping point in Minnesota. The solution requires us to build a social movement locally that organizes a critical mass of concerned people willing to fight for education equity and justice.
There are many special interest education advocacy organizations working to supposedly close the “opportunity gaps” in public education, but it’s hard to find many who create platforms for youth / student leadership development. NOC strives to be a hub for social movements and a facilitating partner with powerful student-led organizing efforts. I remember being a junior at Patrick Henry in the mid-1990’s (I’m “old school” according to a junior I met Edison high school last week) and feeling outraged by the school to prison pipeline policies and practices. I felt discouraged then by the sense that there was no organized community support base and guidance from conscious adults to help me effectively challenge the inequities in the school system. As NOC’s Education Organizer today, I feel I’ve come full circle since my high school years, that I’m fulfilling my destiny in this position, and while I’m passionate about all of the strategies our Education Workgroup is working on, nothing we’re doing excites me more than helping to resource youth led efforts.
Some next steps from the Unchain Our Children rally will include attempts to organize similar rallies at other St. Paul high schools and to meet with high school / district administrators to collaborate on solutions to the suspensions disparities. NOC will be there! Furthermore, NOC is working on developing our suspension moratorium policy proposals and others which we will introduce in Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts in the coming months and years. We want to do more than protest or admire these issues in a sophisticated manner; we want to advocate for viable solutions to the education debt owed to our students! We are working to build a base of hundreds, if not thousands of concerned Minnesotans, so please join us in fighting to stop the school to prison pipeline and fight for the rights of all of our students to receive a high quality public school education! Education, not incarceration!
To join the movement to improve outcomes for youth of color in our public school systems, please join our Education Workgroup by emailing Marcus@mnnoc.org.