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September 22, 2017

8/23/2017 1:25:00 PM
Guest Essay: Not Just Celebrating Diversity:Working Collectively to Achieve Equity
By District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon


Evanston celebrates diversity. This is a community where we choose to live and send our children and grandchildren to schools with students of all races, of different socio-economic backgrounds, and from many different cultures and countries. We value diverse experiences for our children, and we want them to learn and grow up with children with different backgrounds, customs, traditions, languages, and families. But, we also know we must do more than simply celebrate diversity. We must build our lives together as a community, fully committed to doing the heavy lifting to achieve equity, especially racial equity, for all. We have work to do.

What does it mean when we acknowledge we have work to do to achieve racial equity? The president of the Center for Social Inclusion, Glenn Harris, put it this way: “Racial equity is about applying justice and a little bit of common sense to a system that’s been out of balance. When a system is out of balance, people of color feel the impacts most acutely, but, to be clear, an imbalanced system makes all of us pay.” Look at the data: in early childhood, education, health care, poverty, employment, and victims of violent crime, for example. We cannot avoid the realization that our system is “out of balance.” 

What is encouraging is that the Evanston community is mobilizing to do something about the system imbalance. Beth Emet Synagogue, Second Baptist Church, St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, Unitarian Church of Evanston, and others in our faith community are providing leadership to address equity. Evanston/Skokie School District 65, Evanston Township High School (ETHS) District 202 and the City of Evanston are leading equity work. YWCA Evanston/North Shore, McGaw YMCA, Y.O.U., Y.J.C., Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, Evanston Community Foundation, and so many other organizations are investing in equity work. Evanston Cradle to Career is spearheading this work, and its 40+ partners are committed to collectively creating an equitable community where “all Evanston children and youth are on the path to leading productive and satisfying lives by age 23.” Notably, the emphasis is on ALL children and youth benefiting from equity.

OpenSource Leadership Strategies offers this definition: “Equity is a proactive, strategic approach that accounts for structural differences in opportunities, burdens and needs in order to fulfill the promise of equality for all.” That definition describes the work we have been doing at ETHS and the work I see gaining momentum across our community. We are tackling structural inequities, and we are taking a systemic approach like never before. We know that without equity Evanston will never be the community we desire it to be, the diverse community with so much to offer where all our young people have equitable access, advantages, and opportunities.

At ETHS, we have made significant progress in addressing equity issues in recent years. We have even developed a Social Consciousness Series of summits that focus on the unique yet diverse experiences of our students, including black males and black females, LGBTQ+ students, Latino, Asian, and Middle Eastern students. The goal is to support the academic success and well-being of our richly diverse student body.

However, this year we are taking our work even deeper. We are focusing assertively on the systemic inequalities facing our black male students. We are underscoring and confronting the disparities in academic outcomes for black male students. While we have many high-achieving black males who are accelerated honors students at ETHS, the aggregated data for black males has to be our biggest concern.

Focusing on Black males does not ignore other students. Just the opposite. All of us pay when our system is out of balance. Our best practices, our most creative problem solving, our systemic improvement benefits all students. Deep equity work makes ETHS a better, healthier school for all students. A healthy school is where all students are getting what they need and doing well, where all students are learning more together. Our struggles to better educate all our black male students is our weakest link as educators. We are determined to get better results.

The challenges, however, can’t be solved by the schools alone. As a community, we must collectively confront how a racist society has resulted in black males in America disproportionately having lower incomes, higher dropout rates, lower college graduation rates, higher unemployment, shorter life expectancy, higher incarceration, and greater risk of being victims of violence.

We are fortunate to live in a community that celebrates diversity AND is also determined to have a collective impact to achieve equity for all our black male students, for all our children, for all our citizens.

The new school year offers us renewed opportunities to embrace this work. Please join us in this deep equity work in our schools and community. Evanston Cradle to Career (www.evanstonc2c.org) or any of the partner organizations would be a great place to get involved.

We can achieve equity together in Evanston. If not here, then where? If not now, then when?







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