We’re joined by Karla and Jedidah – two high school students in New York City who are leaders at IntegrateNYC. This youth led organization fights for integration and equity in all NYC schools. From protest to policy, they center student voice because students are the ones most directly impacted by the segregation, and the ones with the most at stake.
Recognizing that desegregation alone isn’t enough to solve for equity, IntegrateNYC developed the 5 Rs of real integration. They are:
- Race and Enrollment
- Restorative Justice
- Representation of teachers and staff
They argue that schools need to address all 5 Rs to achieve real integration, and work with the Department of Education (DOE) to enact policies that work towards that goal.
Karla and Jedidah walk us through all 5 Rs, while also sharing their own experiences being impacted by segregation. These youth leaders are passionate and inspiring, and remind us of the power of youth voice.
INTEGRATED SCHOOLS WEBINAR:
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The Integrated Schools Podcast was created by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits.
This episode was produced by Andrew Lefkowits.
Audio editing and mixing by Andrew Lefkowits.
Music by Kevin Casey.
Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools podcast. I'm Andrew White dad from Denver, and this is IntegrateNYC: Youth Voice for Real Integration. IntegrateNYC is a youth led organization fighting for integration and equity in New York City. From student organizing to policy proposals, they center the voice of those most affected by segregation, and it's resulting inequities - the students.
And while the students want desegregation, they also realized that simply moving bodies around doesn't address all of the inequities they face. So, in an effort to move beyond desegregation to true integration, and drawing on the long history of educational justice advocates and organizations, they came up with the 5 R's of Real Integration.
These are: Race and enrollment, or who is in your school? Resources, or what is in your school? Relationships, how do people in your school relate to one another and their differences? Restorative justice, or who's punished in your school and how? And Representation of staff, who teaches and leads in your school?
They argue, compellingly, that without all five of these elements in place, we can't achieve real integration, and that without real representation of youth at decision making tables, a more just future will remain out of reach.
This idea of looking beyond desegregation to true integration is something we talk about Integrated Schools quite a bit, and the framework these students have laid out, I find to be a very useful way of looking at what we mean when we talk about integration. You know, it helps clarify that while as a country, we tried desegregation at various times, we've never truly worked to integrate our schools.
So I'm thrilled to be joined today by two high school students. Karla, who identifies as Latinx from Brooklyn, and Jedidah, a Black and Latinx student from the Bronx. They work at IntegrateNYC as student leads, helping shape policy and drive action to advance solutions that will serve all students. And while they're based in New York and New York City provides some unique challenges, their message of true integration and the power of youth voice is relevant in every corner of our country.
Before we get into the conversation though, I do want to take a quick moment to announce the first ever integrated schools webinar - The Integrated Schools Movement: Where We Begin. It's happening Monday, July 13th, 5:00 PM Pacific /8:00 PM Eastern. There's a link to register in the show notes. I'll talk a bit more about it at the end of the episode, but for now, I'll just encourage you to register and share it with your networks. We're really excited about it.
And now Karla and Jedidah from IntegrateNYC.
Karla: I'm Karla Narvaez. I'm 16 and I am a lead at IntegrateNYC.
Jedidah: I'm Jedidah, I'm 17 and I'm also a lead at IntegrateNYC.
Andrew: Awesome. And what is IntegrateNYC?
Jedidah: IntegrateNYC is a youth led organization that fights for real integration in New York City schools.
Karla: And creates policies to help the DOE change our public school systems that have kept students segregated and oppressed. We emphasize on student voice because it's mostly students that are in these schools and it's their experiences.
Jedidah: Yeah, we're the ones who are most directly impacted by the system, so we want to give that voice back to us for transformation.
Andrew: That's awesome. Tell me a bit about the schools you go to.
Jedidah: I go to school in Manhattan, and it's a predominantly Black and Brown school.
Karla: I go to school in Brooklyn and it's a predominantly White, wealthier school.
Andrew: What were your, have you guys both grown up in New York your whole lives?
Jedidah: I’m from the Bronx, I've always grown up in the public school system.
Karla: Yeah, I'm from Brooklyn, but, I live in a very, I live in a predominantly White neighborhood and, I went to school in predominantly White schools since elementary school, and I started only seeing the disparities in our school system when I entered high schools and had to go through the whole screening process, which was really unfortunate because I knew the screening process was kind of messed up, but I had to, I had to do it in order to get into schools.
And I knew that the more resourced schools, more privileged schools were in Manhattan. And I shouldn't have to know that, and I shouldn't have to go through with it just because I want to get into a high school.
Jedidah: Yeah, I feel like that's an important point that you pointed out. Like I said before, I grew up in the Bronx. I've always gone to school in the Bronx until high school. Why did I feel a need to go to Manhattan to get better opportunities? Why can't I just stay in the comfort of my community to receive those same opportunities?
Andrew: New York City is often referred to as one of the most segregated school districts in the country. You guys have a whole bunch of students from a whole bunch of different family backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, and yet, you find because of the systems, that they are not often in school together.
How does that show up for you guys in your sort of day to day lives? How does that segregation impact you?
Jedidah: For me, integration is important because we deserve to feel safe in our own schools, you know? In my school at least, I don't get to see a Black teacher in the front of the classroom. All my teachers are White, and I only have one Black teacher. So that's how segregation kind of shows up in my school.
And it's also the lack of resources in my school. You know, I don't have a nurse in my school. And why is that? A lot of other students, my friends, they go to schools where they're over policed and some schools have police and some schools don't. And why is that? It's racism.
Karla: For me, I've, I've been going to predominantly White schools since elementary school, and I always had a bit of a problem with me and my identity when it comes to our culture, ‘cause I’ve just always been surrounded by people who didn't look like me, including faculty members. In my school, it's more of an issue of students of color feeling really uncomfortable in areas where they spend so much time. We spend so much time in schools and it's suppose it's kind of like our second home, if you think about it. We're there most of the time of the day, we're with the same people and, as a student of color, I just feel constantly uncomfortable in the environments that I'm in.
Andrew: And you're, the sort of reputation of each of your schools? When people hear the name of your schools or where you go to school, what do people think about in terms of like the quality of the schools?
Jedidah: We're pretty, we're a pretty small school, so nobody really knows about us
Karla: For my school, it's actually, it's more well known in the area that I live in because a lot of the students, the predominantly White and privileged students that go to the middle school near there, go to the same high school, which is my high school. So, it has a good academic standing when it comes to like the surrounding community, although it's also very small. So the people in the neighborhood tend to go to that school.
Andrew: So it has a reputation for being a “good” school, and yet you find yourself feeling not welcome or, or struggling with the kind of social and emotional aspects of the school.
Andrew: So maybe beyond the kind of social and emotional and sense of belonging piece of it, the resources that are available, you see differences between, you know, either your school in schools nearby, or other schools that you know about in terms of what you, what you have access to you know, be it AP classes or extracurriculars or any of those things?
Jedidah: Yeah. I know my school personally, we don't have sports at all. And knowing that other schools right in the same district have all these opportunities to have sports is kind of disheartening because we deserve as much as the school across the block. We would like to have the same opportunities to have sports - have more AP classes than just five in our school. Some schools have 10 AP classes.
Andrew: Which means that - only five APs even offered means sort of the best case scenario, you can only take those credits on beyond high school because there's only five available to start with. Yeah, Karla?
Karla: In my case, my school is more academically focused. So we tend to have a lot more AP classes. We have college classes that we're allowed to take, and we have a lot of like tutoring and things like that, but our sports teams are also not the strongest. We have to share a field with another school, and when that school is using it, we have to go to these really terrible field. So when it comes to sports, my school is a little bit under resourced.
Andrew: But lots of academic resources, maybe even, even disproportionate to some of the other schools nearby?
Andrew: How does that impact the student population at the school? Does it have an impact on how kids feel about school or about how they belong in school or about their role in school or kind of what, what things are available to them or not?
Jedidah: It definitely does impact us because we would like to have art classes. We would like to have all these opportunities extracurricular, to look forward to in school, but when we aren't given those same chances to expand on ourselves, it's kind of disheartening.
Karla: I agree with Jedidah. When I had entered my school, I was so excited to join the soccer team, and when I did, I realized how much of a mess it was. And I wasn't excited to join the team anymore. And I had to focus more on extracurriculars that are more academic.
Andrew: Hard to be sort of well-rounded in either of your schools, it sounds like. That even by ninth grade, you have been asked to kind of choose what's important to you. And then that, you know, if you're lucky enough to get into a school that has that, that's the only thing that it's going to have for you.
Andrew: What about, do you see any, any benefits to the, the segregation? Are there any things that come? Jedidah, you said you're in a predominantly Black and Brown school. Are there, are there benefits to that - culturally or, or emotionally, or kind of ...
Jedidah: Yeah, I feel like nobody benefits from segregation. Everyone is impacted, even White students who go to very “good” schools. They are impacted by segregation in New York City. You are being robbed from learning from other cultures you're being robbed from learning a history that's not yours. And for me, my history has always been Whitewashed, it has always been in the White perspective, and that's a very harmful narrative to be pushed on, because it makes me, and so many other kids, feel like our history is not important enough, and we are just products of our trauma, not our excellence.
Andrew: Yeah, that's beautiful.
Karla: I agree. I don't think anyone benefits from segregation. It just pushes us farther, farther apart. It doesn't create open-mindedness, it doesn't create, it doesn't inform anybody of other people's cultures. And for me, I feel like it's just a cycle. Like I've been going to predominantly White schools since elementary school, because my elementary school, I was pushed into a predominantly White middle school, and from there I went to high school. So it doesn't really stop, segregation kind of just follows you when it comes to the systems and our public schools.
Andrew: Once you, once you've sort of gotten in the door, then the easiest course of action is just to maintain segregation.
So, one solution is integration, and I know you guys also, at Integrated Schools, we like to try to be really clear about the difference between desegregation and integration - that desegregation is really just sort of moving bodies around and percentages of people in buildings and stuff, but not about what happens when you're actually there, once you're actually in the building at the classroom level or, or culturally, or, you know, how welcome you feel in the environment.
And I think what I love about IntegrateNYC is that you guys are calling for something much, much bigger than just desegregation and something that I think as a country, we've never actually tried in a meaningful way. We tried desegregation, it had some real powerful impacts and benefits, but we also gave up on it and we never did it in a way that was really thoughtful about what real integration could mean. And so you guys came up with the five R’s, and maybe you could just dive in one at a time. What are the 5 R’s of real integration?
Karla: Yeah. So one of the R’s is Resources and IntegrateNYC works to make sure that each school has equitable learning tools and opportunities like sports teams, clubs, computers, tutoring, books, and making sure that those resources are allocated equitably. And by doing that, kids are receiving the same education and the same opportunities, so that we're on the same level.
And this also extends to, as you were saying before, like AP courses, art programs, it can even extend to like guidance counselors or nurses as Jedidah pointed out. And that's to make sure that kids are properly supported and are properly educated.
Andrew: So the question there is like what is in our school, what things do we have access to and distributing those with an eye towards equity, not towards equality. Every school doesn't need exactly the same things, but how do we make sure each school has the things that they need to help their students thrive?
That's great. What's another R, Jedidah?
Jedidah: So another R that we have is Relationships. And we at Integrate believe that all students should feel able to be unapologetically themselves when they walk through their second homes, basically. We want a culturally responsive education. We want to feel celebrated in the very rooms that we're learning in, and we want to connect with teachers. You know, we don't want to feel like there's a disconnect between those two. I want to have genuine conversations outside of the classroom. I want to confide in you. And that's a relationship that we definitely need in our schools.
Andrew: that's two.
Karla: Another one that we also focus on is Representation. So this is kind of focusing more on adult bodies, more on the staff in the schools and IntegrateNYC wants to create inclusive staff that support communities of color, immigrant communities, the LGBTQ+ communities or any other identities.
And that's to just make sure that the youth feel represented in their schools. And to kind of transform the staff we already have in our schools, we would like to train them through culturally responsive practices and restorative justice to make sure that students are being given the right opportunities and the right ways to express themselves. And this is just to help students feel safe, comfortable, to make sure that they're never, they never feel embarrassed about who they are or silenced in their school environment.
Jedidah: Exactly. And to add on to Karla, I feel like it's important for students of color to see themselves in places of leadership, because then we believe that we can occupy those spaces. So there should be no reason why I have only one Black teacher in my school when it's a predominantly Black and Brown school. Why are we only being taught by White teachers? Why can't we see ourselves in these places?
Andrew: What's the impact of that? Have you, have you found that, like, in your own experience, your own schooling experience, I'm guessing you haven't had a whole lot of teachers of color, Black teachers who, who look like you. What is the impact of that? Or can you think of like a specific instance where having representation has really made a difference for you?
Jedidah: I feel like just knowing that someone understands where I come from and understands what community I'm a part of, just like that understanding feels so welcoming and like, I love feeling safe in their presence.
Andrew: It makes it easier to learn?
Andrew: Karla, have you had any experiences of representation having an impact on your learning or your education?
Karla: Yeah, I can't remember a time before high school that I had a Latinx teacher. And, as I said, I kind of struggled with my cultural identity just because I was always surrounded by White culture. And when I had reached high school, I joined the Hispanic club at my school and it was the first cultural club I had ever seen, first of all.
Andrew: Not just joined, but even like knew, like even existed.
Karla: Yeah. And then there was a Spanish teacher that identified as Latinx, but she had left to, I think she had a baby and she had to leave to take care of the baby. And I know that the girls in Hispanic club had always talked about how great of a role model she was for them, how she shaped them into who they were today. And I just remember not being able to relate because I'd never met her. And the woman who came to teach our Spanish class identified as White. And then that just kind of made it even harder to form a bond with somebody at my school, because the only Latinx teacher I had had, or was potentially going to have, had left.
Andrew: Right. All right. We've got Resources. We've got Relationships. We've got Representation. There's two more.
Jedidah: We'll go onto Race and enrollment. So our current system does not prioritize language of the students. It does not prioritize the socioeconomic status that they come from. It doesn't prioritize their ethnic background or their race, and it relies on a racist and classist policy. So, at Integrate, what we stand for is for all the students to reflect the diversity that we see in our city. You know, New York City is one of the most diverse cities, why don't we see that reflected in our schools? Why am I going to a predominantly Black and Brown school when Karla's going to a predominantly White school? That's segregation, literally.
Andrew: New York City has, right like the, the district is like 15% White, 16% Asian, 25% Black and 40% Latinx. And yet you have schools with 70, 80, 90% kids of color or, or the opposite.
Jedidah: Right. And we have a specialized high school. It's called Stuyvesant. And in 2019, only seven Black students were admitted to that school.
Andrew: Seven, not 7%. Seven seven kids.
Jedidah:and it’s a big school.
Karla: a huge school.
Jedidah: a huge school.
Karla: Just to add on, New York City has the screens that the administration uses. And they look at, you know, performance metrics. They look at test scores. They look at interviews. They look at grades.
Andrew: These screens, this is the process they use to see who is allowed to go to which high school basically, right?
Karla: Yeah, and it's just showing that when you accept certain students who have had more opportunities, which tend to be wealthier White students, that kind of follows them. Like they'll go to other schools that have more opportunities. And then the lower income and Brown and Black students are pushed into these other schools that are under resourced and have less opportunities.
Andrew: You know, this is, this is the place - Race and enrollment - that people are sort of most familiar with. This is really about desegregation, right. It’s about, is about who has access to which schools and which bodies go in. But one thing I think, I think that what’s great about the way that you guys have framed it, is that it is not just about Black and Brown kids versus White kids, or Asian kids versus Black and Brown kids. That it’s really about representation of the city, of the environment, of the neighborhood as a whole.
So looking beyond just race, looking into language status, socioeconomic status, and these other factors. So it's not enough to just say let's have the races matchup, but also all of these other ways, because it seems that it's like it's driving at how do we avoid concentrations of vulnerability, that then result in concentrations of privilege, right? That like, if you, if you are not cognizant of who's showing up in the school and the vulnerabilities they bring, then the system allows for more and more vulnerabilities to be collected together and more and more privileged to be collected together.
Jedidah: And I feel like we've tried desegregation before, but it's not sustainable. Literally Brown vs. Board of Education was supposed to be the end of segregation in our schools, but you still see this in New York City in 2020, right? So that's why we pushed for real integration. It's not about moving bodies and changing the demographic, but it's about moving minds.
Andrew: All right. So the last R - Restorative justice.
Jedidah: .So Restorative justice is creating healing spaces, not hurting spaces for our students. Predominantly Black and Brown schools are overpoliced and treated as criminals in the very spaces that they're supposed to be learning in., You know, and we're students not suspects. We shouldn't feel like villains in our own learning spaces - our second homes. We deserve a chance to be heard in a human lens, not in a criminal lens, and we deserve more counselors to have those spaces for conversations and not cops in our school.
Karla: Yeah. And that, that focuses on, you know, to not over police schools or, when kids misbehave or get in trouble, to criminalize them or just suspend them, or give them these measures that aren't really effective in the long run. To focus more on rehabilitative justice and making sure that what's going on in the student's life that made them like react this way, made them act this way, and how can we help that student? Because the public school system is supposed to be helping students in the long run, right?
Jedidah: And a lot of people worry that, well, if we don't have cops in our school, who's going to protect us? I feel like strong communities protect us, you know? When we “act out”, it's not random, it's not because we just felt like it, it's because we've been neglected for so long tha that just happens. And if there was a conversation, if there were counselors in that place, these things would never happen.
Andrew: Do you see that the, the ways that kids are disciplined varies from either from school to school or even within your school based on race?
Jedidah: Yeah. So I had a White Spanish teacher once and we were supposed to be independently learning, but I was confused and needed clarification on a question. So I asked my friend, who's Black, like, can you like help me understand this question? And that teacher just did not like her, always micromanaged her, and she just called the school security on her and they took her away from the classroom and it literally disrupted the whole class's day of learning. It was a horrible incident.
Andrew: Not to mention that I'm sure that that student didn't then like show back up the next day, engaged and ready to learn and excited about Spanish class.
Jedidah: Yeah, because she felt like she was being criminalized, when that could have been an easy conversation like, can you turn around and just do the work? I'll help Jedidah. I didn't even receive help that day when I, when I asked her. So . . .
Andrew: You didn't get the, you didn't get the learning that you needed. She clearly didn't get the learning she needed because she was, was escorted out by security.
Jedidah: And the whole class, that day was disrupted from learning. So it doesn't benefit anyone.
Andrew: How about you, Karla, have you seen that?
Karla: For me, my school tends to handle misbehavior okay. But there was one instance where there was a student, this White student, who had a history of being racist and he had screamed “build a wall” at one of the Latinx students in my school over and over again. And she had complained of course, to the staff because it made her feel uncomfortable and . . .
Andrew: rightfully so.
Karla: Yeah, he got an in school suspension for maybe two days. And he was, people had seen him just like sitting in the guidance counselor's office like on his phone playing video games. And I remember that it really angered the Latinx community in my school because this girl went home crying. She was upset. She was angry and she felt uncomfortable. And she just didn't feel that he had gotten the punishment.
Karla: I'm not sure if punishment was the right word to use - accountability is better. Thank you Jedidah. I remember she just felt really uncomfortable and just really terrible about it.
Andrew: But at no point was anybody threatening to call the cops on him
Karla: No,it had to take us going to them, for the staff to be like, okay, maybe we'll try to do something a little more.
Jedidah: Right. They didn't realize it was wrong until...
Karla: we called them out.
Jedidah: This is only one of the ways that this has perpetuated in our schools. You know, we know a lot of students that have to walk through metal detectors every day. And what is that like? We're, we're here to learn. We don't want to be criminalized in this way. Why do we have to walk in through these big metal detectors? It just disrupts the learning for the whole day. Like, we don't want to walk into places where we feel like we're villains. We want to be human.
Andrew: Yeah, that seems to be, be the sort of theme of, of teacher representation, relationships, restorative justice, is this like, what are the expectations of you? Does your school and, all the way from, you know, administration to the environment, to the teachers, do they expect you to succeed? Do they expect you to be able to thrive? And do they view it as their responsibility to get you there? Or is it, you know, this, I feel like, yeah, if you walk through a metal detector, the school has already written you off. The school has already said you're a criminal. The school has already said we don't have high expectations for you. We don't believe that you can succeed. We are going to get you used to prison because that is the future that we expect.
Karla: And the fact that some schools don't that have metal detectors tend to have a certain student population. Like my school is predominantly White. We do not have any metal detectors. We've never had to think about that probably because the staff never thought that White kids would have done these things to potentially put anybody in danger.
Jedidah: And I'm sure you have enough guidance counselors to prevent any of that. So, what we need is counselors because we're youth, we're students, and this is the kind of conversations that we should be having. We shouldn't be escorted out of our classroom and then disrupted from our learning, taken away from our learning. We just want to learn.
Andrew: And if we blame the school for not reaching the kids, then it's the school's responsibility to figure out how to do better. But I feel like the types of schools where you get to blame the school, are are White, wealthy, privileged schools. Then it's like, well, no, we don't, we don't need metal detectors, we need more, we have to reach these kids. What are we doing wrong? And if you're walking through a metal detector, it says what's wrong with these kids,
Jedidah: shuts it down.
Andrew: So I feel like the, these topics tend to be viewed, by outsiders at least, as kind of complicated and difficult and, best left to the experts. That there are people who have studied these things, and so they can, figure out the policies and sort of, why are, why, why are high school kids even talking about this? Why should we listen to high school kids?
Jedidah: I feel like we are the experts. You know, we have to live this every day. People who are, have studied this, they probably don't even understand what it feels like to not see them in front of their classroom, to not be able to celebrate their culture. Yeah, we are the experts. We have lived this, we have faced this, we have experienced all of these things.
Karla: I agree completely. I think, to create a personal connection to segregation is really important because people could just think of us as numbers. You can just say, Oh, this school is 90% White, 5% Latinx, 5% Black, who are those kids? But if you, if you have students talking about how not being able to see a Brown teacher in front of the classroom discourages them from ever having a leadership position, that really impacts somebody. That's someone's whole life, that's someone's feelings. That's, that's someone, you know? And it's important to listen to high school kids because we have to go to school every day. The adults don't have to, and these are institutions that will lead to more institutions because after high school is college, after college is our careers and that, that figures out how we get income, how we can have a family.
Andrew: And what sort of institutions you build or are not able to build or, you know, how, what sort of leadership roles are you able to partake in once you're out of school. And what kind of society does that build?
Jedidah: And especially if you're just learning about the White perspective in your history class. What kind of human that makes you? What spaces are you able to occupy and what culture you're bringing into your workspace and what narratives have you heard?
Karla: You always hear about the Native Americans being conquered and about some people, slaves, being brought from Africa. Like that's, there's so much more culture to our countries and us than just being oppressed.
Andrew: What's the, what's the power of organizing youth voice?. I think it's one thing to like, okay, we should listen to youth voice, but I think IntegrateNYC seems to take the step forward to like actually organizing, collecting voice, elevating, you know, protests beyond just - Let's hear you guys talk, let's get you together and sort of let you start driving. What's the power in that?
Karla: Yeah. I don't know if I'm biased because I'm a youth, but I just think we're the strongest, you know? We have the most passion. We have the most motivation, because at the end of the day, this is our future. Like, I'm sorry, but the adults that will be gone in a couple of years, like that's, we have to build the world that we're going to live in. And I think youth are passionate. You know, we fight for what we want. And I think that's so powerful because we're willing to do what it takes to get what we want.
Jedidah: And I feel like it's a matter of, if not us then who? You know, if you look in the streets, you see youth being in the forefront of these protests, these mass revolutions, that's us, we organized this. This is our voices being heard. So you have to confide in us.
Andrew: Because it's your future.
What sort of success stories has IntegrateNYC had? It's a massive, 400 year problem that we're trying to unwind here, it's not going to be solved overnight, but it is nice to think about the pieces of success that have happened along the way. What is like, where, where have your victories been? What have you guys felt good about?
Jedidah: I feel like Integrate does a really good job in putting us in these spaces where the rules happen, where the policies are made. We are policy makers and we share our policies with other policy makers. And it's beautiful how we're able to occupy that space in rooms.
Karla: Yeah, like we're able to, to meet with policymakers, assembly men, things like that. So we can potentially get the five R’s to be successfully,
Karla: Implemented yeah, In the public school system. So that, cause we're, we're creating these policies for the DOE so that they know what they need to do to make our schools better.
Jedidah: Right. And that's why we emphasize that all five R’s have to be in place, because if it's just four R’s, there's something missing. You know, if there's restorative justice, but not representation, if there’s resources, but not relationships, it's not going to work.
Andrew: Yeah. And maybe they don't, you don't have to get to them all at exactly the same time, but you can't, you can't like pat yourself on the back for getting race and enrollment right, without doing the rest of the pieces. Because, then even, even, like you said, Karla, your school doesn't Isn't a place that is welcoming. So even if the resources are right, if the representation isn't right, or if the restorative justice isn't right, then it's still not right for, and I guess that's the, maybe it works for some kids, but until all five R’s are there, it's not going to work for all kids.
What, what, what were your parents' experience with school and schooling and - I’m wondering like you, you guys are both seem really committed to this and, driving positive, change. In my experience, at least I feel like that's often a generational thing. Like you didn't just come to that on your own, but maybe your parents had some, either for some people that's like a positive input or it's like a, a way of rebelling against your parents, but, what's your parents sort of experience with education and feelings about education?
Karla: I know for me, the work I do is for my mom. Because my mom came here when she was really young, and I remember her telling me stories of how she came here when she was four. And when she started to go to public school, she had told me that she had to learn English so quickly because she felt so uncomfortable in her school environment. Like no one, she wasn't able to communicate with anybody. And she knew that she had to, you know, learn more of the American way and the American culture in order to be able to survive in America.
And I remember thinking, I don't want any Brown girl to ever feel like that. And this work that I'm doing, I'm making sure that, you know, Latinx students, people, students of color are able to feel comfortable and don't feel like they have to become be more engaged in American culture just so they can survive in America.
Jedidah: Yeah. I feel like my mom and your mom have a similar story. She came at 12 from Dominican Republic to New York City, and she was just pushed into the system where she didn't have a teacher to teach her the new language that she was just engulfed in. And that's why race and enrollment is so important because you have to prioritize language. You have to prioritize ethnic backgrounds. Because how are you making all your students feel welcomed? And she felt alone for a long time, ‘cause it was just her, you know, predominantly speaking Spanish. She only knew like two words in English and another Dominican student that was with her, but it was just them two. And they had to navigate that on their own. And just thinking like - she's 12, why does she have to navigate that on her own?
Andrew: And, yeah. Not only does she have to figure out how to function and thrive, but you know, in a way that, that is like a ha she has to change who she is,
Andrew: right. Like your mom too Karla, right? Like she has to change how she talks, how she thinks, how she, how she views the world, just in order to, to fit in.
Our audience is largely White and privileged people, mostly parents. What would you want those parents to know about the importance of real integration? Like why we should care about it, why they should care about it for their own kids?
Jedidah: I feel like it's very important because you wouldn't want your child to be navigating the same things that we have to navigate on a daily basis. And our education matters just as much as your kid. Karla, do you want to add on?
Karla: Yeah, I think it's, I think it's not easy for, privileged White people to understand that they're privileged and White, but I think it's important for them to realize that if they, integrate our schools, if they create diverse communities, we're able to share our ideas, we're able to share our culture and that's so much more rich than what we're going through right now.
And I think it's really important to, like I said, personalize these people, like these people have feelings, they have stories, and they have, they have traditions, they have customs, they have great music, they have food, they have everything. And I think it's so important to, you know, make it so we all just have to share that.
Jedidah: Yeah. And I feel like the point that I made earlier rings true. You know, segregation does not benefit anyone. You could go to, you could be a White person, as privileged as can be, and you could still suffer the effects of segregation. You're not learning from other students. You're not learning from another teacher.
Andrew: That's beautiful. I'm super grateful to both of you for coming on, for sharing, but, but much more than that, just for the work that you guys are doing. And, I feel like this is, we often talk about the generational nature of this work, that we're not going to solve these problems overnight because they took many, many years to create, but, it certainly leaves me with a great sense of hope that you are the next generation of people fighting this battle. So thank you for that. And thanks for coming on.
Karla: Thank you for having us here.
Jedidah: Yeah. Youth voice is empowering and powerful. Thank you for allowing us the space to talk about our organization.
Andrew: For sure.
Andrew: Big, thanks to Karla and Jedidah and everyone at IntegrateNYC for the important work they're doing and for creating this vision, this model for real integration. I certainly left that conversation inspired by the insight offered by these students. And I guess, reminded of how much value there is in having student voice in these conversations.
You know, much as we often underestimate young kids and their ability to notice and understand race, I certainly often find myself looking to the adults to address issues of educational equity, but empowered youth are a force to be reckoned with, and I think we'd all be well served by doing a bit more listening to them.
And while Karla’s assertion that all of us old folks are going to be dead in a couple of years, felt maybe like a low blow, she's right, that they are building the world they're going to be living in, and certainly hearing from Karla and Jedidah gives me hope for what that world will look like.
Just a very brief digression before I leave you. Any scholars of desegregation law out there may have noticed some similarities between the five R’s and what are known as the Green factors.
In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled on Green v County School Board of New Kent County. This is New Kent County, Virginia. It's a town that was roughly evenly split between Black and White residents. And in the mid sixties, a full decade after Brown v board, the schools were still segregated. And the NAACP sued, the district implemented a freedom of choice plan, basically saying anyone can go to either school. You just have to apply, if there's room, you can go. And this plan, unsurprisingly did not result in desegregation.
The court then declared that this was a token form of compliance and basically said that is not enough to remove the stated policy of segregation, you actually have to remove segregation, they said by “root and branch”. The case really sped up the implementation of Brown and played a key role in advancing desegregation efforts.
And while that's an important piece of the history, the thing that comes out of that case are these Green factors. They're basically six factors that served as a tool for the court to assess if districts were truly working towards integration. And they include student assignment, faculty, assignment, staff, assignment, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities. While the students at IntegrateNYC came up with the five R’s independently, I do think it says something that 50 years later, the conversation around what is actually needed hasn't really shifted that dramatically.
Maybe this time around, with youth voice leading the way, we can create a lasting form of true integration, so that 50 years from now, we're not having the same conversation.
The world continues to be an unsettling place, and we continue to work on getting episodes out just as quickly as we can. We've also been putting a ton of time and energy into our first ever webinar. As I mentioned at the top of the show, it's this Monday, July 13th, 5:00pm Pacific / 8:00pm Eastern. There's a link to register in the show notes, and if you're listening to this after the fact, registering will get you a link to a recording, so you can still check it out.
We've had a huge surge in interest in our work in recent weeks, and the webinar is really designed to serve as an introduction to the school integration movement. We'll explore how our school's got to where they are now and what role we all play in maintaining or disrupting the system. Members of our all volunteer crew will share personal stories of enrolling our kids in global majority schools and the joys and missteps we experienced while showing up as parents and community members.
The hope is that together, we can envision a better future. Stepping into our humanity. Working towards a true multi-racial democracy. I hope to see you there. And as always, I'm grateful to be in this with you as I try to know better and do better. See you next time.