Alice Walker said, “no person is your friend who demands your silence or your right to vote.”
That quote is at the heart of Journey 4 Justice’s #WeChoose campaign that hit New Jersey this week. Jitu Brown, who organized the hunger strike to keep Chicago’s Dyett High School from closing, was in Camden as part of that campaign this past Wednesday. #WeChoose has several key demands:
- A Moratorium on School Privatization
- The Creation of 10,000 Sustainable Community Schools
- End Zero Tolerance Policies in Public Schools NOW
- National Equity Assessment
- Stop the Attack on Black Teachers
- End State Takeovers, Appointed School Boards and Mayoral Control
- Eliminate the Over-Reliance on Standardized Tests in Public Schools
Jitu Brown’s talk in Camden came on the heels of a student panel that addressed many of these exact issues in Camden — school closures, standardized testing, the lack of local control and more from the student view. Jitu stepped back, powerfully arguing in this first video that race is at the center of the “failing schools” narrative — arguing that rather than closing these schools, we need to address the wider institutional failure that undermines schools in communities of color. It is a powerful lens for understanding both America’s racial history and the impact it has on schools today.
Brown doesn’t limit his critiques to the axis of education reform, he also talks passionately about violence against black bodies in traditional public schools, such as the harrowing story about a young man slammed to the ground and put in a choke hold by a security guard in Philadelphia on his way to the bathroom without a hall pass.
Jitu makes a compelling case that, because of the pervasiveness of racism, communities of color need to have control over their own institutions and their own community. He lays out institutional racism, focusing on athletes like Craig Hodges, Muhammad Ali, and Colin Kaepernick.
Jitu turns that discussion of the nature of racism into a call for community organizing, particularly around both local and national education issues, arguing that there needs to be a counterforce when Fortune 500 companies are actively investing in prisons.
Jitu wraps up by talking about the history of the Black Panther Party and the power of organizing.
The #WeChoose campaign was in Camden this week, but has upcoming meetings in Atlantic City, Elizabeth and more throughout the state. On Columbus Day, Journey 4 Justice will be working with local communities to put Christopher Columbus “on trial” for colonialization and other crimes. For more info on the campaign, check out the Journey 4 Justice Facebook Page.