Equity in Education: The conversation continues

In April, Legacy-56, Inc. held its fifth annual Sankofa Symposium to a multigenerational audience of nearly 100 people.

ST. PETERSBURG — On April 6, Legacy-56, Inc. presented its fifth annual Sankofa Symposium entitled, “Equity in Education: The conversation continues…”

Legacy-56, Inc. believes that the threat to equity in education was directly attacked when the Florida Legislature passed the 2022 Stop WOKE Act. The act prohibits content in the classroom that would allow teaching the truth about racism in America.

Further, the act makes it unlawful for employers to offer mandatory employee training that promotes discussions of discrimination, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Packaged as Stop “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees,” the law sought to eliminate anything that would produce “uncomfortable feelings” in children.

Youth from Largo’s Young Life Division, local churches such as Bethel Metropolitan Baptist, Mt. Moriah Academy and community organizations, including Black Pearls of NCNW and Men in the Making, came forth with equal excitement to heed the clarion call for more discussion.

“Of course, the acrostic W.O.K.E. is the misappropriation of the word ‘woke,’ which means being fully aware of what it means to be Africans in America,” said Dr. Katurah Jenkins-Hall, founder of Legacy-56, Inc.

Dr. KaturahJenkins-Hall

Last year, under the leadership of board chair Loretta Monroe Calvin and Jenkins-Hall, Legacy-56 offered its fourth annual Sankofa event, “Platforms for Social Justice: Resisting Miseducation in a Stop Woke Climate.” The event was a call to action with speakers from several social justice platforms (from the classroom, courtroom, the pulpit, and all platforms of media) to use such platforms to promote the importance of Black history. African-American history is, in fact, American history!!

Professor Judith Scully, the plenary speaker, offered the legal history of the act and encouraged the audience that “we are winning in courts!” In 2023, teachers were scanning books and agonizing over the classics that were no longer expected to be available to our children. DEI personnel discomfort increased with every new firing or dismissal creating uncertainty of their positions and employment.

That summer, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) held its first official offering of a Freedom School focusing on teaching African-American history. Attorneys Jacqueline Hubbard and Judith Scully, along with community leaders and the Woodson African American Museum of Florida, led this initiative.

“As the Legacy-56 Board deliberated on its focus for 2024, it was decided that we should continue last year’s discussion to see what progress had been made and as we wanted to be sure to consider the experiences of our youth,” said Calvin.

Professor of Law Judith Scully.

On April 6, the community converged on Eckerd College’s beautiful campus to the sounds of jazz provided by an ensemble of Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association and continental breakfast at the James Center. The plenary session was an encore by Scully, who was invited back to continue the discussion of the status and impact of Stop WOKE.

Youth from Largo’s Young Life Division, local churches such as Bethel Metropolitan Baptist, Mt. Moriah Academy and community organizations, including Black Pearls of NCNW and Men in the Making, came forth with equal excitement to heed the clarion call for more discussion.

To a multigenerational audience of nearly 100 people, Scully’s update was, “WE WON!” In fact, Stop WOKE was ruled unconstitutional in court. “The sobering truth is that we won in the courts, but we are losing in practice. People are still unsettled in their jobs and in their decisions about what to present in the classroom,” said Scully.

Dr. Linda Mizell, a St. Petersburg native, also returned from Takoma, Wash., to explore what educators need to continue teaching creatively while maintaining joy in teaching.

“The love of children and our community is at the heart of the African-American teaching tradition. We have always understood the perseverance and determination needed to provide a quality education in a politically hostile climate. The educators present agreed that they needed more time for in-depth learning about the historical practices that would allow teachers to be more effective in contemporary practices,” according to Mizell.

From the community perspective, Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil offered this wisdom: “It is critical that we think and organize strategically — including collectively, multi-dimensionally, multi-generationally, and dispassionately — less we continue to be reactive, in spite of our progress and significant short-term victories. Equity leaders, such as Marcus Brooks, Carl Lavender, Atty. Jacqueline Hubbard, Rev. Robert A. Vinson, along with Aquil echoed the need to come out of silos and organize for the common good.

In a special session for youth led by Ann Sherman-White from Eckerd College, StePhan Lane from Pinellas Technical College and Rev. Steve Sorrells from Young Life Division, they underscored various pathways to success (for example, college, vocational training, spiritual paths, mentoring).

The youth panel, led by father-son co-facilitators Rev. Ulas and Oren Butler, revealed that most of the youth were not quite aware of the impact of the inequities of our times. However, they were critically aware of the need to believe in themselves, to not fit in with the crowd, and to work hard to reach their goals.

Professor Scully concluded her remarks with the following summary:

  1. Continue to educate ourselves and others.
  2. Write about our experiences in the “Stop Woke land” of Florida.
  3. Protest and develop ways of supporting those with the moral courage to protest.
  4. Support community organizations that courageously fight for diversity, equity, inclusion and who support courageous antiracism conversations.
  5. Vote because elections have consequences in state legislatures, on school boards and in other local elections.

Legacy-56 offers solution-focused forums that unite community members despite political, religious, racial or economic differences to work towards remembering our history, reclaiming our heritage, restoring our communities and realizing our destinies as we collectively build for eternity.

Calvin, on behalf of the entire board, extends gratitude to the amazing sponsors: Eckerd College, Office of Inclusive Excellence, Pinellas County Multicultural Young Life Division, Largo, Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and the National Council of Negro Women, Metropolitan Section.

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