According to Kenneth Avery, one platform that makes up the injustices that blacks experience is the education system.
When Kenneth Avery returned to his hometown of Stuttgart, unfortunately it was under unfortunate circumstances, as he helped organize a peaceful protest to bring awareness to racism and injustice in his community.
Avery, a 2015 SHS graduate and an Oral Communication and English teacher in the Dollarway School District, led a group of courageous protesters who were also there to share their own experience.
“We’re going to keep trying to use our platform to get justice reform and police reform,” said Avery. “We’re not going to be complicit or silent.”
Hearing the community of Stuttgart cry for help in regard to the injustices people receive in his community, especially at the hands of the education system, this 2018 UCA graduate was alarming but came with a message to encourage people to become more proactive and advocate for others and themselves.
According to Avery, one platform that makes up the injustices that blacks experience is the education system.
“I think about the prison industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline and how many black students are pushed into the prison,” said Avery.
According to Avery, black young men are three times more likely to be pushed into the prison system verses their white constituents and black young women are more likely to be suspended.
“Even in Stuttgart, when you look at the data, back in 2015, there was 66 percent of white children in the school and there was 64 percent black but when you look at how many students are experiencing getting in trouble, getting referred to some type of disciplinary action, it’s like 70 percent black students and less than 20 percent white,” explained Avery. “The disproportion rate of that is unreal.”
Avery said due the lack of job opportunities for people of color he searched elsewhere to find a job. Avery graduated with his Masters in Teaching in May of 2020 and has been teaching in the Dollarway School district for almost two years.
Leaving and coming back was an option Avery refused alleging the systemic racism happens in his hometown. Speaking from experience, he shared some personal testimonies of his own and the reason he would continue to be vocal for change.
As a junior in high school, Avery said he was trying to pursue an opportunity to go to Boy State. He explained the process of going to boy state and girl state as a voting process that most schools follow.
“They vote but you also have to write an essay,” said Avery. “At Stuttgart High School, it’s all about who you know, who your parents are and how much money you have. Even if you’re white and you don’t have money, you’re kind of thrown away too in the Stuttgart School District.”
The biggest issue in the schools, according to the protesters during the peace rally, was that teachers not only treated students differently due their color, but also their social and economic status of their parents.
Avery said his mom advocated on his behalf, which allowed him to attend boy state.
“My mom said my son makes good grades and does what he needs to do and it shouldn’t matter if these teachers don’t like him,” explained Avery.
Another team organizer, Tanna Jackson, a 2017 SHS graduate and UCA student, shared her story how the majority of the history teachers at the high school forgot it was black history month and didn’t acknowledge it until March.
“They told us that we have to do an assignment. Go do an assignment on a black person, write a paper and turn it in,” said Jackson. “They are telling us our history doesn’t matter.”
Avery challenged more parents to get involved in school activities, attend school board meetings and PTO meetings.
“For parents, it’s bigger than just the students, it’s for the adults too,” said Avery. “This isn’t a protest for the young people. This is a protest for all people because it doesn’t matter if you’re young, one or you’re 99 you can still experience racism.”
Avery said he was really passionate about the Stuttgart School District but refused the opportunity to come back when I former teacher suggested he come back.
“I want to be here for the black students but it’s like do I want to put myself through that trauma all over again,” said Avery. “I teach in Dollarway, an all-black school district. It’s not perfect but at least I know most of my co-workers stand in solidarity with me.”
Avery said not all teachers were bad, and most were simply amazing in the area and district but he did offer solution points for any educator who wants to improve their school culture.
• Reading anti-racist literature for personal learning, specifically books by biracial people or people of color, authors from some whites for context. Look at literature that addresses white supremacy.
• Research online plus talk to people in the community to learn about it. Avoid the white tendency of treating bi-racial, people of color and blacks identity as monolithic (as one thing). Blacks are not all the same. Every student is not the same just because they’re black.
• Ask students what they need and what they want to learn about. Students are tired of learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. for one week in February.
• Prepare, prepare, prepare. When planning conversations that seem to be controversial or challenging, know your role as an white educator. Practice having these conversations with yourself and be prepared to apologize when you’re wrong or don’t handle the situation well.
• Have a diversity of teaching methods to reach a variety of their needs. Diverse programs teach you and give you access to different resources to teach diversified listening.
• Familiarize yourself of white supremacy culture and continually reflect on how you instill these values in your classroom.
• Invite families and their voices into the classroom. If you want the community to respect you as a teacher, do more than be there from 8:00 to 3:42. Do more.
• Invite community representatives into the classroom. Seek them for training and other people of color. Bring them into your classroom for assistance and pay them for their labor.
“I hope those teachers choose their students over comfortability, and take charge,” said Avery. “I hope they start engaging with the community more outside of just football and bring community leaders into the school to work with students to foster a more welcoming and safe environment, where solidarity is prevalent.”