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Longtime Lefferts neighbor, activist and "local gentry" Brenda Edwards shares her thoughts on the state of segregated schools and the history of such in our very neighborhood.
In the mid 90s a group of us black teachers decided to form a committee to protect our students and to be a definitive voice in the decision making process in what we saw as the coming onslaught of a white dominated school. For us, this was the beginning of gentrification which would affect our school,Erasmus Hall High located in Brooklyn's district 17. The district encompasses parts of East Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts, Gardens, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights.
We did not believe ourselves to be paranoid or over reacting. We had already seen the displacement and destruction of communities when its residents became more white and more wealthy.
We were determined to establish a balance within our school and with in the New York City educational system. We would be ready for whatever was to come. Students of all ethnicities would be welcome, but our black and brown students would not be excluded. We were armed with our teaching skills, our knowledge of the educational system and it's history of school segregation. We had witnessed the wrath of racism and economic inequities.
We would approach this issue with a vengeance. We would perform the necessary research citing evidence based on neighboring schools as well as others across the country. We would look for the signs: A sudden windfall found in the school budget resulting in long overdue renovations, the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment, and a generous inventory of school supplies including enough books for each student. Although this should be the normal working operations of a school, more often than not; this does not occur in schools located in predominately black and Latino neighborhoods,especially in the inner city.
We eventually realized that there would be no influx of white students eagerly registering for our school. The trickling stream of gentrifiers at that time and the presently increasing number would unequivocally decide that our school was not the right choice for their children. Perhaps it was and still is a clash of cultures, a resistance to change and a fear of the low performance that is associated with our neighborhood schools. Whatever the rationale, this choice continues to promote an imbalance where the majority of desirable schools are overwhelmingly stocked with the more affluent, the high achievers, the less needy and white students.
But as the neighborhood becomes more diverse, parents are organizing in preparation for their children to attend the schools around the corner, down the street and just a few blocks away. The hope is that the schools will reflect the various faces of its residents. And that all who live here will take responsibility in insisting on quality education for all students who cross the threshold of each classroom.
It is evident that in a changing neighborhood that our schools will also change to accommodate the newcomers as well as re-evaluate what works and does not work for the students who are already there. A successful educational system should never remain stagnant. it should be a system that proposes to satisfy the needs of its students regardless of who they are. It should not be a sudden and blatant realization that the schools are in need of substantial improvements only when the demographics change.
To quote the title of the song that Sam Cooke made famous "A Change Is Gonna Come." We will see where it takes us.