Letter to Our Communities

Dear Colleagues and Friends of MAA,

As I struggle to write this letter on  how my life has impacted me over the past few weeks, and how being a black  woman who knows the meaning of what has truly inspired within our country with protesting, people taking a stand for equality and justice for all.  I recently asked myself, “do I send a message to the field and say that we will all be fine and that we will have change one day, or do I say enough is enough.”

The youth especially those of color that we work with everyday sees the disparity in the treatment of people who are black and brown and understand that maybe they might be the next young man or woman of color who might be shot while jogging, or coming out of a store and the police pulls them to the  ground and in a few minutes they might say “I can’t breathe.”   This has got to be the time where we should see how we can truly make a difference. It is not the time to sit around and wait for justice.  We need to go into communities and support our families and let them know that we are going to be there for them.  Out-of-School time can play a very vital role by building relationships and supporting youth as they struggle with things that are affecting the communities in which they live every day.  So, what does that mean? It means that we need to make serious changes in the way that we support our youth workers as well as the children by ensuring that their voices are heard.  We must truly examine the concerns within the community of black and brown children even if it is only virtual and talk about the concerns that they are feeling in their communities.   If you don’t look like the children that you serve then, maybe you need to create a way of understanding them and know that they want the same things in life that you want and need.  For years I have sat at the table of organizations and stated how important  diversity is and that we need to have all people that might not look like the people at the table be part of the process.   Diversity should be the number one issue on all our checklists, as well as ensuring that there is diversity and representation when we are making decisions for people who might not look like the people they are making decisions for at the table. As educators, mentors and friends of a community we have a responsibility to listen, to make space for anger and grief and ensure that everyone of our interactions with our young black and brown youth is built on love, humanity, patience and understanding. We must ensure that we give our voices and concerns to State, City and Local municipalities and address the needs of their communities and they are doing the right thing when addressing the needs of the communities.

I too understand the toxic world that we live in and I will always vow to make diversity a top priority for me and the organization that I lead.  Being a Black woman, even here at MAA, I have had to stand up and fight for what I believe in when trying to do the right thing for the youth that we serve through building out quality professional development trainings across the State.  I have been mocked, screamed at, and even had a finger pointed in my face to chastise me as if I was a child. Being on the receiving end of this type of behavior causes even the strongest individual (like myself) to sometimes question my value and self-worth. When people that don’t look like me but are working from a space of privilege feel that they are entitled to talk to me in a way that is disrespectful I wonder how they can say that they are working for the good of all children and youth.  Yes, some will say, “she is just another angry black woman and that she needs to get over it”.  

Even within the State of Michigan teaching staff have been much slower to diversify than the student bodies they teach. Michigan Student ‘s population is 18% African American, but its public-school teaching ranks are only 8% black. More than half of Michigan school districts have no African American teachers, For Hispanics it is even worse.  They compose of 8% of the student population but barely 1% of Michigan Teachers are Hispanic. This is startling to hear since we have not only racial disparity but a huge education disparity as well.  Some of these students will never see a person who looks like them.  Yes, I will get over it, how?  By everyday waking up, going to  work to make sure that people are doing the right thing for all kids.  I will and I am going to keep fighting for racial and social justice and equality and know that I will keep sounding the alarm on all racial injustices that I see taking place in Education, State City and County levels of our government.  Leadership for change starts at the top and we need to make sure that we vote people out of office that are not working to build diversity for all. We must  focus on the way hiring is being conducted on all levels in government agencies, we must bring a diverse coalition to the table to make decisions for all students and be aware that they will address the needs of poor communities, we must provide a voice for those that might not normally have a voice.  Over the past few years, we have had so many organizations that do not have or share the interest at hand of people of color and have not created that window of diversity that is much needed in our State and local levels of government.  We have brought black and brown people to the table “to act as tokens” or to provide “a feel good” moment.  Those in power continue to hand pick people that will not make waves so that when they  leave the room feeling good because they have checked all of their racially biased boxes, please know that that will not be enough any longer.  We need people from those black and brown communities to have a voice and people who will voice what is needed within those brown and black communities.  

We no longer in this country can keep doing what we have been doing.  America is watching.  Now is the time to wake up and do the right thing.  George Floyd was just the result of something that has been manifesting for decades.  So as I leave you with some of these thoughts, I ask you to examine your conscience and heart, if you are in a group that does not support diversity and supports it in word only then I say to you what are you going to do to make a difference!  Yes, all human lives matter.

Jennifer Bonner

Michigan AfterSchool Association

President

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