‘All we are asking for is change!’ How schools are taking steps toward justice-centered learning.

These steps toward a more just future are just a beginning, but they show us a path forward—one educators and learners can start walking today, together.

by Melissa Rayworth

The two Brownsville students knew things needed to change. February was arriving yet again, and their school had no real plan to acknowledge Black History Month.

After more than three years of high school, these two seniors had been taught little about Black history and nothing about Black excellence. What they had learned was laid out in the broadest and quickest of strokes. They agreed: An occasional, brief mention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t enough for them — or for the other Black students at their school.

They’d seen white kids drop racist comments in the hallways and walk away without punishment. When those same kids wore Confederate flag T-shirts and belt buckles, none of the adults seemed to object.

But these young women did have a feeling — or at least a degree of hope — that if they laid out these facts, they might get heard. So, on the morning of Feb. 8, Royona Lewis and Keena Thomas sent a carefully constructed, beautifully written, 13-slide PowerPoint presentation to their district’s superintendent, Dr. Keith Hartbauer, and to their high school principal.

“How we feel should not be something to fear,” Lewis and Thomas wrote. “School is a place where we come to learn, express ourselves, and it’s a place where people learn about diversity. All we are asking for is change!”

They wasted no time on vague language, asking. “Why hasn’t our school prioritized Black History Month? Why does our school ignore the racism?”

Lewis hit “send” on the email at 8:20 that Monday morning. Exactly 30 minutes later, a reply popped up in her inbox.

“I 100% agree with you that we need to make significant changes in the way we teach, provide factual information, and understand the inequalities surrounding all races, genders, and disabilities,” Hartbauer wrote.

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‘All we are asking for is change!’ How schools are taking steps toward justice-centered learning.

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