Excel beyond jail: The impact of institutional racism on children of color in America’s public schools

By Reverend Kyev P. Tatum, Sr.

When the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was getting ready to leave Atlanta for Memphis in April of 1968, many in his inner circle did not want him to go back because of the death threats that had been put on his life.

All of them knew that when Dr. King had made of his mind that he was going to do something, you could consider it done. The airport officials informed them on arrival that their flight would be delayed, because they wanted to carefully check the plane in order to insure no bombs were aboard.

Can we imagine what it must have felt living with the constant knowledge that someone wanted you dead and was willing to kill you at any time?

Yet Dr. King and these brave Civil Rights Foot Soldiers overcame their fear of death and decided that Memphis needed to have an encounter with history and a movement of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. King would share with the overcrowded Church what many of us believe, was one of his most important messages and strategies used to continue the movement after his death.

He reminded us that Jesus Christ cared more about the least of these and that we have a moral obligation to look out for the least, last, lost and the left out.

Dr. King went to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers. He called for an economic boycott of any company or agencies that were mistreating black people.

In that final message he told us the story about the good Samaratian, who saw a man on the side of the road half dead. His point was clear, each of us at some point in our lives will be confronted by someone who is in great need of our help and the question is, will you help them or will we fear them and hurt them more.

Dr. King demonstrated through his life that the true measure of a man is not what he accumulates for himself and his family. The true measure of a man is what he and his family are willing to do for others who are in need of a Savior.

Since his death, many have gained complete access to the American dream; we even have a black president.

However, if we take a closer look at the numbers, we will discover that the movement must shift its focus from the economics of sanitation to the economics of mass incarceration. 1 out 3 black men will be affected by the industrial prison complex. Over 75% of all black children in public schools will be negatively impacted by the excessive use of punishment .

The wonderful folks at the Center to Eliminate Disproportionality and Disparities at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (www.pisab.org) call it institutional racism and we agree 100%.

According to Texas Health and Human Services Deputy Executive Commissioner Joyce James, “When people hear the word racism, they automatically go to the old forms of racism by the Ku Klux Klan and the kinds of racism you can readily point to and say, ‘that’s racism,’” James said. “That’s not what we’re talking about at all. What we’re talking about are things that have become so ingrained in our systems and the way we’ve been conditioned – all of us – that it’s become the norm for us. In most cases, we don’t even recognize how that contributes to institutionalized racism.”

The question is how do we resolve the problem?

The first thing we must do is cut off the school to prison pipeline by passing new legislation that simply says, “Jail is Not An Option” for our children.

Babies come from families they did not choose. They did not get an option of which family they were born, yet they all deserve an opportunity to grow up and live a healthy life.

We are sending too many children into the criminal justice system and it is time to stop the madness.

According to the research conducted for policy analysis and policy makers, blacks are eight, I repeat, eight times more likely to have a negative and punitive encounter with government agencies, especially in public education, juvenile justice and the health and human service arena.

Again, as I have always said, “when one fish bellies up in the lake, you look at the fish. However, when over half the fish belly’s up in the lake, it’s time to start looking at the lake.”

An international human rights advocate recently reported that People of Color are tasered up to 2/3rd of the time and black people are tasered up to 45% of the time by many rogue Police forces.

This is criminal. Where is the community outrage?

Our Mexican-American brothers and sisters are three times more likely and our immigrant brothers and sisters are being treat so inhumane until sometime I wonder when will this insanity end?

We must reform the public education System and demand that “Jail is Not An Option” for our children. Train them, educate them and develop them but please stop sending our babies to jail.

We support a federal law that states that any school district that has a Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) should lose funds and be placed under a federal monitor, until the issues are addressed and resolved. We have a long way to travel to get to that beloved community Dr. King dreamed about some 50 years ago.

Texas Commissioner Joyce James says it this way, “Through our process we’re challenging ourselves to become critical lovers of our system,” James said. “We’re willing to examine the possibility that maybe there could be something about our system that needs to be fixed. And I believe that when we apply this model and use all the steps that help to change our attitudes and assumptions, we’re going to be in a better position to provide services that more appropriately match the needs of the vulnerable people we serve. And as a result, they will become less dependent on government services,” says Commissioner James.

America is better than this and I believe there are many other options we can utilize. The Good news, in the end, God’s Children win! Thank you Dr. King.

The Rev. Kyev Tatum, Sr., a minister, civil rights activist, former collegiate athlete and university administrator is on a mission to change the world for the better.  A native Fort Worthian, Rev. Tatum also heads the Fort Worth-Tarrant County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights group founded by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the founder of the Ministers for Education, a parental school reform advocacy group dedicated to eliminating the Black/White achievement gap in public schools.

A 2012 Democratic Candidate for US Congress for the newly created 33rd District of Texas, Rev. Tatum has been a constant thorn in the flesh to the establishment for over 30 years and currently serve on the Texas Interagency Council to Address Disproportionality for the Center for the Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities at the Texas Health and Human Service Commission in Austin, Texas.

Reverend Kyev Tatum can be reached at the Harmony Missionary Baptist Church, 7510 John T White Rd in Fort Worth, kyevtatum@gmail.com, or 817-966-7625.

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