We must center the voices of Black and Latinx students

AYINDE BENNETT | 6/25/2020, midnight
As a Black man and like most of Black America, I have been angry about what has transpired over the ...
African American male student Pexels

As a Black man and like most of Black America, I have been angry about what has transpired over the last several weeks, not only recently but for decades (dare I say 400 years). I have watched videos of Ahmaud Arbery going for a run only to have his life callously snuffed out by two white men. I witnessed Amy Cooper tell the police that she was being “harassed by an African American,” reminding Black America that as a white woman, she has more power, even when breaking the law. I read how police officers entered Breonna Taylor’s apartment in the middle of the night, killing her and arresting her boyfriend for trying to defend himself from unidentified intruders. I repeatedly watched a clip of a white police officer plant his knee on the neck of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes, eventually ending his life. And I have watched and read countless other reports of Black people being killed with no justice in sight, in the last few weeks.

I have protested, spoken at length with friends about the state of our country, and cried to my therapist. And, as the Postsecondary Access Manager for the network of Urban Assembly High Schools in New York City, I have spent much of my time thinking about our youth.

While watching the news one night, teenagers were being blamed for the “looting” that was happening throughout New York City during the protests (without any context, of course, for why looting and riots happen in the first place and what they are really a response to).

The next day, a colleague emailed a list of direct quotes from students at one of our Bronx schools.

“It makes me upset, not only with the fact that [racism is] just what’s happening now, but what’s been happening for years even before I was born. It’s just sad to see people of my complexion and background being treated as if they are nothing when that’s not the case.”

“We are now split between those who will [riot] and those who stride for peaceful encounters. Just wondering when everything is gonna burn to become a rebirth of our cities.”

As I read through nearly 50 quotes from students, most of whom are Black or Latinx, I was quickly reminded of the importance of centering the voices of our young people. We are in service to them and we will never know how to best serve them if we do not listen to what they have to say. Especially when it comes to the racism they experience both outside and inside our education system.

These student voices also reminded me that most civil rights leaders were young when they offered their lives for our freedoms. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery bus boycott when he was 26. Fred Hampton died for his belief that Black people deserved a better life when he was just 21 years of age. Centering the voice of young people matters. They have not only been targeted by police throughout our country, they are also the future leaders of our nation and they need to be valued.