Poverty is often cited as the main cause for education inequities, but Angelique Kedem, of St. Paul Promise Neighborhoods maintains that poverty is a contributing factor, rather than the main cause. Kedem, one of several presenters at Community Justice Project’s Symposium entitled, “How Are the Children? From the Classroom to the Courtroom, Exploring a Child’s Journey Through the Justice System said, “Racial disparities in education hold regardless of economic standard.”
“My purpose is to relay the picture of the two worlds we live in; the one for whites and the one for non-whites,” Kedem said. “Currently the rate at which Black males are being pushed out of school and into the prison pipeline, far exceeds the rate at which they are graduating and reaching high levels of achievement.”
“The inequities are perpetuated by a number of factors. The biggest is how our systems make decisions,” Kedem said referencing a report on Black males published by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. “The systemic disparities evident by race and zip codes are influenced more by social policies,” she said.
The Symposium brought together community leaders, educators, lawyers, social workers, and others in the juvenile justice field. The goal of the symposium was to provide an overview of the relationship between schools and the juvenile justice system.
Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds, Community Justice Project (CJP) Director and Founder hosted the Symposium. CJP is a civil rights legal clinic at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The CJP mission is equal justice under the law and the dismantling of structural and systematic inequities that impact poor communities.
“One of the things we see often in our work is a lot of suffering,” Levy-Pounds said. “A lot of people feel ignored by the things happening in our system, and our children often feel the brunt of those inequities. Part of our job is to create awareness and encourage us all to dig deeper than what we see in the media. We need to think about what our responsibilities are in addressing the inequities.”
John Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, said that disparities in the justice system reflect not only Minnesota but also the United States as a whole. “If these disparities continue, parts of our community lose faith in the justice system. When that happens, there is a lack of trust, and lack of civilization,” Choi said.
Brotherhood, Inc. is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that seeks to uplift and empower young African American males, ages 16-24, who are involved in the criminal justice system, gangs, or who are otherwise at risk. In a separate panel, Christian Bonner, who works with Brotherhood, Inc., said adolescents have to learn to deal with issues such as peer pressure, living situations, education and employment.
Bonner said he filled out several job applications in St. Paul, but didn’t get hired. A teacher referred him to Brotherhood, Inc., where he would be given an opportunity to work and learn business skills.
“I want to prove to society that I am not a Black male that is destined to fail.” Bonner said.
“We are either working for justice, or we are complicit with inequity. We either build a Minnesota of all, or remain poised to perish due to lack of investment of both financial and human resources and care for the well being of all Minnesota’s children,” Kedem said.