All children inhabit multiple identities and, as educators, it is essential that teachers and school leaders begin to consider the ways in which gender and race intersect in the experiences of young Black children in educational settings.
On February 5, the Center on Culture, Race & Equity at Bank Street College hosted its second annual Black Lives Matter at School Week Early Childhood Symposium titled “Exploring the Intersection of Gender and Race for Children Ages 0-8.” Hosted in support of the national Black Lives Matter at School Week movement, the symposium created a space to support dialogue on seizing opportunities to interrupt the challenges and disparities facing transgender and gender non-conforming Black children as well as discussion on how educators can recognize and promote equitable policies and practices.
“All the disparities, challenges, and negative outcomes that Black students experience in older grades have their roots in early childhood,” said Takiema Bunche-Smith, GSE ’97, Executive Director, Center on Culture, Race & Equity. “Our goal is to raise awareness of how racism and biases shape institutional practices that disproportionately impact young Black students—such as zero-tolerance policies—and to create a platform for promoting strengths-based approaches to counter them. This is of critical importance for all Black children at school beginning at the earliest of ages—and increasingly urgent for those Black children who are gender non-conforming or transgender.”
The event, which was live-streamed to provide access to educators across the country, welcomed a full house of 200 guests in the Presidential Ballroom at the Faculty House, Columbia University. There was simultaneous interpretation in Spanish available this year to build inclusivity and help increase access to this important information.
At the start of the event, Bunche-Smith welcomed attendees and framed the urgency around examining how gender and race intersect for young Black children. She cited important findings from the 2011 National Center for Transgender Equity study, noting “47 percent of Black transgender and gender non-conforming people have been incarcerated… and 78 percent of youth who expressed a transgender or gender non-conforming identity in grades K-12 were harassed, including by school staff. For 1/6 of those youth, the harassment was so severe that they left the school.”
Setting the stage for the evening’s discussions, she also shared powerful words by author Jesmym Ward from The Guardian piece titled “Raising a Black Son in the US: He Had Never Taken a Breath, and I was Already Mourning Him,” in which Ward writes about finding out she was pregnant with a boy and realizing she would have to prepare him for survival. “Today, the weight of the past bears heavily on the present. So now, Black boys and girls are disciplined more than their white schoolmates. They are suspected of drug dealing and strip-searched. If they fight each other or talk back to teachers in school, school officials press charges and call the police. This is the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Next, Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00, President, Bank Street College, shared opening remarks in which he discussed the College’s commitment to creating equitable environments for all children, including the Center on Culture, Race & Equity’s work to highlight the impact of race and racism and create change on personal, professional, and institutional levels.
Zipporiah Mills, Equity Specialist, Center on Culture, Race & Equity, then introduced keynote speaker Jodie Patterson, SFC ’84, LGBTQAI advocate, activist, and author of The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation.
During her presentation, Patterson spoke about her experience raising her child, who is Black and transgender, and the challenges of seeing and embracing change. “It needs to be our mission—all of us in this room, all of our children, and our friends and our family—as culture-shifters to steadily undo all the stereotypes that we’ve learned,” she said. “If we stick to ‘what men should do’ and ‘women should do’ or ‘boys should do’ and ‘girls should do,’ we will gravely underestimate our infinite potential.”
Several panelists, including Megan Pamela Ruth Madison, facilitator, scholar, and community organizer; Joseph Derrick Nelson, assistant professor, Swarthmore College; and Laleña Garcia, GSE ’02, kindergarten teacher, Manhattan Country School and gender and sexuality trainer, then gathered for a discussion centered on this year’s theme. The panel was moderated by Akiea Gross, social entrepreneur and founder of Equitable Schools, Inc., who also spoke at Bank Street’s first-ever Black Lives Matter at School Week Early Childhood Symposium in 2019.
After, attendees enjoyed refreshments and gathered for a book signing by Patterson. The evening concluded with a “Community Building and Knowledge Share” session for participants to engage with each other, reflect on the symposium, and discuss a call to action for attendees to practice and explore the guiding principles of Black Lives Matter at School Week year-round.
In addition to the broader Bank Street community, this year’s event was supported by a partnership with the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility and the Flom Family Foundation.
“We are grateful for the support we have received from the community and proud to have the opportunity to bring together so many change-makers to support and improve the experiences of young Black students,” said Mills. “We look forward to continuing this work and our mission to help create culturally responsive and racially equitable classrooms that value the experiences of all students.”