On Thursday, the Rochester City School District’s Board of Education unanimously passed a new code of conduct, a progressive step towards establishing a more positive culture in the entire school community and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. This came after nearly two years of battles within central office, the school buildings, and in the community task force (CTF) itself—a justice league type legion of activists, school officials, philanthropists, radicals, advocates, liberals, and lone voices in the wilderness—responsible for blowing the whistle on Rochester’s school to prison pipeline, organizing mass protests, writing the new code of conduct, and securing other school climate initiatives such as the anti-racism education.
Thursday’s unanimous passing was a hard earned victory. My contribution to the effort officially started in February. Here’s my timeline and testimony:
- April 2015. I visited my mentor, friend, confidant; Dr. Idonia Owens at School Without Walls. On my way out, Dr. Christiana Otuwa, Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, was on her way in. Idonia introduced us. Dr. Otuwa blew me off. I emailed to say it was a pleasure meeting her. No response.
- June 2015. School Without Walls’ graduating class voted to have me deliver their commencement speech. At the time I wasn’t writing any of my speeches down (I wanted to give the Holy Spirit free reign and not let my ego/flesh get in the way) so I can’t really tell you what I spoke about. But everybody was on their feet when I finished. I passed Dr. Otuwa and she told me to come see her.
- July 2015. I start stalking Dr. Otuwa’s secretary to get an appointment.
- August 2015. I finally got an appointment with Dr. Otuwa. The first words out of her mouth were, “How did you get this meeting?”
- August-November 2015. I kept coming to see Dr. Otuwa in the hopes of starting reading circles in schools that connected “at-risk” girls with my novel, ALWAYS WANT MORE. I was getting the run around.
- December 2015. Finally frustrated, I told Dr. Otuwa, “I don’t need the district, the district needs me.” Yeah, my flesh can get real ugly. She saw me for the first time though or maybe she had been testing me. We had a real conversation. She read and approved my proposal.
- January 2016. I had all of my paperwork in to start my reading circles. Dr. Otuwa called me on a Saturday, “I need you for the code of conduct instead.” I was shook. Grateful. Shook some more. I called Idonia and another brilliant mentor of mine, Tokeya Graham. They both told me I could do it, that they would help me. I prayed.
- February 2016. I accepted the position and attended my first community task force meeting. Dang, them folks were smart! Some of them were half crazy, but the smartest people always are. I was shook again. But I ain’t no punk and I had already given my word. So I did what made simple sense to me, I met with them all one-on-one. They caught me up. They guided me, they warned me. I was able to start piecing the truth together for myself. My first order of business was to produce a video that would move hearts and minds towards our cause. I reached out to Adrian, the illest videographer I know and incredible activist.
- March 2016. Community Task Force member, incredible teacher, and member of Rochester Teacher Association (RTA) blew the whistle on this objectionable language in the newly proposed RTA contract: “Crimes committed in schools will be pursued as crimes committed elsewhere, to the extent the district has the right to press charges for those crimes. In all other events, the district will fully support the teacher who chooses to press charges on his/her behalf.” The contract went up for school board approval. The community showed up in large. Someone stormed the school board, literally grabbed the gavel out of the board president’s hand, threw down the American flag. Mass chanting from the crowd led by Adrian. The school board voted the contract in 5-2 and got up out of there, but not before demanding to see the new code of conduct by May 1st. Adrian’s contract was in limbo until things cooled down. He didn’t know if he wanted to do the project anyway. Not after that language was voted in. I didn’t know if I wanted my contract either, but I had already signed. The CTF went into war mode. I was leading a mad dash to get the code ready for the board. Tense meetings with union representatives. Lots of reading more meetings. Struggling to fulfill all of my duties—wife, professor, author, business owner, new consultant.
- April 2016. New contentions within the CTF. Lord, I hate strife. I’m a peace and love baby. I tell people that I quit teaching because a fight broke out in my classroom and they look at me blankly, wait to hear something more dramatic. I guess dark skin means I’m supposed to have a high threshold for violence. District folk questioning my credibility. CTF folk questioning my motives. Me questioning if it’s really possible to change the system. The code started making its way through the board process. My eyes started twitching. It wasn’t that noticeable at first. Then it built up. I looked in the mirror and saw my eyelids contorting uncontrollably. I beefed up my meditations. Asked people to pray for me. Migraines came back. My husband gave me my injection and told me I can’t let the district destroy my health again.
- May 2016. I was done being smart, done intellectualizing. I put a call in to a prayer warrior. She told me to fast, dropped off Holy Water. I started anointing the room before meetings. I surrendered it all to God. “Lord, Your will be done not mine. When this happens, You alone will get the glory.” Small victories. I was in a warrior mode. Still peace and love, but I was calling bullshit out on sight. Better meetings, some terrible ones. Wolves in sheep clothing revealed. I pled the blood of Jesus over it all. Shook hands and new understanding. Less twitching. We shot the video. Public hearing went well.
- June 2016. Progress with the unions. Social workers on board. Lots of work, but I was more relaxed in it. Done trying to prove myself. The Most High God was blazing the trail for me. Then the moment we had been waiting for—the vote. The plan was to show the video beforehand. That required a morning approval from the interim superintendent and head of communications. Video wasn’t ready. Adrian and I texting all day. People hounding me, Adrian telling me, “it’ll be done any minute now.” He ran in at six o clock. “It’s too late, bro.” “Lies”, he replied to me. “Where is the superintendent?” “She just left.” He ran off after her. I think he caught her outside of the bathroom. She watched and approved, called down the communications dude. He approved too. Adrian and him running through the halls. The meeting was starting at 6:30. Meanwhile, the crowd was hyped up outside. On bullhorns, waving their neon colored “Vote Yes” signs. I went to the bathroom and felt eerily calm. Walked into the meeting at 6:35 and it was standing room only. The normal tedious formalities passed quickly. Everyone was smiling. Protocol was bucked. One of the school board commissioners asked everyone to hold their signs up so she could take a picture. The president of the board opted to play the video then. It was beautiful. The crowd laughed and sighed and cheered collectively. Adrian got the praise he deserved. Then the board decided to vote right then. They all said yes.
I got in a squabble with somebody along the way. He accused me of being foolish, naïve. I told him the God I serve delivers miracles. I wonder if that conversation played in his head when the vote came through. I hope so.
Oh, check out the video! https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B01hn65Di8j6dXdqQjNBdkNsakk&usp=sharing
And you can read the code of conduct here: www.rcsdk12.org/codeofconduct