Newark is making headlines in the worst way. We’re getting a front-row view of the racial tensions and outright hatred between Black and Hispanic students at the district’s School of Global Studies while right next door in Bloomfield, an anti-semite fire-bombed a synagogue.
Hate breeds hate. It is happening all around us in Newark. The only fix is for the grown-ups in the room to grow up. Listen to Global Studies student Samiyah Dunham who went to the last Newark School Board meeting, according to the Star-Ledger, and asked Board members, ”How would you feel every morning if you wake up and remember that you’re going to a place that doesn’t want you there?”
Where else can we turn besides to ourselves? The Board of Education is silent. The only exception is Board President Dawn Hayes who confirmed the students’ stories by transferring her daughter out of the school.
How about the Global Studies principal, Nelson Ruiz, whom some say is racist? I’ve been in the same room as him. I know a racist when I see one. Ruiz is not a racist, just trapped in a system that seems incapable of responding to problems that may appear intractable but can still be eased through community-wide efforts if we’re brave enough to try.
How about Superintendent Roger Leon? Students said he and other district officials tried to bribe them into shutting up about the situation by throwing them a pizza party.
How about the State Department of Education? Officials there just point to the Amistad and Holocaust curricula as if somehow these empty gestures and pretty powerpoints will conquer racism.
Newsflash: It doesn’t. All these actions by adults point to their lack of understanding of kids, who absorb the racism around them like a sponge.
Newsflash: The town hall meeting scheduled for February 15th, “Black and Latino Unity Through Education,” is a stunt to pacify us into silence, a forum for elders to push agendas onto children who have been slammed by Covid, by school closures, by learning loss, by grief, by trauma.
We are deeply infested with “cancel culture,” which I see as a symptom of Trump’s rise. Sure, he fell back down to earth in 2020 but the hate around him is standing tall, traveling like a virus and infecting every Newark family, every New Jersey family, every American family.
But let’s stay local. What if, instead of sitting silently—or using Principal Ruiz as a scapegoat for citywide ills—Newark school board members and Roger Leon looked at the Global Studies racism crisis and used it as a teachable moment? What if we asked our families to look deeply into themselves and confront the racism in their homes? What if we convened a serious gathering of education experts to run focus groups within Global Studies High School for students, parents, teachers, and administrators?
Taking our students to the Holocaust Museum or having them study the 1619 Project won’t fix the problems at Global Studies High School. Until we examine our own hearts and homes, we’re abandoning our children to a world where they feel unloved and unwanted. They deserve better than that.