Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Twitter-icon-small Manikka Bowman says she knew early in life she would run for public office. She grew up in the black church and saw role models in her own pastor and others who balanced faith leadership with active involvement in civic life. Manikka received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Florida. She received double master’s degrees in in urban policy, from Georgia State University, and divinity, from Columbia Theological Seminary. Her professional life has centered around nonprofits and philanthropic work, including Community Builders, BJ’s Charitable Foundation and Health Resources in Action. She is also an ordained clergywoman.

A mother of a 19-month old, Manikka moved to Cambridge 10 years ago. Bowman sees power in the intersection of moral voice with public life. “I want to live in that intersection as a woman, and to lift up the needs of everyday people who depend on these systems to educate their kids,” she has said. She grew up in subsidized housing and knows firsthand the importance of education and the power of high expectations and role models. “I grew up in area where 80 percent of the teachers were teachers of color. I always thought college was a given for me. We need to show students as well as tell them” what is out there for them.

Compiled from the candidate’s words in publicly available sources and public comments

Top three issues:

Universal pre-kindergarten. Investing in pre-K will stop the achievement gap before it starts. With a high tax base and an economically diverse student body, the city is in a unique position to be a leader in educational outcomes by creating universal pre-K for all residents. Currently, Cambridge spends about $27,000 per pupil. It is one of the highest student-spending ratios in the state. If money is not the issue, then what is? As the parent of a toddler and someone who has worked in early education policy, I understand the importance of investing in children during this developmental stage.

Supporting educators and administrators. Educators are the solution, not the problem. Cambridge teachers and administrators are in the unique position of being in a resource-rich district but having 47 percent of students classified as “high needs.” With close to half the school district classified this way, teachers and administrators are forced to manage issues of poverty, social stratification, language and race in addition to educating our children.

These issues have a direct impact on how they are able to do their jobs. I want teachers and administrators to be a part of policy conversations and inform decision-making to address the unique makeup of our district so we can improve academic outcomes for all students.

Supporting minorities and girls. As a committee member, I will elevate the issues of girls, minorities and high-needs families. Currently, 60 percent of the school district is minority and about half are female. Through my service, I want students that face educational challenges to know they have a place in public life and Cambridge Public Schools.

As a black woman who has moved from being disadvantaged to the middle class, I believe it is important to have individuals from diverse backgrounds influencing policy at every level. Currently there are no women of color on the committee. It is no secret that women of color are underrepresented in public office. I am running because I fundamentally believe that must change.

Compiled from the candidate’s words in publicly available sources

Profile one view of the candiate

Bowman brings obvious passion and management skills. Having a woman of color, not to mention one who herself really understands the issues facing low-income children, would be a real asset to the committee. No one can argue with her question about our achievement gap – “If money’s not the issue, then what is?” – or the fact that our teaching staff’s diversity does not begin to match the diversity of our student body, and she may bring new answers. But it’s not clear the extent to which she is aware of how Cambridge has tried – sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing – to address these issues already. She comes to the committee race without much grounding in the ins and outs of the school system or the workings of the committee, and hasn’t yet shared concrete notions of how she might help to change what the city does. It will be exciting to hear what she has to say when she bones up.