Thursday, July 18, 2024

“Nothing about us, without us, is for us.” This principle has driven generations of human rights work. And for two years, Building Equity Bridges has worked to help bring it to life in Cambridge. With support and collaboration from Cambridge Public Schools and the Cambridge Education Association, hundreds of BEB youth, families, educators and community members have engaged in a community-driven process to name entrenched and long-standing barriers to equity in Cambridge. Throughout, Building Equity Bridges has explicitly centered the voices and power of youth, people of color and those most affected by inequities. Our findings are clear: Our schools are damaging the hearts and minds of many young people – particularly our black and brown youth.

We will no longer accept more of the same in our district and schools. Dr. Ibram X. Kendi argues that being racist is not about who we are, but about what we do in response to racist policies and practices. There is no “neutral.” The Building Equity Bridges movement calls on Cambridge Public Schools to become an anti-racist district made up of anti-racist schools and educators. This shift is collective. It requires deep personal work from each of us. And it requires mutual commitments to one another.

Root causes of inequity by Critical Participatory Action researchers.

We call on Cambridge Public Schools, the Cambridge Education Association, School Committee and the City of Cambridge to invest immediately in 12 commitments:

bullet-gray-small A clear, written, public, and transparent course of action for investigating and responding to reports of racist behavior, including clear steps for: communication; restorative practices; professional learning; and accountability, up to and including termination.

bullet-gray-small Immediate creation and ongoing investment in healing spaces and mental health supports for community members harmed by racism.

bullet-gray-small Mandatory professional learning for Cambridge Public Schools staff and School Committee members in: anti-racism; histories and perspectives of people of color; systems of oppression; culturally responsive practices; and relationship-building; along with anti-racist criteria and measurable anti-racist evaluation goals for all district educators, administrators, and staff.

bullet-gray-small Comprehensive review of all school-based discipline policies and practices, including heavy investment in restorative practices.

bullet-gray-small Elevating and supporting direct youth power. This will include direct youth input and feedback in hiring, educator accountability and school/district accountability. It will also include sharing and building power with youth and youth organizations – including adults yielding power to center youth agency, particularly among black and brown youth.

bullet-gray-small Creation and ongoing investment in councils of youth, families and educators from traditionally marginalized groups (including our American-born black, Latinx, indigenous and immigrant communities). This includes a direct role in district planning and accountability, as well as explicit power to develop additional commitments.

bullet-gray-small A new districtwide anti-racism statement with common language and expectations for all district community members, including concrete criteria for what anti-racism looks like in practice. All schools and departments will develop plans to become anti-racist.

bullet-gray-small Creation of an Office of Anti-Racism and Equity to provide coordination, accountability, and support for all CPS stakeholders to act on the anti-racism statement.

bullet-gray-small Comprehensive and ongoing review of all School Committee, district, Cambridge Education Association, and school-based policies and practices using the Anti-Racism Statement and criteria.

bullet-gray-small Comprehensive and ongoing review of all K-12 curriculum and assessments (including high-stakes testing) for anti-racism and cultural responsiveness.

bullet-gray-small Trainings, workshops and other opportunities for families to learn, reflect, act, and build community toward anti-racism and equity. 

bullet-gray-small A community accountability plan for these commitments, including: timelines; visible action steps; monthly community updates from the superintendent and Cambridge Education Association; and monthly meetings for direct community feedback about commitment implementation.

One barrier to equity identified at the Synthesis Retreat.

These commitments were drawn directly from Building Equity Bridges youth, families and educators through: youth participatory action research; critical participatory action research; focus groups; sense-making teams; a Synthesis retreat; summer youth-driven organizing; and community generation of demands. In addition, we recognize the activism of other organizations and groups that center youth of color for their ongoing leadership in this essential public dialogue about racism in Cambridge. And to be explicit: These 12 commitments are not yet sufficient to directly address the current realities of life at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. This moment can only be addressed fully by those who are most directly involved and affected. And as young people continue to fight for change, our door is always open for future collaboration.

This work will never be “complete,” and we continue to reflect on ways Building Equity Bridges can bring our core principles to life even more fully. We respect that some within our movement might not currently be on board with these commitments. With that said, a critical mass within the Building Equity Bridges community believes these commitments represent essential systemic change that will affect our schools positively. These changes are long overdue, and they cannot wait. A broad range of Building Equity Bridges community members have already signed on, and we are continuing to build power together.

Please sign on here to support these commitments as essential steps toward creating anti-racist schools in Cambridge.

Khari Milner, Debbie Bonilla, Naqibah Al-Kaleem, Tessa Bridge and Matt Dunkel are part of the Building Equity Bridges Movement. An ongoing and up-to-date list of supporters is here.