As a parent of a recent Nova graduate and a returning Nova student, the issue of the Africatown Community Innovation Center (ACIC) remaining in the Mann building is a critically important issue for me.
I respect and completely support the self-directed actions of the ACIC to create a model for education and engagement that works for young people of color in the Central Area. (The current Seattle School district practices and the larger culture as a whole are clearly NOT doing that.)
I fully support the ACIC remaining at the Mann building because it is critical for communities to reclaim common spaces in the face of an increasing economic marginalization (economic violence) that has pushed people of color out of the way to make room for white-condo-rei-disneyland Seattle.
We have all seen this continually happen, and we need to stand together to resist.
No Social Justice Without Solidarity
I have strong feelings about this because as a parent, I have witnessed a ‘whiter’ school community steal a building from a community of color.
In 2008, at a meeting with a board member, I saw an Orca parent suggest that we move into the Whitworth school building, which at that time was home to a school with over 90% children of color. Most disturbing was that the white Orca parent was the organizer of the school’s “race forums”. As seemingly always happens, the more privileged community won.
Later, my family chose Nova because we believed that the model of horizontal, democratic decision-making would allow students to work on social issues in a way that is deep, authentic, and addresses the real conditions of their community. We felt this would be a positive contrast to the hollow and abstract self-declarations of “social justice” that we had seen preached, but not practiced.
However, in addition to their inherent social privilege, I believe that the Nova community has become negatively conditioned by a ‘siege’ mentality. For 30 years, they have fought near constant threats of closure and hostility from the district for refusing to follow top-down mandates. Unfortunately, the cost of this ‘siege mentality’ is high, and may be partially responsible for the extreme lack of solidarity with other communities that I have seen Nova exhibit in recent years.
For example, during the brutal 2009 closures, schools were clearly pitted against each other by the district. One community had to lose for another to win. Schools came to district HQ begging the district overlords to “close THAT OTHER school – not ours!!”. Nova had opportunities to stand up for schools like Meany (the building Nova now occupies), the African American Academy, Summit K-12, and others and they did not. (In fact, Nova refused to consider merging with Meany, AS#1, or Summit – all of which would have given it the middle school that they now want to add!)
At a recent district meeting, students from the Center School gave impassioned testimony to try to prevent one of their teachers from being transferred for teaching an Anti-racism curriculum. Nova students also appeared, but testified about recycling, without mentioning (or even seeming to notice) that the Center School students 20 feet away from them that needed support. Just a passing shout out would have shown humanity and built solidarity.
I have been disappointed that this type of on-the-ground social empathy and solidarity has not been more ingrained in the school culture at Nova. I have heard at least one teacher and a handful of students and parents recently voice concerns that Nova is not doing enough to address the needs of ALL students in the district.
All of this is not to malign Nova, because Nova is in so many ways a wonderful school full of interesting students and many fabulous teachers. I support Nova staying open, too.
However, it would be fantastic if Nova students reached out to the ACIC to learn the value of what the ACIC is creating. The principle of community-empowered and self-directed education that Nova espouses is what ACIC is DOING! The return of public space to the African American community is the embodiment of the “social justice” that Nova claims to pursue.
I personally would hope Nova students could see this value and create an internal movement to show solidarity with the ACIC to stop their displacement from the Mann building.
Rejecting a Fabricated Crisis
No one can deny that the district has demonstrated sheer incompetence in managing school capacity and a callous disregard for the needs of communities of color. Their own assignment policy has accelerated gentrification in the CD, as wealthy whites rush to buy houses near Garfield.
I have no belief in the legitimacy of their authority over what happens to the Mann building. They change rules at their whim because that is what power structures do.
During the 2009 closures, I addressed the school board and asked, “In three years, when you realize that your demographic analysis was all wrong and you need to re-open these schools, which one of you will resign?”. This power structure refuses to take accountability for its own problems, but instead forces this accountability downwards on their subjects. They use coercion and threats of closure to force communities like Nova do their dirty work.
The district has created this mess. It is the district’s problem to solve – not Nova’s. Nova should reject this fabricated crisis and refuse to be the foil for the districts clumsy machinations. Nova and other communities across the city should be standing with the ACIC to de-legitimize the authority of district. Nova should stand in solidarity with the larger community, fighting the social and educational structures that funnel all of our young people into the role of either the oppressor or the oppressed.