August 16, 2016

Dignity-For-AllLast April, as we celebrated our tenth anniversary, Jose Garcia-Fuerte, a STRIVE Prep – SMART graduate gave the student remarks at our community breakfast. His was an extraordinary speech, for his personal narrative of his seven years at three STRIVE Prep schools; it was an extraordinary speech for his strength of character; and, it was an extraordinary speech for his account of being an undocumented student in the United States, achieving DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status.

Next week, he will leave for Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, as a first-generation college student.

Jose’s story is an inspiring frame by which to view change over the past ten years. Ten years ago, there was very little choice for families in Southwest Denver, and when I walked our community to share information about our first school, only a small handful of families had heard of a charter school. There was no common enrollment process, no ASSET bill for in-state tuition for undocumented students, no DACA status, and no high school in our community where 92% of students earned acceptance to a four-year college, as STRIVE Prep – SMART’s seniors did in May.

The progress of the past ten years gives me great hope for the next ten. And, this summer reminds me of just how far we have to go.

When Jose attended freshman orientation at Drake last month, he didn’t meet a single Latino student joining him in his entering class. While Jose’s speech at our breakfast was well received by many of you, Larissa Martinez, valedictorian of McKinney Boyd High School in McKinney, Texas, gave a very similar speech and was attacked all summer on social media by individuals who don’t believe she should be extended the same dignity as other students.

Additionally, the Supreme Court recently split, 4-4, on the constitutionality of the President’s authority to create DACA status by executive order, leaving the livelihood of millions of young people in question. And, across our country, our communities have been devastated by violence, much of which is the result of the systemic racism in our institutions.

I want to live in a world where Jose goes to college with dozens and dozens of people who share his culture. I want to live in a world where all of our students and families are safe in our communities, and where we are all working together to make them stronger. It’s clear to me, as a white leader of an organization serving 97% students of color, that I have not personally spoken up loudly enough or acted boldly enough as an ally with those fighting for racial justice – within education and beyond. That’s about to change.

This requires interrogating our practice with a critical eye toward these priorities. Here’s an example. We’ve previously used a simple technique for drawing the attention of a room (of students or adults) by asking everyone to raise their hand. Through this lens, we’ve considered the impact of asking a room of students, mostly of color, “to put their hands up”, when for some, the directive triggers feelings of fear and insecurity, particularly as our country seeks solutions to improve relations between our communities of color and law enforcement. Thanks to some great input from specific staff members, we’ve eliminated this practice, network-wide, seeking other ways to draw 100% of the attention in a room where 100% of the students also feel valued, safe and respected. This is a simple example that speaks to the need to reflect, evaluate, and adapt our practice.

But we aren’t stopping there.

Our theme for Year 11 at STRIVE Prep is Dignity for All. Dignity is a simple concept – being deserving of honor and respect. For us, Dignity for All means deepening our focus on supporting the educational needs of every student, scaling a new model for true partnerships with families, and taking a deep dive to improve equity and inclusion within our own organizational culture – our priorities for 2016-2017.

Please join us.

If we are to look back on the next ten years with the same pride with which we have experienced the past ten; if we are to celebrate in ten years’ time when our current third graders are the graduating seniors at signing day; and if we are to see transformative eradication of racism across our communities, it will be because we all stand up for Dignity for All.