OPINION: A ‘Horrible’ Ruling by SCOTUS on Affirmative Action Puts Focus Back on K-12 Ed & HBCUs

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From the Black Parents Workshop of Maplewood and South Orange:

We had mixed emotions about the SCOTUS Affirmative Action decision from a few weeks ago and we did not plan to make a public comment. However, after viewing recent statements by community groups and national commentators on this topic, we believe that a different and more direct point of view is required.

On the one hand, we can view the ruling as a set-back for Black students who apply to upper-tier and elite colleges and universities. On the other hand, we can view the ruling as an opportunity for Black students to re-engage, in earnest, with consideration of attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and other schools that proactively support the educational success of our Black students after they arrive on campus.

The fact of the matter is that since 2010, there has been a 22% decline in Black student enrollment, collectively, in all colleges and universities. Concurrently, during that same time period, however, graduate student enrollment by Black students increased by 6%. Further, STEM graduates, specifically, have matriculated from HBCU’s at a greater rate even with clear and convincing evidence of underfunding and lack of financial support by the respective state legislatures. Thus, despite many legal, societal, and financial setbacks, our Black students are finding ways to succeed. But at what physical, emotional and financial cost? https://pnpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/BlackStudentsFactSheet-Nov-2022.pdf

Despite the SCOTUS ruling focusing on admissions to elite colleges and universities, the Black Parents Workshop has always been focused on what is happening to our Black students between the grades of Pre-K and 12. This is why we filed our lawsuit in 2018 and secured a legal settlement with the South Orange-Maplewood School District three years ago in July 2020. In our view, this time frame predominately determines what options our children will have when it is time to apply to colleges and universities despite the composition of SCOTUS. A horrible ruling by SCOTUS is less problematic if our students are already prepared to succeed and they believe they can succeed based on years of consistent educational nurturing and support.

The real and immediate problem is that even in our own community, we cannot guarantee the proper nurturing and support for our Black students. As a result, Black families that can afford to live in our community choose to live somewhere else and Black families that live here already send their kids to private schools in large numbers. It is common for Black families in our community to contemplate, discuss and analyze whether they will send their Black children to private school or keep them in the South Orange-Maplewood School District because sending them to public school in our community is akin to having to go to war to fight for the educational rights of their children.

Recently, Dr. Edward Fergus released his draft Equity Report, as a requirement of the BPW Settlement, which shows the current state of affairs facing Black students in our own South Orange-Maplewood School District. We provided the report to the public and I specifically sent a copy to representatives of various community groups. Unfortunately, we have not heard back from any community group representatives with comments, questions or feedback.

Further, even the public at large has been collectively silent on the data, statistics and testimonial evidence in the Fergus Report that demonstrates that our Black students are not receiving the free and appropriate education they deserve under the New Jersey Constitution.  After George Floyd was murdered, a person could not walk past two houses in our community without seeing a “Black Lives Matter” lawn sign. Our community and the world rallied around the rare event of a prolonged execution of a Black man by a police officer that took place on camera. However, we cannot seem to generate the same urgency or alarm for the slow, pervasive and continual psychological killing of our Black students’ educational dreams, aspirations and endeavors that happen in our segregated schools and classrooms on a daily basis.

As BPW has stated on several occasions, we have other options in our arsenal of legal remedies and I consider those remedies, in many instances novel, untested and risky. But we draw our inspiration from the revered and strategic legal minds of our ancestors such as Thurgood Marshall, Charlotte Ray, Charles H. Houston, Jane Bolin and others.  And our constituency, the Black students of our school district, deserve to be represented by adults who will take legal risks and hold our public leaders accountable, on their behalf.  So while the nation wrings its collective hands regarding the latest SCOTUS attack on affirmative action, the case for “educational reparations” is just around the corner.  Stay tuned.

James H. Davis III


Black Parents Workshop

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