Under The Radar - The Return of The Restorative Community

 

By Francis White

“Trouble is the easiest thing to get into and the hardest thing to get out of”. A wise man that I know would say this to me on many occasions growing up. He said it the other day at his 80th birthday celebration (and 56th wedding anniversary). This is what I thought of when I received the information about what’s going to happen later this afternoon around issues of public education in Buffalo NY.

Before I get into that, this wise man that I know would often educate me before and after my official public “education” at school. As the grandson of a former slave from Georgia he grew up in the harshest climates for people of color in the South and then experienced a whole other type of climate when he moved up North in the 1940’s.

Although the system up here wasn’t perfect he made it work. He told me when he moved up here, he was the biggest kid in his 6th grade class. He was a few years behind on his reading and writing, but he caught on fast. Understanding then as is happening now that young black men were for many reasons being miss educated - subsequently being set up for a life in the prison system, he decided to make the most of this opportunity. After school he would practice his reading and writing, study on his own, and read a few chapters ahead of what the teacher presented in class. After a while he increased his reading level and was one of the first young African American men to attend Hutchinson Central Technical High School in Buffalo. He taught himself, or learned from others who were willing to show him, how to use his hands. Throughout his life he used a combination of his hands, wit, and realistic outlook on life to build a life for himself and his family here in this country.

Part of the education curriculum for his students and family was the concept of everybody working and staying together. He believed (and still does) that we’re all one big family and we shouldn’t be fighting amongst each other. He would teach that problems do arise because we are humans, and the most effective way to deal with that is to get it out in the open. You sit at a table (almost like in the mob movies) with respected family members or friends as mediators, and you figure out a way to work your problems out. The most important thing was to walk away from the table reaching a “basement” that everybody could at least agree on, to not keep negativity going.

Groups in New York State, Buffalo, and elsewhere who’ve been working on reform in public education have been pushing something called Restorative Justice,/Restorative Practices in the school system. This is the idea that the school system can focus on the rehabilitation of the student’s behavior through reconciliation with his classmates, teachers, his school, and the community at large. Many people believe this to be a more humane and civil procedure then “just get em outta here”. Many think that this could be a way to curtail, or to at least cut in half the percentage of excessive amounts of school suspensions and other things that contribute to the high dropout rate for students in districts across the state of New York.

Here’s this from Brian Trzeciak an organizer for Citizen Action of New York about what’s taking place at 5pm this afternoon and tonight in Buffalo NY.

“On Wednesday, October 8th, at 5PM, (THAT’S TODAY) please join Parents, Students, and Community Members along with Citizen Action Of Western New York, Alliance for Quality Education of New York, Push Buffalo, Teens InProgress, Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition, and Open Buffalo as we gather at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts (450 Masten Ave, Buffalo, NY 14209) to demand that the Board of Education follow through on their commitment to fully implement the Code of Conduct and Restorative Practices to stop affecting students of color at a disproportional rate.

This is part of the National Week Against School Push Out. We will be releasing suspension data and specific demands to the District. After the event, we will be heading into the Board of Education Meeting at the school to address the members of the Board directly. We have a good start, but much more needs to be done to address the disparities and to stop the school-to-prison pipeline!”