Reflecting on our Lunch and Learn

By: Tess, Riley’s Way Council Member, The Horace Mann School

Before joining Riley’s Way I had always been interested in educational equity and how inequality alienates minorities in schools. However, after watching “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” by Monique W. Morris and Jacoba Atlas, with my fellow Council members I learned so much more about flaws in the education system and how Black girls are criminalized in schools.

The Bronx Council, made up of students from Horace Mann School and The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx, planned a virtual Lunch and Learn in collaboration with members of the organization GEMS, a nonprofit that works with survivors of human trafficking. Beforehand, we had discussions with leaders of GEMS about the importance and process of preventing trafficking in New York City. We decided that organizing a movie screening with GEMS would be a great way to connect with them.

I didn’t know what to expect from the event in the beginning stages of development. How would we be able to connect (essentially as strangers) during an hour long movie and discussion over zoom? With the help of ice breakers, thought provoking discussion questions, and a public chat, we started to form a bond over our desire to see better spaces in schools especially for students of color.

From the beginning of the movie, I felt emotionally connected with the students whose stories were being told. The story that stood out to me the most was the very first one, a young Black girl reflecting on facing humiliation and neglect by her teacher. When she left the school grounds she was turned away by almost every adult who was supposed to protect her, including store owners and police officers. It was also shocking to see how her parents automatically trusted the judgement of her teacher rather than the testimony of their own child.

To say that watching this movie was an emotional experience would be an understatement. Teachers and counselors explained the tendency of prejudiced educators to see Black youth as adults and treat them as such. It is undeniable that racism impacts the way schools punish Black students and essentially sends them on a school to prison pipeline without second chances. During our discussion section, I reflected further on my own experiences and felt validated in my experiences as a Black student. Attending a predominantly white institution comes with its challenges, including yearning for a sense of community or belonging. After being on the Bronx Council for around two years I can confidently say that I’ve always felt included during meetings with my peers from TYWLS of the Bronx. As a naturally introverted person, I often find it difficult to speak my mind; however, my peers were always encouraging towards me.

My main takeaway from the movie is that our leaders (both national and local) need to dedicate more time to examine how issues within the school system hinder Black girls from reaching their dreams. My previous experience with virtual events had always left me feeling a little disconnected, but after participating in our Lunch and Learn I left feeling inspired by my peers and hopeful for a better future for Black students. Though I am a graduating senior (and therefore an alumna) I’m excited to see the future work Riley’s Way Bronx Council will continue to do in collaboration with GEMS.