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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Working to create equity in IPS

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As a Black man, father, son and husband, I continue to grieve the violent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Dreasjon Reed, and the countless black men, women and children whose lives have been taken so senselessly. Like so many Black men and women, these murders, as well as the events of the last week, conjure ancestral pain that words often cannot begin to describe.

Looking for hope in these dark times, my family and I turned to our faith, and joined one of the multiple peaceful protests in downtown Indianapolis. That afternoon, the faith community and elected leaders stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with a community in mourning. I pray that our state and city leaders heard the call that abusive law enforcement practices are killing Black people. These practices must stop!

The day’s events began at the Indiana Statehouse, where less than a hundred years ago the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was so powerful it declared itself to be the law in Indiana. We passed by Monument Circle, where the only statue of a Black man inside the Mile Square silently watched over the weekend’s protests — a slave, newly freed, but still wearing his broken chains. Indianapolis is proud to call itself “No Mean City,” but rarely pauses to acknowledge its shameful past.

That same KKK-controlled state legislature also controlled the seats of the very same Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners that I sit on today. At the time, the school board, in cahoots with city and state officials implemented policies that systematically guaranteed that Black children would never share a classroom with their white peers, receive adequate financial resources, or realize full rights guaranteed to them as citizens. Though these policies are no longer explicitly in practice today, we still bear witness to their ramifications daily. For some, these past actions have been missed or purposefully dismissed. 

For example, 65% of IPS students qualify for free and reduced services, and current lack of resources have prevented the district from implementing a full e-learning plan. In the district that I serve 6.7% of Black children (in grades 3-8) are considered proficient in both English and math according to the Indiana Department of Education, scoring over 25 percentage points behind their white peers. (IDOE 2018-19 ILEARN). 

We need and deserve local school governance willing to acknowledge the shortfalls of our K-12 institutions and will commit to change. It is time for school board members and educational leaders across our city to implement transformative policies and procedures that seek to disrupt and dismantle systemic racial inequities across our school systems. It is also past the time to install policies that shine a light on the racial disparities that burden academic performance, disproportionality in student discipline, social and emotional learning, resource allocations, hiring and retention and purchasing. Our children deserve policies that support and sustain learning environments that honor equity and inclusion. The IPS board and administration are developing this framework now and remain committed to its implementation. We should inspect what we expect and leverage our community allies to establish quantifiable goals and priorities and ensure that progress is reported annually.  

As school board members and educational leaders, we have to be willing to do the deep and personal work ourselves too. We risk coming up short in our efforts to drive equitable policy and accountability without examining our own racial biases and prejudices — present company included. In my tenure on the board I have received the gift of time and wisdom from so many who have challenged my own prejudices and I am grateful they did, because I want to be the best version of myself — for my community and fellow commissioners, but most importantly, for every student in IPS.

A wise elder shared with me that systemic racism resides in both the crop yield and the soil and the only way to dispose of it is to till and replace with fresh soil, fertilize and water diligently and protect the new beds so that they can grow and realize its fullest potential — then repeat. This illustration describes how we as school board members should approach our work too.

I am a Black man who proudly serves on a board whose members a century ago would not have considered me a citizen worthy of equal rights. Every day I work to get us further and further away from that narrative. We are not there yet, but I am committed to continuing to work toward dismantling systemic racism in our school district and this city.

Evan Hawkins

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