In 2018, I had the opportunity to meet Minnijean Brown-Tricky, one of the Little Rock Nine. Minnijean and the eight other students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas were encircled by an angry mob who assaulted and hurled insults at them as they walked into their first day of high school; she was only fifteen.
As the mother of two young boys, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how their parents and family members must have felt, left behind to do little more than pray for their safety. That day, Minnijean was not trying to make history–she was simply trying to attend a school she thought would help make her the very best person she could be.
There’s a lesser-known side to the story of the events of 1957 that helped shape my life, my career, and my focus as an educator and policymaker. At the same time that Minnijean and eight other teenagers were walking into their new high school, a private citizen named Mrs. Smith wrote a letter now famously referred to as, “The Charlottesville Letter.” The letter outlines with masterful detail how the superintendent and school board of Charlottesville could use assessment, IQ tests, and the development of a gifted program to “prevent a disturbance of our present [all white] public-school system.” In doing so, the state could limit integration, undermine federal legislation, and circumvent Virginia state legislation to close any school that followed the federal legislation.
Since the era of desegregation, there are those who have conspired to deny equal opportunities to BIPOC students. The inequities within the education system today are not an accident; they are the result of conscious choices and policy decisions designed to foster inequitable opportunities and achievement gaps for students of color.
In Testing America’s Freedom, a new podcast produced by NWEA, I recount the history of policies and laws that have created, perpetuated, and exacerbated these inequities. I also speak with leaders within the field of education to explore solutions to the issues impacting our current system and discuss how we as education leaders can pave the way towards a more equitable future for all students.
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