Georgia student: Kemp, legislators seek to silence diverse voices

Gwinnett teen says GOP meddling in school board elections limits representation

Aminah Muhammad is a senior at Peachtree Ridge High School in Gwinnett County. She’s passionate about all things education and representation in local politics.

She recently joined the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition as part of the Gwinnett County Coalition. Aminah plans to become a K-12 educator in metro-Atlanta.

By Aminah Muhammad

I’ve been a Muslim American student of Gwinnett County Public Schools since kindergarten. I’m a senior now, and over the course of my 12 years here, I’ve learned alongside students of all races and backgrounds. GCPS’s diversity is one of its greatest strengths — it means my classrooms are places of inclusivity and open-minded discussion.

As a young Muslim American woman, I know the importance of electing leadership who look like me and truly represent me to state and national offices. My school board, which makes decisions that impact the place I spend most of my time in, is no different. Gwinnett’s school board has diversified tremendously over the years because Gwinnett parents know this, too.

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Yet, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill — written without my community’s support — into law targeting my school board’s election process. The law makes the Gwinnett school board elections nonpartisan, meaning candidates would no longer have a “D” or “R” next to their name on the ballot. More critically, school board elections will be held on May 24, rather than in their usual month, November. If the goal of democracy is for every voter to have an informed voice and access to the ballot, this bill does the exact opposite.

Republican legislators claim their goal is to depoliticize my education. Instead, moving the election from November to May blatantly undermines voter turnout in these elections — the sudden change in timing of elections confuses voters and makes it harder to encourage turnout, especially for voters like my parents and neighbors who would have to skip work and overcome language barriers just to exercise their voting rights. Their real goal is clear: Republican legislators want to strip crucial representation not only for families of color, but for children of color like me, too.

Why are we making it difficult for voters — especially new, young, and often marginalized ones — to elect leaders who share their beliefs and priorities? Politicians went out of their way to steal this choice out of the hands of our community, despite the fact that the other 158 counties in Georgia are granted the right to local control and despite the fact that even conservative Gwinnett constituents want our candidates for school board to have to declare their political affiliations.

Studies show that having just one person of color on a school board increases its financial investments in schools with large minority populations. For Gwinnett, that’s all of our schools — nearly 80% of Gwinnett students are people of color. For me, the impact of representation goes beyond just the big picture. When I hear school board Chair Dr. Tarece Johnson sympathize with Muslim students’ plea to have Eid as an official school holiday, I know what representation feels like. When a family friend, a fellow first-generation American and mother of a student with special needs, tells me she was planning to run for the board, I feel empowered by the idea that families most touched by our local schools have a voice in Gwinnett.

With the passage of this bill, I’m not so sure anymore. It’s clear that our state politicians care more about maintaining power than maintaining democracy and local control. But Gwinnett’s families of all races and backgrounds know we deserve better than voter suppression.

Although Gov. Kemp and legislators under the Gold Dome chose to ignore the pleas of Gwinnettians, we will not be silenced or deterred. With two board member seats at stake, young organizers across the county are already gearing up to educate and advocate for those who are most impacted by school board decisions.

To voters in Gwinnett and across the state: Do not let our voices be silenced; vote on or by May 24. To our lawmakers: Leave our local school board to the voices of the nearly 1 million Gwinnett residents. Our schools, our children, our board — we’ll see you at the ballot box sooner rather than later.