To mark Black History Month, reflect, celebrate, honor and act beyond February

A second grader  listens to a famous athlete of the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, John Carlos, talk at Barack H. Obama Elementary Magnet School of Technology on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 in Atlanta. MIGUEL MARTINEZ for the AJC

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A second grader listens to a famous athlete of the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, John Carlos, talk at Barack H. Obama Elementary Magnet School of Technology on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 in Atlanta. MIGUEL MARTINEZ for the AJC

A Teach for America director says: Country can’t wait to take on major systemic problems holding kids back

In a guest column, Nautrie Jones, managing director, teacher leadership and development at Teach For America Metro Atlanta, says the themes of Black History Month must become part of the daily fabric of our schools and should lead to actions rather than aspirations.

Jones started her career teaching middle school in Atlanta Public Schools. She was named on the Honor Roll for the Fishman Prize for Excellence in Teaching, and was voted by her peers as a Teacher of the Year. After more than a decade as a classroom teacher, Jones joined the staff at Teach for America in 2013.

By Nautrie Jones

As students across the state experience school through a wide range of models, from in-person to virtual and likely everything in between this year, one thing is clear:  long before the COVID-19 crisis, our education system did not deliver on its promise to all children. In fact, Black children and those growing up in low-income communities are often denied an excellent education and with it the opportunity for economic mobility and the chance to thrive.

Black History Month is a time where many celebrate, honor, and reflect on the sacrifices and contributions of Black people. It is a time to revisit our past truths so that we can work to create a better future. It is also a time to commit to action. The pandemic presents an opportunity to act beyond February: to commit to learning from the past, and our current broken systems, so that we can create a stronger, brighter future inside and outside of the classroom for Black children.

Our country can’t wait any longer to take on the major systemic problems holding kids back. We have an obligation to act now to support our Black students and to begin to co-create a different future for them; one that is more equitable, more just, and more fair. We are called in this moment to move towards action. We all have a role to play. Right now, we should all celebrate, support and advocate for teachers, who in the midst of a pandemic and always-present racial unrest continue to go above and beyond the call of duty.

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Nautrie Jones is managing director, teacher leadership and development at Teach For America Metro Atlanta.

Nautrie Jones is managing director, teacher leadership and development at Teach For America Metro Atlanta.

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Nautrie Jones is managing director, teacher leadership and development at Teach For America Metro Atlanta.

Beyond that, we can find and research community-led organizations committed to doing the work that we have a desire to do and contribute to their efforts by donating money and volunteering time. We have to remember that we are not alone. We are a collective force and when we identify the problem and take bold action, we can make the vision of all children attaining a quality education a reality.

Teach For America Metro Atlanta is a network of more than 2,000 changemakers who have committed to ensuring the day when all children across our nation have the opportunity to attain an equitable and excellent education. As a Black woman, I am proud of the leadership of other Black women within our TFA network and want to elevate their commitment and excellence this month. TFA alumni like Iesha Fambro (Metro Atlanta 2017) regularly facilitates discussions around emotional well-being and she allows her students to choose what works for them in this virtual environment. She knows that in order to teach her students, strong relationships and trust have to exist.

Aja Blair’s (Metro Atlanta 2018) goal is to be the teacher that she needed when she was in school - one who saw her and did not try to change her. Using her Instagram, she turns popular rap songs into educational content in an effort to make learning cool for her students.

Alumni like Jasmine Bowles (Miami-Dade 2010), Kandis Wood Jackson (Metro Atlanta 2008), and Angela Orange (Metro Atlanta 2002) move the needle at the systems level in their seats on local school boards. Teach For America alumni and Black women led organizations such as Kaleidoscope Village, RestoreMore, Elevating Equity, Beyond the Classroom and 3-D Girls continue to work within communities to support students, teachers, and families across Metro Atlanta. There are many more stories like these and there are many stories yet to be written.

As we continue to push for equity and demand that all students receive a quality education, we must acknowledge that systemic and structural racism exists and continues to impact Black people and people in low-income communities. We must take action in our communities in ways that honor the sacrifices, boldness, and ingenuity of those that came before us. Reflect. Celebrate. Honor. Act, beyond February. That’s how we can best honor the month.

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