By Timothy Killings
The nationwide fight against the attack on Public Education and African Americans’ right to an equal education has intensified in the first two months of 2022. In January, the Oakland Unified School District recommended that The Oakland Board of Education close and merge 16 schools. The immediate week of action by the Oakland community that followed, forced the Board to vote on an amended closures list on February 8th, 2022, where some schools were removed from the list.
However, the schools that remained on the closure list were all in East Oakland. Due to this unjust decision, the community resistance continues until all school closures are halted. With the struggle for racial justice intensifying in the the City of Oakland, the deafening silence of the Faith Based community, in particular the African American churches, has been heartbreaking. No church has come out in support of the struggle to stop the closures of public neighborhood schools in Black and Brown communities.
However, the faith based community has held consistent prayer vigils and press conferences to address the amount of violence in the city of Oakland. Some leaders have even supported more police by publicly speaking against the Defund the Police movement. It is past time to ask our shepherds why they think it’s okay to fund the police departments, but defund our children’s education by closing schools.
There is a direct correlation between the lack of educational opportunities and crime. Lack of education is one of the root causes of crime. The school district’s decision to close schools is a direct assault on Black and Brown children’s educational opportunities, and funnels our children right into the racist school-to-prison pipeline. The support of the churches is critical to the success of community organizing against school closures. Currently the Oakland Education Association (teachers’ union) is in talks about going on strike over school closures. This would put extreme pressure on The Board of Education to stop school closures. However, the teachers do not want to go on strike and create extra hardship for parents who have to work and depend on our schools.
To overcome this challenge, Strike Schools are being created as community hubs for students to attend, for the duration of the strike. The churches could open their doors to support teachers and provide Strike Schools for the students of Oakland. During the 2019 teacher strike only 5% of students were able to attend strike schools. With the support of the churches the number of students that could attend strike schools would definitely increase.
There are a number of ways the church could support the righteous fight to keep public schools open in Black and Brown neighborhoods. But the first way is for pastors to recognize that what The Oakland Unified School District and The Oakland Board of Education is doing is ungodly and is harming our community. Second, they could publicly support the community who is fighting to end these unjust closures. Finally, they could open their doors to provide Strike Schools to support the O.E.A. (the teachers’ union), who is considering a strike to stop school closures in Oakland.
As the late great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”