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Follow the Money: Oakland Organizer Misty Cross Discusses the Fight for the Public Education of Black and Brown students in Oakland

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By JR Valrey, The People’s Minister of Information

The fight to halt the school closures in the Oakland Unified School District is turning out to be one of the biggest issues that can affect the vote in many campaigns, during this electoral season. Many in the community are waking up to how the money slated to educate Black and Brown students in Oakland has been squandered for decades, in a political 3-card Monte, where the schools with predominant Black and Brown populations seem to always be under-resourced and eventually closed. The struggle to educate Black children is one that Black people in this country have been fighting since the end of chattel slavery, which laxed the laws preventing us from learning how to read and write. 

Today the laws preventing the masses of Black people from knowing how to adequately read and write is unwritten, but understood by the employees of all ethnicities functioning in the various school districts across the nation that serve Black children.

Misty Cross is a frontline organizer in the fight to halt the public school closures in Oakland. She was also one of the co-founders of the Mom4Housing campaign that rocked the nation a few years back, and brought to public light the number of vacant homes in Oakland, in comparison to the ever-growing homeless population, which is largely Black, and the local government’s refusal to facilitate a beginning to an end of the housing and homeless crisis plaguing Oakland.  She is politically educated and a very passionate voice that is repping for our Black and Brown students. Check her out in her own words. 

JR Valrey: What is the connection between the affordable housing shortage in Oakland and the agenda to close down Black and Brown schools in Oakland?

Misty Cross: The connection between the affordable housing shortage and the agenda to close down Black and Brown schools is that both issues create racial segregation, and involve the billionaires monopoly game, where they play a heavy hand in racial inequity capitalism. It is happening across states, and only exists in Black and Brown low income communities, which then creates displacement for our people and has been the leading cause of homelessness, for years now, and keeps the school to prison pipeline functioning. We know this to be a fact, and data shows that if a child can’t read by 3rd grade then that child has a greater chance of becoming a dropout. This is why the state tests children in the 3rd grade, and the test is only given once a year, which doesn’t help our children excel or become successful graduates, but instead adds to a higher prison rate. 

JR Valrey: What are some of the similarities in the fight to stop the school closures struggle and the Moms For Housing struggle, a few years back?

Misty Cross: Some of the similarities in this fight against school closures and the Moms4Housing fight are that institutional racism and gentrification are still affecting Black and Brown people first, and shows how we can’t rely on constituents who choose profit over the people. 

It shows that we still have to fight against capitalism run by racist billionaires that aren’t even residents, in this state. So today we say no more letting sellouts come into our city and act like they’re here to help our Black and Brown students thrive. No more letting these people, who we’ve voted into office, not do their jobs. No more letting this district steal from our public schools, and give space to charter folks. We have been oppressed enough, and we are tired of the attack on Black and Brown people in low income areas that already have a lack of resources, and their only survival is to work and take care of their families. It is a tactic they’ve used for years, as history shows us in the Brown v. Board of Education, which was a case about racial segregation in public schools, that shows us that we have to fight for what should be right. Most folks don’t care about the fact that this has been a way to keep our people down, and is now a new way for them to push us out of communities in which we have learned to call home.

JR Valrey: What specifically concerns you about the school closures?

Misty Cross: What concerns me about the closures is that many of our families still don’t know what’s going on, and this district continues to move forward with their plan, with no parent involvement. On top of that, we have the board giving the wrong narrative, as well as telling lies. We have students who started school for the first time in the middle of a pandemic, which means they had to self learn on a chromebook, which means that they even had to learn how to navigate logins, passwords, and assignments, all on a computer for the first time. Then they were pushed into a classroom as schools reopened, without the district doing engagement with families to see where kids needed more support. Leaving our children without the basic tools to thrive in the classroom is harmful, and shows me they want our children to fail. It worries me because even with billions in Care Act funds, plus Covid relief funding, on top of the budget, this district has failed to fully fund and put proper safety measures in place at school sites, so that kids and staff can remain and stay safe during COVID. 

We had to fight for that, which led to actions and push back by students and teachers, going on strike for better and more strict safety protocol: such as keeping the dashboard updated in a timely manner, onsite testing at sites for families, N94 and N95 mask for all students and staff, as well as the purchase of humidifiers for all classrooms and cafeterias, and better outdoor eating space during the pandemic. The board also failed to distribute take-home testing kits, in a timely manner.  

JR Valrey: The district claims that the closures will help them consolidate resources and better serve all Oakland students, why do you disagree with this assessment?

Misty Cross: The way that this board lies about how consolidating our schools or closing them will help, is the same lie they told the public about a budget problem, while wasting money on executives positions, consultants, high district salaries, as well as the high rent at 1000 Broadway, which costs the district millions monthly. Oakland Unified School District schools are supposed to be full service community schools, and focus on serving all students, yet every time the district thinks about cuts or closures they never include failing charter sites, or they never consider not renewing late paperwork that they seem to never get in on time, or even tell parents that charter schools are failing our children more than public schools and are a part of racist institution that uses big names to attract Black and Brown families. Charter schools don’t teach our children.    

JR Valrey: What changes do you think need to happen in the Oakland Unified School District so that the students can be better served?

Misty Cross: Changes need to happen, because this needs to stop happening to our youth. We need to start showing up for our youth. It takes a village to raise a child, and we know that our children need a solid support system at the affected school sites. When families and communities are involved in student learning, students improve their academics, and gain more advocates to promote their success. Most affected school sites have been stripped of resources such as food drives, that help support families throughout the month, and therapy that is in place at sites to help support our students with special needs and disabilities. Community engagement has been an issue. There has been a lack of transparency from the board, resulting in them breaking laws, including locking families out of public community meetings so that they can’t express their concerns to the faces of board members. We have principals being replaced with old one’s who were fired from this district, and now rehired with higher pay, to make sure the schools stay failing. So they do the bare minimum meaning some of the new principals are at sites to not be effective, meanwhile we have teachers and staff who have overly supported families inside and outside of the schools, because they know what it takes to really support the whole child. 

The only way to help is for this district to repair what they have done, restore all of those resources, and fully fund all sites. Teach our children how to read, include Saturday school, and include tutoring to support our students excelling.

JR Valrey: Why should the community get involved with this struggle, even if they don’t see how it will affect them?

Misty Cross: It weighs heavily on my conscience, because we went through this process in 2014 when the board appointed Antwane Wilson as the superintendent, who was hired under a 4 year contract, and quit before finishing because the community held town hall meetings and challenged her on how closing down schools would work for our children. The district assumed because of his ethnic background, that the privatizers would attract and gain the community’s trust, and push the agenda to close more public schools and make way for charters to come in. This was to make families feel like the district had empathy and compassion for our Black and Brown children’s education. 

Wilson showed a disregard for the community when he left OUSD in a $30 million dollar deficit, then later went on to disrupt public schools in Washington DC, where he was called again to disrupt public education in Black and Brown areas. He has since been forced to resign, due to an investigation of him violating school district policy, by using his power to get one of his children in a higher achieving school, without going through the proper steps that other parents have to go through.

JR Valrey: Can you explain how the closures of Black and Brown schools will put the affected Black and Brown students, one step closer to the school to prison pipeline?

Misty Cross: The closing of schools in Black and Brown areas that already lack resources and are still struggling with high costs of food, rent, and now gas while still in an pandemic is genocide; and will not only add to homelessness, but will add to the population of the school to prison pipeline. School closures are and have always been a part of a long term plan by corporations, who have turned charter schools into a business: to increase their profits, to destroy public education by turning public schools into charters, as well as the selling off of the school buildings to real-estate developers, who then turn the land into market rate apartments that our families who have lived here longer than the new folks coming in, can’t afford. These newly built spaces aren’t built for Black and Brown people. Instead we’re given tiny houses with fences, with security and social workers as if those are humane living conditions. The fact that these closures target Black and Brown communities and students receiving special education services, is a failure by design, that nationally is only hitting Black and Brown low income areas. 

JR Valrey: Why do y’all care to change a district that has neglected Black children for decades? Is it worth it? In your opinion, why?

Misty Cross: My reason for caring so much to change this district’s ways is because I am a Black mother, and I am one of those children who came out of this failed school system. I understand how hard it is to survive here in Oakland living in areas that are high with crime, where there are no supermarkets nearby for healthy eating, and neighborhoods are flooded with encampments of people who all look like me. So I know that schools in our communities are a safe space for some of our children. I am a single parent, who is trying to keep all of my children at one school site, because it takes off the stress of having to go from multiple schools, then to work, and still be on time so that I can keep my family housed, and keep food on the table. I also understand from a single parent’s point of view, that most parents are so drained from daily life, that they don’t have the capacity to stay on school board meetings until 3am, to wait for 2mins to speak about concerns they may have. I care about how the decisions the board makes affect our lives, and that’s why I care to change the way our people think about racism and capitalism, and I plan to keep fighting for our children and families, by any means. 

JR Valrey: How could people stay up to date on info regarding Halting the School Closures? 

Misty Cross: Folks can stay up to date by showing up to school board meetings and stating things on the public record. Check out and educate yourselves on the electoral candidates who are running for office, in June and November. Follow the money. See who is backing these folks, and if they are a part of the private sector, who is trying to push hidden agendas. Also check out our the social media sites, and check for our events on IG @ShutDownTheTown @save.parker.school tinyurl.com/oeacluster7 

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