Did you know that Black girls in every state are twice as likely to be suspended from school? And it is not because they are inherently bad or suffer from more behavioral issues than their white peers. It is because our girls are seen as less innocent. The Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality published a groundbreaking study in which Black girls, between the ages of 5-14, were seen by adults as less innocent and more “adult like” than their white counterparts.
This leaves them open to the intentional and unintentional biases that push our girls out of the classroom and robs them of their right to a quality education. Girls like my youngest niece who just celebrated her fifth birthday this month. She will be entering into the same school district where I graduated and where her older sisters currently attend. She is entering into a district, which a year ago, was involved in some highly publicized incidents of racism among students, teachers and faculty.
Her older sisters tell stories of their own experiences in the district, feeling targeted by teachers and isolated by their peers who did not understand their natural hair, their love of anime and mistook their curiosity as defiance.
When I filled out my application for Emerge Arizona, I was sitting at the table with my older sister who was frustrated like many of the Black parents I would later speak to during my campaign and those I encountered in my professional career as a social worker. My middle niece was experiencing bias in her classroom and seemed disinterested in school due to the lack of value she felt the teachers placed on her humanity. The concerns spilled over to my youngest niece, whose adorable quirks that we all loved, could be interpreted as “problem behaviors” by the teachers and administrators in her future school.
My sister then asked the question that would change the direction of my life: “What, if any interest do you have in running for a political office? Which office are you interested in running for?”
She steered me towards running for a school governing board position in the Chandler Unified School District. Our district needed a woman of color, social worker, former student and Democrat to sit on the board and represent the diverse values of our community. The community put out a call and I answered because I was invested in protecting young girls like my nieces and all students’ right to a quality, safe education.
Emerge taught me how to run my race by knocking doors and talking to my community about the things that they valued and wanted to see changed. I learned how to take the concerns of my community and turn that into targeted messaging so that voters felt seen, heard and represented within my campaign.
A year later, I sit on the CUSD board as the first woman of color Democrat, and I could not be happier to represent the voices within my community who have long called for diversity and inclusion within the district. I am proud of the steps our district has taken, including hiring our new equity director, and our dedication to holding ourselves accountable by measuring the data on discipline within our district. Our children deserve the best and our district is dedicated to working with our community to make sure our students get what they deserve.
As I sit on the board, I am attuned to the needs of children within our district. Our children deserve medically-accurate and age appropriate comprehensive sex education, because abstinence-only education has done little to reduce the teen pregnancy rate in Arizona which is higher than the national average.
Our children deserve access to more social workers to help them build resiliency and establish safety and trust when they cannot find that anywhere else in their community. And they deserve to see themselves reflected in classrooms, administration and on the board so that they have something to strive towards.
It is my hope that more women, especially women of color, join myself and Emerge ladies around the country in running for office and pushing the narrative that women can and should have a voice. It is also my hope that my nieces see the example that I have set, understand they have the capacity to enact change and make the choice to run for office.