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Standing Against the School to Prison Pipeline in Elizabeth

BY KASON LITTLE

Lacking a voice in the current educational bureaucracy of the Elizabeth School District I took my inspiration from Dr. King to be the voice of the voiceless and of the unheard. I called myself a Student Advocate – a position that had no power and no authority – to stand up for the students and parents who could not speak for themselves. My passion and caring were manifest, and parents and students began coming to me for help – and I helped – and the bureaucracy had no choice but to accept the authority I gave myself to be an advocate for the voiceless.

Students in the district need respect in the form of equal opportunities and treatment by the members of the board and staff – because without it, students and their families are demoralized, and demoralization leads to failure. Failure in primary and secondary education of poor at-risk youth propagates the school to prison pipeline. A reality that this board and its members seemingly wish to ignore.

The reality is, the students in the Elizabeth School District are not treated equally, equitably, or with kindness and compassion. Their passion and ability are thwarted by greed, corruption, cronyism, and self-dealing. The non-partisan school board has become an extension of the Elizabeth Democratic Party and the Union County Democratic Party where fealty to the bosses’ trumps what is in the best interests of the students.

There is a rot in Elizabeth. I wish that this rot was not systemic, but it is. We have officials, both in the school district as well as the community at large, who call fellow citizens and colleagues “n***er” and city and school board officials fail to address this regression to bigotry long since forgotten but sadly still prevalent. I have personally experienced this kind of discrimination partly because I am willing to stand up and say to power’s face that there something is wrong.

A student recently spoke with me about how he felt the district was failing him owing to lack of leadership and desire to solve student problems. Sadly, this is endemic of the current board. Students and parents regularly come to me with concerns about test preparation, college readiness, bias toward students of color, and threatened DACA students and families with enforcement action for speaking out, among others. I have personally advocated to the board and district leadership together with these members of the community and even still our voice is largely ignored. It is only through continuous and sustained advocacy, the kind that King, Malcom X, Susan B. Anthony, and other leaders in the cause of equality have championed and sustained throughout history that real change and reform will happen. If we remain silent or complacent or bite our tongues, we only have ourselves to blame for the continuation of the broken and failed status quo.

Margarette Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” While it may start with one person or a few ‘thoughtful, committed citizens,’ it ends with mass movement, when the public realizes that the only way to change a broken system is to stand up en mass. I may be a voice that stands up singularly against a corrupt power, but that is only so that I may give voice the hundreds who are already suffering and to show them a path to a better future. I model my fight off of the Rev. Dr. King when he stood up and said that something was wrong then mobilized the community around a vision of equality.

My vision of the Elizabeth School District is one where every student is treated with respect, where every student has equal opportunities, where all students hasve the chance to reach for the stars and fulfill their greatest potential. I am willing to stand and speak for the voiceless. I am willing to mobilize the community toward a better future. I am willing to do this whether I am harassed or marginalized, silenced or ridiculed, because it is what is right and what will bend the moral arc of the universe one step closer to Justice.

Kason Little is a candidate for the Elizabeth Board of Education.

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