A new documentary explores racial equity within North Carolina public schools through the eyes and lives of four of the state's black leaders. It's called “Equity Meets Education” and was produced by Liz Bell, a reporter with EducationNC. The short films debut this month with public showings in Durham and Charlotte.
WFDD'S Keri Brown talked with Bell about the series.
On why Bell started this series:
If you zoom in to a classroom or an individual level, black students in North Carolina have worse academic outcomes than their white peers. If you look at test scores or cohort graduation rates, black students are suspended more often than their white peers in North Carolina, and if you zoom out some, you find that racial equity is a systemic issue within our educational system. If you zoom out even further, you'll find it touches really every institution that affects individuals' lives, whether it's education or something like criminal justice...Toussaint Romain, brings that perspective to the series, so we felt it was definitely an issue worth talking about and telling stories about and having conversations about.
On four leaders who were interviewed:
We wanted to get geographic diversity, as well as diverse perspectives. We talk with Donnell Cannon, who is a principal at North Edgecombe High School in Tarboro. It's a rural school and faces poverty challenges. We talk with Toussaint Romain, who is a public defender in Charlotte. We also speak with James Ford, who is the former North Carolina Teacher of the Year and an educational consultant. We hear from Jason Terrell, who is executive director of an organization called Profound Gentlemen, which is working to support male educators of color.
On the difference between equity and equality:
This difference between equity and equality is something that runs through all of these four men's perspectives and experiences. We all hear or have heard about the concept of equality since we were young, and everyone's kind of on the same page that that is what we are aiming for, what we're reaching for. Equity is the process of making sure everyone is on an equal or level playing field, and so implementing that equality doesn't always mean treating everyone the same because different groups of people and different people have different complex needs.
On some of the most impotant issues discussed in the films:
One theme that we see with Donnell and the important and life-changing relationships that he's making with the students at his high school and we see later in the series specifically with Jason Terrell, is that there's this rapidly diversifying student population in North Carolina. About a quarter of school children in North Carolina are black, and there's a teacher workforce that hasn't yet really reflected that. About 14 percent of teachers in North Carolina are black, and so there has been research that shows that specifically for students of color, having a teacher or leader in the building that looks like them is very important and can have a positive impact on their academic outcomes. It's not so much recruitment, but it's more the retainment of male educators of color, where North Carolina and other states struggle with this. There's not just one issue. It's also looking at policy and how we fund different regions of the state.
On what surprised Bell:
There is so much that will stick with me. As a white person, having conversations about race with people who are different than you, with people with different races than you, isn't something that you always do, but it's uncomfortable conversations like that that are so necessary. I think from talking with these four inspiring black males who are leaders in this space of educational equity, it really helped me see how to recognize and acknowledge your position and your role in society and in different systems and then use that platform or that position to lift others up and elevate others who are less privileged than you are.
*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news
*Follow EdNC's Liz Bell on Twitter @llizabell