Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Welcome advocates to another episode of the Leading Equity podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school.

                Today, I got a special guest with me, Dr. Geneva Stark. She's here with us and we're going to be talking about racial equity policy for COVID-19. Now that we're thinking about, okay, summer's here right now and we're looking at what school looks like for next year, we need to make sure that we have a racial equity policy. Without further ado, Dr. Stark. Geneva, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Geneva Stark:

Good morning. Hey, thank you for the opportunity to be here, Dr. Sheldon.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

All right. Well, the pleasure is mine. Before we get into today's topic, I'd love for you to share with our listeners a little bit about you and what you currently do.

Dr. Geneva Stark:

I come to you guys with 25 plus years of K-12 as an administrator in the school system. And with that, I've been a teacher, track and field coach, assistant principal, principal, superintendent fellow and also worked in diversity, equity and poverty department. Many times people ask the question, "Well, how long have you been in diversity?" Well, all of my life, because as a black female, I've had to walk that walk every day.

                And so I am now currently, the director of the Nystrand Center of Excellence in Education at the University of Louisville. My goal as always is to see how can we make an impact? Because it's not just about talking. We know that we've all been a part of committees and many of those committees and that information is sitting on someone's shelf right now. We know that the sure way that policies fail is when there is political capturing, when we blame the oppressed, lack of oversight and when the policy is left for interpretation.

                I think it's very, very important that every school focuses on a racial equity policy because there is a need and we cannot continue to circumvent or to mask it, because with COVID-19 it's been a true indication of the disparities that exist in our schools and also across our country. And the goal is, what are we going to do about it? Because bad things happen when good people stand by and do nothing. Your silence means consent. We all need to be standing for social justice.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Amen. And I don't normally say amen, but I feel like that was one of those moments. I appreciate you Geneva. Let me ask you this question, because you said someone asked you how long you've been in diversity? And I loved your response. Tell me more about that. Why do people ask that kind of question anyway? It doesn't make any sense.

Dr. Geneva Stark:

Yeah. Well, because people want to put you in the box and want to be able to define your narrative to say, "Oh, well, so you just arrived in this particular area." No, I've had to walk the walk. And we all have had some point in our lives when we realize the glowing disparities. I was a track and field person that had the opportunity to travel across this country from California to New York and I competed in Madison Square Garden indoor track and field championships and also the outdoor track and field championships. But along the way, there were many track meets that I competed in and my team and our team was disqualified just based on the color of our skin. We had surpassed our counterparts who were Caucasian and if we had two relay teams and they just said, "Hey, you are disqualified," and they did that.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

No reason behind it? They just say you were disqualified?

Dr. Geneva Stark:

What they will say is that, "You all went out of the exchange zone." Those individuals who know track and field know that when you're competing in a relay and we did not. And of course there weren't cameras at the meet to be able to truly identify too, but we were able to dispute it. But again, the last word was them in terms of the judges. And so we had to swallow that. And of course we are a 12, you kind of figure out, what's going on? And we know it was clear and so we're crying and boohooing and coaches who were educators, they helped us to process what was happening. And as we traveled across the country, we also would stop in restaurants and they will say, "We don't serve buses. We would not serve you on."

                Had to endure all that at the very early age so I realized that we are in two different worlds, but they help us to process that but they also share with us that we're not going to let them define your faith or your destination. Now for many people, they don't have individuals to help them through that process. I was fortunate and my teammates was fortunate to have those two individuals to do that. When people ask the question, "How long have you been in diversity and inclusion?" Then I can say, "All of my life." And also as an educator, I've had many, many experiences and I have been a superintendent finalist in seven different school districts and when it's all said and done, I know the reason why. It wasn't based on my qualifications. It was based on I'm a black female that stands six feet so they were intimidated by my knowledge, my strength, expertise and we all have a purpose in life. And my purpose is to love and to serve and to not let anyone define who I am.

                In that walk I have to know now understand that some jobs and some opportunities are looking for certain types of people and I am the person that's going to stand on the side of justice. I'm going to be the advocate for those individuals who do not have a voice and I'm unapologetic with that. When I get up in the morning and look in the mirror, then I'm okay with me. And one of my favorite heroes, Muhammad Ali, his quote, one of his famous quotes is, "Service to others is the rent that we pay for our home here on earth." My service has been mentoring students, teachers, administrators, colleagues, on life, social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion and that's my walk. And that's why it's important that schools have a racial equity policy.

                Now, some schools have an equity policy, but we have to look at specifically what that means for black children. And because sometimes they want to lump everyone together and we still don't look at black children and how they're being treated in school districts across the country and how we have systems and structures in place to make sure that they don't achieve and how they continue to blame the oppressed is one of the sure ways of policies failing. We blame them when we in turn, when the systems and structures have already denounced them and want to make sure that they do not succeed.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. Okay. And man, I am really enjoying this conversation and you're exactly right. We can't turn this on and off to be diversity equity including. This is not something I put a mask on and then, okay, now I'm DEI and then, okay I can go home at night and take it off. This is what we live every single day, all day, every day. And I'm glad that you brought that out and just touching on some, just a smidgen, of experiences that you probably have had in your lifetime. To me again, this is lifetime work. This is not something that, oh, I've been 10 years deep. No, this is all my life. I love that. I want to get into that, the racial equity policy, because I believe what you're saying makes so much sense. A lot of us will have an equity policy, but it doesn't address specific needs. And that's what equity is supposed to be about, it's supposed to address individual needs. What is your working definition of a racial equity policy?

Dr. Geneva Stark:

My working definition of a racial equity policy is that when we specifically look at each individual race, when we speak about black, Asians, Latinx, white, we look at the data individually, then collectively, because what happens is that people say, "Oh, kids of color or people of color." Yeah. And so we still sometimes never get to the root of the problem, which is looking at black children or black people or black communities. And so when we speak about the racial equity policy, what are you doing specifically? Because many times people lump Asians, Latinx, Hispanics and all of us together. And what happens is black children needs still are not addressed. And so that's why the racial equity policy is needed. And I know many school districts across the country want to say equity, but we need to specifically look because they are afraid.

                And I know people are, "Oh my God. You said the word race." Yeah. Yes, we need to look at race. We need to say it. And we need to be able to be in positions to have those critical conversations because when we have those critical conversations, then people can ask on both sides some of the questions that they've always wanted to ask. Because when we do not specifically look at race and black people, people all left to allow the TV to educate them. And we know 90% of what we see on TV about black people is negative. We can not allow TV and myths to educate the community at large. Now, as a result of COVID-19 and the George Floyd and we know that there've been many people who have been killed at the hands of police officers. We saw Rodney King, four police officers beat him. We saw that visual and they all were exonerated. What was different about George Floyd?

                Well, we saw Chauvin sit on him for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but also the world had come to a halt. We had to pause because the pandemic left many people at home and so many people didn't have much to do. America had stopped and they were able to listen. They were able to see and they were able to feel. And so sometimes in many ways, the pandemic has caused a lot of hardships, but in many ways it's been good as well because it's shined light on the glaring disparities that happen every day in neighborhoods and communities of color. But at this time, America was sitting and looking and watching because they had to because many of them people couldn't go to work. They couldn't go to other places, they were locked in at home.

                That is why it is a critical time now and maybe about nine to 10 school district across the country have a racial equity policy. But many people just have an equity policy. And I must say, Dr. Eakins, if you have a diversity and equity probably department, if it's only one person in that department, you just checking a box.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

And no, and we don't even have to bring up the financial part. One person and no money on top of that, I've seen that so much.

Dr. Geneva Stark:

Correct.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off, go for it.

Dr. Geneva Stark:

That's okay. But you basically checking a box because diversity and equity should be a part of every fabric of the organization. Yeah. And if it's not a part of every operation, it's not happening. You just basically checking a box and I've had individuals who call me and say, "Oh, I've heard about you. How can you help me? I just obtained a new position." And I ask the question, "How many people in your department?" "Oh, it's just me." You can't do the work just one person because there's too much to be done. And again, what they say, "Show me your budget and I'll show you your priority." No, because of the protests across the country, every big Fortune 500 company. Now we know 20 years ago, they were supposed to be speaking about diversity, but now it's a whole different ball game.

                And so white male schools districts across the country and diversity equity providers, whatever your title is, it is your time now to speak up and stand on the side of justice and demand that it happens in every operation of the school district, from curriculum, to budgeting, to the hiring process, all those examples, there should be a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion. Because you know what happens is we know and we have seen, we've seen special education consist of predominantly black males. We have seen gifted and talented and AP classes consist of predominantly white. And we know the people who are chairing those committees, 90% or 99% of them are white. We have to be able to look at those systems and structures to see how can we dismantle those so that our kids can have an equal chance.

                But also, I must say that when that happens, just imagine the white kids, what their perception is. Because we at what the black kids think. But look at what the white kids are internalizing. Oh, black people are not smart enough to be in here. What is the message that we're sending them? Because we always look at how black kids are feeling in those classes. But on the flip side, we are continuing to put systems in place because these white children, they are now thinking that, oh, black people are not smart enough to be in this gifted and talented class or AP class, or maybe only one or two, because they're not smart. But we all know it's not about us being smart enough, it's about us having the opportunity.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

And access.

Dr. Geneva Stark:

Access and opportunity. And also once we get there, the support to be able to stay there and the encouragement to stay there, sometimes that doesn't happen. And so they feel isolated and say, "Well, let me go back to the comprehensive class where I can feel a little love from my teachers or I can see some people who look like me." And so we have to look at big picture and think about systems. What systems are in place to keep that from happening to oppress our students. And sometimes we all part of that system because we buy into it and we think, oh yeah, these kids just because they are in this neighborhood, something's wrong. Now we all know none of us were born here rich and somebody had an opportunity to lay hands on us or to impress us. And we talk about educators and we say, we went into education to make a difference, to make an impact. Are you still there two years from now, five years, 10 years, 15 years later, where are you? Where are you? And if you not truly making an impact, then what are you doing?

                Now, you're either part of the problem or part of the solution. But more importantly, we need to have a racial equity policy to look at that. And Dr. Eakins, I must say that in looking at 20/21 school year, we need to make sure that we deal with the social and emotional needs of students, teachers, faculty, because 65% of households in this country have been impacted in some way in terms of income. Because we just can't go back and then we get thrust into buildings, in brick and mortar, without having some real conversations or some real systems in place to be able to help and support students, teachers and communities. Yeah. And we have to do it differently. On March the 16th, the world was thrust into COVID-19. People didn't know what to do or how to behave, how to move forward. But what happened was also, you have teachers who were novice in technology and you had teachers who were proficient in technology and based on their level of comfort in technology, that was determined on their level of engagement with students.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

I've seen it, if a teacher wasn't as comfortable with doing the technology piece, then it was very minimal. A bunch of worksheets was some of the things that I saw where just, okay, here's the set of worksheets for today. And then same thing for tomorrow. We definitely have seen that a lot.

                I wanted to ask you about the racial equity policy and who leads that? Because we touched on a little bit earlier in the conversation about, well, a lot of our districts will hire a one person department which is supposed to cover the whole entire diversity equity and inclusion and often comments or parents or community members that come in and address, hey, I have an issue, racial issue at my home or a teacher said this. Oh yeah, go talk to that person over there. That's not my area. That's their area. We don't do that here, go talk to them. And then we also talked about the financial part where it's like, okay, yeah, I want to get some PD done for my staff or for the teachers, or even the school leaders, but there's no funding there. Who does this racial equity policy? Let's say if I have a district level person that's supposed to be in that position or I don't have that person that's supposed to be in that position, who is the one that's constructing this racial equity policy?

Dr. Geneva Stark:

Well, first of all, there needs to be a commitment by the board of education because school boards hire superintendents and at the superintendent level, then a part of his cabinet, his or her cabinet should be about looking at what departments do we need to have in place? And there should be a diversity, equity, inclusion person at the cabinet level. Not three levels down mid management. They should be at the cabinet level and speaking to the issues. They should be strong enough to be able to say, "These are the things that's needed to run this department effectively." And based on the size of the school district, would depend on the number of individuals. But there definitely should not be a one person district, one person department. Someone needs to be looking at operations. Someone needs to be looking at curriculum. Someone should be looking at him with the human resources, all of those different areas that comprises school system, that should fall under the diversity, equity.

                Sometimes it's a chief equity officer, diversity officer, there are many different things, but that person should first be at the cabinet level and they should be strong enough to be able to say to that superintendent, "There should be an ongoing conversation about the things that's happening." And there should be a budget. If there's no budget, then again, we just basically, we blowing smoke. We just saying, "Oh, we checking a box." But we need to have a budget and in that budget, and in the way equity policy, there should be a monitoring system. And that monitoring system is going to go back and look at what are you doing? Because if you don't have a system for monitoring it, then you still have just checked the box because who's watching.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Who's monitoring it? Is that the school board level? What's the monitoring piece?

Dr. Geneva Stark:

Okay. What happens is there's a document or should be a document that comprise maybe eight questions, not a lot of questions, but what is the overarching policy and purpose of this practice? What is the initiative? Does it have meaning? Does it have purpose? Why? And why not? Which racial ethnic groups could be affected by this policy and practice? For an example, when we started talking about hair, then that gets to be a glaring problem. And we've seen across this country, even a little kid in Florida, little boy, six years old head, was beautifully braided up and they told him that he couldn't come to school that day because his hair did not fall into the guidelines, into the school policy. Or we had a young lady that had her hair nicely done in New Orleans, in Kentucky. It's across the country. Why is our hair a part of the problem? When you can wear pink hair and blue hair and purple hair and it's okay.

                We can look at those policies and say, "Why is these policies in place? What group does it talk in?" And then we look at, so what are we doing? And why? And also for the hiring practice, we have school systems that's maybe 80% African American, but 95% of the teachers are white. What are we doing? Are we intentionally not hiring African American teachers? And sometimes what they say is that, "Oh, we're looking for quality." Well what is that?

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

We can't find anybody.

Dr. Geneva Stark:

Can't find anyone. Are you truly looking? Or else there's a way to grow your own. If you are very serious and intentional, you can grow your own teachers by having programs in place that can inspire young people to become teachers. What are you doing? Those structures are in place that, oh well, we can't find anyone. And no one questions that. All what we have in the administration, that's all white. And no one is there to have the other voice, to be objective, to be able to support our kids. And the kids are watching and they are screaming. They are looking for, who is taking care of us? Who has our back? And we have to, we have an obligation to do something. We can no longer sit back and allow this to happen to our children. And we want to know what's wrong with them.

                What are we doing as adults? Because many times people speak about the apathy among students. What about the apathy among adults? What are you doing in the space and places that you occupy to make a difference and to make an impact? And you chose this profession because you want to make a difference.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

I'm totally with you. And I love what you're saying and I'm glad that you explained the monitoring because I wanted it to be clear to our listeners out there. Because the last thing I will ever want to happen is for us to say, "These are the things that you need to have," but then not provide any resources on how to have those things in place. I think you did a great job with explaining how that monitoring system could look like. I definitely consider you, Geneva, as providing a voice in leading equity. Could you leave us with one final word of advice?

Dr. Geneva Stark:

One final word of advice is bad things happen when good people stand by and do nothing. Where are you in the equation? Because again, our young people are screaming for the adults to stand up and have their back. And I think in many situations we become a part of the system that oppress our kids, our children. If we want to see differently, want them to do differently and we know that our kids and families it's not easy for everyone. It may not have been easy for our family, but what are you going to do? And sometimes people say, "Oh well, I can't do anything because it's too big." Yes you can. If you're in a classroom, if you're in a school building and you see kids that someone is mistreating, they should be able to come to you. You should be able to step in and do something about it.

                As a former high school principal, those students know that I have their back. If they came to school every day and did what they were supposed to do and someone was giving them a hard time just because of their color of their skin, they knew I had their back. And also those teachers, whether it be white or black, they knew that if my goal was, my standard expectation is that you contact parents, you let them know what's going on. Now, if you've done everything you need to do and you have a document and we've had a conversation, I have your back. But you can't just say something and not have an action plan. What is the action plan? Don't be a part of just talking about it. And I must say I had a girlfriend who was a elementary school teacher and she had a little kid, seven years old, who she said he was wasn't able to read or write, so she's screaming that he can't do this and he can't do that. She was talking about the little kids.

                And so I stopped and I asked her the question, "What are you going to do about it? This little kid is seven years old and if he can't read or write at seven, then you have an opportunity to help him." When I saw the young people in 10th, 11th grade, 15, 16, 17, that's a horse of a different color. You have an opportunity to help him at seven. When he's 17, then he or she now knows that they can't read and write or comprehend and so that's a different problem. And I told her I didn't have any cheese for her whine. And we're still friends today, but we have to have those conversations with people who want to stand by and talk about our kids and speak about them in a negative tone.

                Then you ask them the question, "What are they going to do about it?" And stop them in their tracks and they may leave mad, but guess what? If they are about the business, they're going to self reflect and they're going to do differently, or they're going to make sure they don't come to you again with that conversation because all you can go back to them and say, "Hey, what have you done? What did you do with Johnny? What'd you do with Malcolm? How did you address their needs?" Because that's the reason why we went into education, supposedly.

                My leaving thoughts is that it's a call to action. We have to have a racial equity policy that needs to exist in every school district. And also every school needs to have a racial equity plan. Every school needs to have a racial equity plan, because then there also lies where the accountability is going to happen. Having a racial equity plan for every school and also having a team of individuals to monitor what's happening in those plans. And it goes from hiring, the curriculum, the special ed classes, every operation of the school and the school district should be addressed.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Geneva, if we have some folks that want to reach out to you, want to connect with you, what's the best way online?

Dr. Geneva Stark:

I have a website. I have a consultant company, GASP Consulting Services, www.gasp, G-A-S-P consultant.com. Email address G-A-S--P [email protected] And again, let's stand up for justice and for our most precious resource, our children.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

All right, well, Dr. Geneva Stark is here. Thank you so much. It has truly been a pleasure.

Dr. Geneva Stark:

Thank you very much.

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