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How This Community Organizer Is Using Data To Confront Education Inequity for Black Students

Black children are suffering in public schools, and the effects of institutional racism are paralyzing potential.

A meta-analysis published by the American Psychological Association found that middle and high-school-aged kids who endure frequent interpersonal discrimination are at greater risk for depression, substance abuse, poor self-esteem, risky sexual behavior, and lower academic performance. Racism also harms younger children in fundamental ways. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the chronic stress on developing brains can cause lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.

Community organizer Jacqueline Bridgeforth-Williams, is all too familiar with the unjust burden racism imposes on children of color, particularly once they enter public institutions. “When you place children of color in schools with teachers who don’t look like them, to learn a curriculum that excludes them, taught by educators who often lack the cultural competence to understand or value them—it results in lower test scores, higher truancy, and dropout rates,” she told ESSENCE.

The data confirms that African American and Hispanic students score lower than their white counterparts on standardized tests, and Black students lag behind in overall academic performance nationwide. According to experts, the pandemic has widened this racial achievement gap. Often weaponized to suggest inherent deficiencies in students of color, the statistics don’t reflect the complete picture. Bridgeforth-Williams, a mother of three children brought up in local public school systems, understands, at a gut level, the myriad dynamics contributing to lesser outcomes for students of color in her community and across the nation. So, the Williamsburg, Virginia native intervened to address those inequities in local public schools.

I spoke with the community organizer, who’s made strides toward narrowing the racial achievement gap using data to confront educational inequities. I asked Bridgeforth-Williams to share her process for organizing a community around a cause and the hard-earned lessons she’s learned along the way.

In an age where data is the most powerful change agent, her approach to educational equity is a data-driven model for communities across the nation.

Heeding the call.

In the summer of 2016, tragedy struck the Williamsburg community when a local teen was murdered by other community youth. Bridgeforth-Williams recalls, “I saw the picture of Kameron Stanley with his mother, Dawn, and I saw myself in that picture. I saw my son in Kameron. He was part of our community. It was a personal loss for all of us.” At that moment, stricken with anguish, she was compelled to react. “I knew we needed to do something to save our youth. So I prayed for guidance, and God sent a vision of a community organization dedicated to educational equity for all children,” she said.

The following week, Bridgeforth-Williams founded The Village Initiative (“The Village”)—a nonprofit organization that aims to address the achievement gap and barriers to equitable education for students of color. Since its launch in 2016, the organization has made tremendous strides in partnering with other nonprofits and the local school division to accomplish its goals.

Galvanizing Community.

Within the first month of its establishment, The Village’s weekly meetings were filled, wall to wall, with concerned parents and community members ready to take action.

“I’ll never forget that initial meeting in the banquet hall of a local church. It was standing-room-only, with parents sharing stories of their concerns. Some had reports of demeaning encounters their children experienced at school,” she recalls. “It was like the community was waiting for this safe space to air their grievances.”