By Erica Quinones
At the end of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Racial Equity Institute Groundwater Training on Jan. 20, the hosts called the audience to action, saying that it was time to take charge, reevaluate, and address the racial inequity in local systems. The Social Action Committee for Racial Justice (SACRJ) is working towards that goal in Kent County.
SACRJ is “a community effort to learn, grow, and take action against racism in Kent County” with action “at the core of [their] commitment to anti-racism by identifying systemic racism and taking concrete steps to make changes,” according to their brochure.
The committee began after a series of Undoing Racism workshops between 2016 and 2017, according to their brochure, and it breaks down into several subcommittees to address separate areas of racial injustice in Kent County, including the school system.
A major example of inequity that REI demonstrated was in the school system. They showed data demonstrating how black students were suspended or expelled disproportionately from their white peers, often labeled as being disrespectful.
This data went back to preschool, with the youngest black students being subjected to the same disproportionate punishment to their white peers.
REI even cited a study in which preschool teachers were asked to scan a crowd of children and identify possible troublemakers. The educators consistently pointed out black students as appearing to be problem children, despite all students pictured being actors who were trained to act naturally.
SACRJ identified many of the same problems in Kent County with data to back it up.
Using the 2017-2018 Kent County Public Schools (KCPS) suspension and expulsion data, SACRJ found that 9.2% of students in general were suspended or expelled from KCPS.
Despite representing 23% of the student population, black students comprised 34% of students who were suspended or expelled at least once.
White students, in comparison, who compromise 61% of the student population, represented 45% of students suspended or expelled at least once.
Holistically, suspensions and expulsions affected 12.7% of black students and 6.4% of white students.
This affected black students across grades, keeping similar ratios in both middle and high school.
SACRJ is not just collecting data, they are attempting to address the issue through the Rapid Response Team Services.
The team seeks to “address the disparity in treatment of students of color in the disciplinary process within the KCPS system,” according to their brochure.
They attempt to do so by educating families about student rights, which may include mediation or participation in meetings between students, guardians, and school administration.
According to Co-Chair of SACRJ Arlene Lee, they provide legal help to students at a rapid pace, meaning they may receive a call on Thursday for a meeting Friday morning.
Other initiatives SACRJ began in KCPS was initiating a dialogue and agreement with KCPS to reinstate the multicultural education committee and helping begin the Students Talking About Race program in the county.
The Rapid Response Team is a free service offered to Kent County residents and can be accessed by calling 410-417-7295 or emailing SACRacialJustice@gmail.com.
Gabby Rente, lifestyle editor for The Elm contributed to this report.