By Zakareya Hamed
VIRGINIA, USA— It is imperative that we serve and assist our communities through the most valuable asset of all: education. It’s time for a new initiative, a new movement, centered upon the transformation of education in this country towards equitable and universal access.
We are that movement.
After careful consideration and planning, we are proud to launch Saphron Initiative, an education reform nonprofit united upon a shared conviction of democratizing access to learning. Saphron Initiative represents the dawning of a transformational, intersectional movement forming within our society as a whole, with youth engagement at the forefront of effective change.
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” — Malcolm X
Our mission, the mission of Saphron Initiative, is centered upon the principle and fact that education access determines the status of upcoming generations, a position strongly echoed by the likes of our nation’s most iconic activists, revolutionaries like Malcolm X. Saphron is aimed at making this clear: If education is the passport to the future, then society ought to distribute that passport equitably. This is our mission and ultimately our core belief. How, though, do we aim at making our mission a reality?
In order to effectively invoke the change we aim to invoke, Saphron Initiative has determined two primary determinants to educational success that disenfranchise minority and economically disadvantaged students: the discipline gap and the opportunity gap.
These two determinants collectively form a grand majority of the educational disenfranchisement of non-affluent communities. The first, being the discipline gap, is the disparity in the disciplinary response to identical offenses across different demographic lines. The discipline gap is one of the prevailing realities of modern racist institutions, fueled by both the conscious and subconscious discrimination embedded in today’s societal view of certain minorities, particularly African Americans.
The disproportionate responses across demographic lines are clearly projected in the Department of Education’s very own statistics: African American male students are nearly 4x more likely to be subjected to at least one out-of-school suspension in a single year than their white counterparts. Even when a white student commits the exact same “offense” as an African American peer, the African American student is still disciplined significantly harsher.
The discipline gap extends beyond the boundaries of the education system. It can be found prominently within every disciplinary institution in our nation, most particularly in the criminal legal system, where data has proven that African Americans are imprisoned, on average, 20 percent longer for committing identical crimes (if even actually a crime) as their white counterparts. When the judicial system of a nation is this biased and discriminative, it should serve as a stark reflection of our nation as a whole.
The second determinant, the opportunity gap, is the disparity in educational and educationally influencing opportunities available across different demographic lines. The opportunity gap consists of 3 primary segments; lack of in-school educational resources, lack of recreational resources, and lack of out-of-school educational resources. These three segments form an overall gap, one that has been systematically set in place for so long.
The first subsection of the opportunity gap, lack of in-school educational resources, is the most commonly known. It consists of a municipality’s monetary neglect of a school and lack of resource allocation to the school itself. One can easily conclude that a poorer district needs increased funding in comparison to an affluent district in order to address increased needs. It’s a rather simple equation: increased needs deserve increased funding to take care of those needs.
Yet, lack of in-school resources is extremely heightened because not only do these schools not get higher funding than others, they get lower. US News reports the districts with the high poverty get around $1,000 less per student in comparison with wealthy districts, indefinitely trapping these districts and leading them to become even poorer. Funding allocation like this is clearly antithetical to any principle of recovering these regions from poverty, so why would state and local governments choose to fund this way?
A single common denominator lies in all of these determinants of educational success: the communities affected are all predominantly African American (and Latino).
It’s hard to write, talk, or learn about discriminative disenfranchisement in any field or sector of society without coming upon the consensus that the predominant victims of this discrimination are Black and Latino. This reality is by no means a coincidence. It’s part of a long-standing, targeted segregative complex. A complex that destroys communities, devastates youth, and, ultimately, keeps ‘dirty’ African Americans and Latinos away from ‘virtuous’ and ‘clean’ white suburbia.
The second opportunity gap subsection is the lack of recreational access for disadvantaged youth. Access to recreational activities is statistically associated with increased in-school success, and is also systematically denied to disadvantaged communities. It’s no coincidence.
Lack of recreational access is a bi-product of another long-standing, deeply racist institution, one whose legacy remains in full effect. This institution, found in the city planning of America’s metropolitan regions, is called redlining. It’s the process of segregating communities of color away from not just parks and recreational facilities, but also things as basic as grocery stores and places of employment. It was used to design the vast majority of American cities, specifically warning mortgage lenders to avoid loaning to red-inked predominantly Black neighborhoods, which effectively built a massive homeownership gap.
Yet, one may ask, what is the motivation behind doing such? The answer to that question can be found in the ways the U.S. has long worked to prevent communities of color from becoming economically independent, discouraging diversity whilst still funneling money from the African American working class into the hands of the white bourgeoisie. When a community becomes economically independent, it can achieve a voice in not just electoral processes but in administrative processes, showing potential to reverse the ‘protections’ for ‘clean’ white suburbia aforementioned. That’s what racist proponents find so dangerous about a new Black Wall Street, when the minorities rise to play the capitalist’s game against racial capitalism itself.
The third subsection of the opportunity gap, and perhaps one that is becoming increasingly prevalent, is the gap of access to educational resources out of school. Contrary to the other two subsections, this one can be seen hitting disadvantaged minorities across all regions, where students don’t have access to out-of-school educational support, tutoring, mentoring, and professional prep programs.
Wealthy peers don’t need to worry about whether they can afford program x or y, or have to choose between one disadvantage versus another. It’s simply not feasible to think of that when you have the monetary resources to provide that tutoring. The realities are substantially different though for others, those who can’t pay thousands of dollars annually in order to make way into prestigious magnets and who can’t afford to get tutors online and pay for gifted testing preparation. This situation is heightened not just for those in poorly funded schools, but also for those in affluent schools who lack access due to monetary reasons, even as their counterparts zoom through the curriculum as a product of their out-of-school education.
Saphron Initiative believes that many of these paid programs shouldn’t have to exist, because public schools should be obliged to provide according to the needs of their students as opposed to simply neglecting the in-school education and forcing students into out-school programs.
“…paid programs shouldn’t have to exist, because public schools should be obliged to actually provide according to the needs of their students in the first place”
A public institution shouldn’t be reliant upon the citizens that use it turning to a private industry for the public institution’s intended result. Functioning in such a way is not just inefficient, but entirely antithetical to the basic denotation of the word ‘public’. Our work in tutoring and preparation of youth is intended to offset the lack of sufficient in-school education, because the success of the American student has now become reliant upon the out-of-school education received by that student.
The entire bane of our organizational existence is based on the need for a voice for underserved students. Yet as opposed to being just a voice for those unjustly underserved, in order to invoke real change we must counteract the force of disenfranchisement ourselves; fight the lack of educational access by providing educational access.
That being our goal, Saphron Initiative is here to advocate from and for the underserved. By working with political entities, administrative officials, and educational professionals, as well as actually providing the services we advocate for, we can be the unifying force counteracting a deeply rooted, wrongful institution.
About the Author
Zakareya Hamed is a student, advocate, and photographer from McLean High School in Northern Virginia. He is the co-founder of educational advocacy organization Saphron Initiative and when he isn’t reading the news, participating in Model UN, writing, or working on photography, you can find him passionate about equity in our school system.