Over the last two weeks, the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others have rightfully driven our nation to grief and outrage about systemic racism and its profound impact on Black lives in America. To channel my own sorrow and anger into action, I’m reflecting on why DonorsChoose began, where we’ve fallen short in the fight against systemic racism, and how much more we have to do.
DonorsChoose was born out of inequity. I taught for five years at a high school in the Bronx where the students in my classroom, who were predominantly Black and Latinx, did not have access to the same resources that had enriched my own education at a predominantly white school.
Since our founding twenty years ago, our organization has focused on economic need as our measure of equity. However, inequitable distribution of classroom resources falls not just on economic lines but also on racial lines. A sole focus on economic need doesn’t go far enough to deliver on our mission.
Over the last year, we’ve been thinking about how to be more purposeful and accountable in tackling racial inequity. Those conversations have taken on new urgency as I recognize that we should have acted sooner to make explicit our organization’s implicit focus on racial equity. To play our small part in supporting educators as they teach their students that Black lives matter and should be celebrated.
Below, I’ve shared a few ideas on where we can start. If you’re an educator with ideas on how you think DonorsChoose can contribute to a racially equitable future, we’d like to hear from you.
We — and I — have so much more learning and work to do. We plan to engage our teacher community and spend time as an organization thinking about how we can hold ourselves accountable to a stronger focus on racial equity. We are committed to doing this work, and listening is where we will start. We cannot help to end educational inequity without helping to tackle the systemic racism at its core.
Four examples of where we can start:
We have teachers who’ve created hundreds of projects focused on racial justice. And teachers who focus on requesting books with Black lead characters and authors, such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore; and Ghost Boys by Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes. But as an organization, we have yet to forge partnerships for helping teachers foster racial justice and anti-racism in their classrooms.
The teachers who use DonorsChoose are more racially diverse (24% people of color) than America’s teachers at large (18% people of color), although that’s a far cry from being representative of America’s students. While we launched #ISeeMe last year to support projects from underrepresented teachers, we have not done nearly as much as we could to elevate the voices of our teachers of color, including our Black teachers, whose voices carry special authority during this critical time.
Two years ago, we modified the teacher project creation experience to encourage asset framing, emphasizing students’ aspirations before describing challenges that may perpetuate stereotypes and single-story narratives (explained here by a member of our board). But we have not pursued continuous improvement in helping teachers to use this lens.
And we have a community of donors who support teachers and students they’ve never met, which has made DonorsChoose a critical resource for teachers in low-income communities and for teachers of color. But it’s not simple for donors to filter for projects focused on racial equity, nor possible for website donors to see projects from underrepresented teachers.
As you can see, we have much learning and work to do.