Montclair Educators Gather to Discuss Education and the Prison System


MONTCLAIR, NJ - On Tuesday evening, educators, parents and students gathered in the LGI room of Montclair High school for part 2 of a five part series sponsored by Teachers Undoing Racism Now (TURN).

The discussion opened with a viewing of the documentary "13," which depicts a ripping commentary exploring the systematic embedding of racial, political and exploitive practices put in place to support a system that now supports a billion dollar industry in the privatization of the current prison system.  As with any business, it needs bodies and due to current reforms, the film explains that the bodies incarcerated are majority Black and Brown males, formulating a very clear pattern.

The documentary uses music from such groups as NWA, Negro spirituals and clips covering periods that all made the current prison system possible. The documentary kicks off with discussing slavery and the use of blacks as a free labor force. After slavery was abolished, the era of reconstruction began and so did Jim Crow laws and prison camps all designed to minimize and keep blacks as second class citizens and in their place, thus laying the foundation for the civil rights movement.

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Throughout the years, the documentary depicts jails being filled with blacks all over the country at a much higher rate than their white counter parts. With federal legislation passed by the Nixon, Regan, Bush, Clinton and previous administrations, '13' describes the set laws that created what is known as a school-to-prison pipeline by partnering with companies and other private sectors.  

Starting in 1970 the documentary shows the prison population was estimated to be 357,292. Following the data, it showed that for every 5 years, the prison population exploded.  There are currently over 3 million incarcerated individuals, with a high ratio of blacks being the major tenants, all needing housing, food and clothing, provided through vendor contracts and negotiations for construction of prisons run by private companies.

The documentary ended showing clips from the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement in contrast to recent events such as Ferguson Missouri, the ongoing rash of police abuse, and killing of black youth around the country including states such as Florida, with Stand Your Ground laws.

After the viewing, one could hear the silence as each person took in what they viewed. Rodney Jackson, TURN Organizer, opened the floor for discussion. 

"What do we as educators do after viewing this documentary as it relates to the goals of TURN, in helping teachers understand racism and its impact," Jackson said. 

Renée Graham (former Montclair Public School Teacher, shared her observation, "I worked in New York at Riker's Island and one day I went in to teach a literature course and I ended up in an area where you could see the courtyard. In looking into the court yard filled with young African American men, we have a problem." 

Diane Anglin said, "Im drained after watching this film. I take away two things, professionally I ran a correctional facility in Newark and I saw the profitability in this film. It did not make me think of my profession, it made me think as a mother of two African-American males and the experiences they have had and conversations with individuals that don't understand that you have to talk to your boys on what to do and how to behave and how to act."

Joann Childs-Ashe added, "Growing up in Montclair, I did not want to be called a Negro because I did not know about myself. When I did, my whole perspective changed. Children as early as kindergarten, both black and white, should be taught the truth and by law with the Amistad Act which mandates so.

The documentary and conversation following, truly left many thinking about what to do as educators. Data suggests that tracking begins in the third grade and based on that tracking, a forecast of how many of these children will be funneled into a system that shows that 1 out of 3 black males will be or have been incarcerated.

The narrative continued as TURN and other organizations challenged educators and people to educate themselves in being truthful about their own preconceived prejudices. The purpose of TURN is to have a willingness and commitment to learn and  go outside of the box in teaching beyond the curriculum and textbook.

It was further discussed that in perpetuating blacks and Latinos as criminals and super predators, then there becomes a cycle of dehumanizing, targeting a specific group of people in order to fulfill and economic goal.


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