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Kings County Family Court discusses educational achievement gap at Black History Month event

February 24, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: John Coakley, Dionne Lowery, Hon. Amanda White, Hon. Robin Sheares, Hon. Jeanette Ruiz, Hon. Sharon A. Bourne-Clarke, Latisha Sanchez, Nichole Wint-Baksh, Anne Williams-Isom, Hon. Jacqueline D. Williams and Hon. Margaret Morgan. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

The Kings County Family Court held its Black History Month (BHM) event on Thursday that brought in Anne Williams-Isom, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, for a discussion on what to do about the achievement gap between white and black students in the U.S.

“This year we are blessed, because of Judge Morgan’s suggestion, to have this fabulous speaker,” said Hon. Jacqueline D. Williams, chair of the BHM committee at the court. “The speech was dynamic and engaging. The work that she’s doing is tremendous.”

It was the fifth annual Black History Month event held at the Family Court and this year’s theme focused on the crisis in black education. Nicole Wint-Baksh and Latisha Sanchez served as the mistresses of ceremony and Chanel Wallace, of the Possibility Project, opened the event with a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” She was later joined by performers Schuyler Lessey and Jah for other numbers.

“Our theme is crisis in education, and it’s as important now as it’s ever been,” said Hon. Amanda White, supervising judge at the court. “It’s a crisis that will shape the world. As the executive summary for this year’s national Black History Month states, addressing the crisis in black education should be considered one of the most important goals in America’s past, present and future.”

Hon. Sharon A. Bourne-Clarke provided the introductions, and White gave welcoming remarks. Then Hon. Margaret Morgan introduced Williams-Isom, who spoke about the work that she does at the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), an organization trying to wipeout generational poverty within the black community by focusing on education within a 97-block zone of Harlem.

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“Last year on statewide tests, the percentage of black students in NYC on grade-level was less than half the percentage of white students in English,” Williams-Isom said. “In math, the percentage for blacks on grade-level was about a third of white students.

I’m here to tell you that while getting all of our children into college is tough, but it is absolutely doable,” she continued. “It cost the HCZ $5,000 per student to help a child get from the cradle into college. Compare that to the $168,000 per year that we seem so comfortable spending to keep a person incarcerated here in New York City.”

Williams-Isom then discussed her programs that work with over 12,000 kids and 12,000 adults. She noted that the school runs two charter schools, but that accounts for roughly one-fifth of the students they serve. She pointed out that programs are concerned with the education of their kids even prior to kindergarten and after they’ve graduated college.

“I believe the crisis in education is the last chapter in the story of civil rights in this country,” Williams-Isom said. “As African-Americans continue to rise to equality, education continues to be the surest way out of poverty, yet 60-plus years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision there continues to be a stubborn white/black achievement gap in our schools.”

Williams-Isom explained that her program is no big secret: “Love plus resources equals success.”  She also said that she has seen other programs, like CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, that have made big differences. The key, she said, is getting people to buy into the ideas of the programs and take part in them.

Certificates for appreciation were given out to three people after Williams-Isom’s speech, including one to Williams-Isom herself. David Mila and his performers from the Possibility Project were also presented with one, as was Tony Wells, an associate court clerk.

ABOVE: Anne Williams-Isom (right), CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, was the keynote speaker at the Family Court’s Black History Month event. Judges (from left) are looking on: Hon. Michael Yavinsky, supervising judge of the Kings County Criminal Court; Hon. Ben Darvil Jr.; Hon. Jeanette Ruiz, administrative judge of the New York City Family Court; and Hon. Amanda White, supervising judge of the Kings County Family Court. 

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