Let’s call the opposition to Urban Dove what it is: racism | Opinion
As we read the Brooklyn Eagle’s article on the community opposition to the new proposed location for Urban Dove Charter School, we were horrified.
The behavior reported is jaw-droppingly awful. The headline, “New Midwood charter school sparks racial and religious tensions,” couldn’t quite encapsulate the horrifying things adults were saying about children.
It is hard to describe the community opposition as anything other than racism at its ugliest.
Urban Dove’s student body is comprised mostly of children of color. The vast majority live below the poverty line, and all have struggled in school.
Urban Dove is a school that serves as a lifeline for kids who are at the precipice of falling through the cracks. For whatever reason, traditional schools couldn’t or didn’t reach them in time. Now these children are considered “over-age and under-credited” meaning they are not on track to graduate. Urban Dove quite literally is a place where magic happens: it turns students’ lives around. Don’t take our word for it. A quick search easily returns well-deserved accolades, including this wonderful piece from CBS News’ Jeff Glor a few years ago.
Urban Dove seeks to continue this life-changing work at a new location in Brooklyn. If you follow charter schools at all, you probably understand that finding suitable space in New York City is almost always the biggest hurdle to operating, since charters don’t receive the same types or amounts of funding for their buildings.
But Urban Dove’s founder, Jai Nanda, identified the right space for the school at the East Midwood Jewish Center, which had been struggling itself to find a suitable tenant who could pay the bills. As the article points out, Urban Dove’s founder and others from the school attended a community night to get to know the folks who live in the neighborhood. We can only imagine how Jai felt when that meeting went so terribly off the rails.
But another nagging and more disturbing thought crept in: Can you imagine how awful it would be for Urban Dove’s students to hear what these so-called adults were saying about them?
Here are just a few of the accusations, reported in the Eagle and other various media outlets, hurled around the room:
“My main concern is the security of my children, of my block. The minute your children walk out of that building, what security do I have?” one audience member said to applause.
“We have a very safe neighborhood. For instance, yeshiva schools don’t need metal detectors. We just don’t live that way around here, and they’re bringing that element,” said Steven Nermelstein.
One audience member shouted, “they’re urban kids who know how to fight.” Another loudly compared the EMJC to Adolf Hitler.
“How is that any different than the children in Murrow or Midwood?” EMJC President Michael Schwartz contended. Boos rang out in response. Answers from the audience varied from, “They don’t come over here” to, “They don’t fail out.”
“I’m a little unclear why your son would be afraid,” Jai Nanda, of Urban Dove, replied to one mother. The woman maintained that her issue “isn’t about race,” but more about the heights of the prospective students, who might “intimidate” local children. Audience members further noted that neighborhood kids in Jewish garb might be bullied by students who don’t understand the religion or the area.
Let us say it again: This appears to be blatant racism and fear-mongering. And it’s being leveled at some of the neediest children in the city.
In this day and age, in a time of political turmoil not just at home but across the globe, we’re fighting against the fear of “the other” all the time — anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, Islamaphobia, homophobia, etc. are rearing their ugly heads much more often than any of us should accept.
And so we, as adults, must do better. And the single best way to do better is through education.
That is exactly what Jai Nanda and Urban Dove are doing. Rather than shun the school and make students feel unwelcome, community members should be applauding their efforts. Through education, Urban Dove is pulling kids out of poverty, giving them role models, providing social workers and counselors to listen and guide those living with trauma, and helping them find and forge a path for success after high school.
We know racism and other forms of prejudice still exist. It’s just jarring to see it on full public display in one of the most diverse cities in the world at the close of 2019. To be clear, there were some supporters in the room, and for that we are thankful. But their voices were drowned out by the detractors who called the Urban Dove children “dangerous”.
We wonder today: Do these adults feel any shame in seeing their words — and their deepest prejudices — in print?
We are confident that Urban Dove will continue to help New York City’s students get the education they deserve. And in time, perhaps the opponents of the school, in seeing the students thrive, will get the education that they so sorely need.
Jessica Mokhiber, Jill Shahen and Andrea Rogers Barry are the founders of Empire Charter Consultants, a charter school consulting firm that works with schools in New York State and nationwide.
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