Message for President-Elect Biden on New Ed Secretary: Black Women are Watching What You Do for Our Kids

Baltimore City School Chief Sonja Santelises (Baltimore City Public Schools)

For all the talk of serving families of color better in school, it blows my mind how absent our voices have been in the conversation about who should be the next education secretary.

It’s especially glaring this year. Black women elected Joe Biden. Black women are why Democrats have a Cabinet to fill, and Black women are why we have the opportunity to get Betsy DeVos far, far away from the Education Department. Name another demographic group that voted for Biden at 91 percent. We showed up, and now we’re counting on the administration to show up for us.

Biden told the Black community, “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.” It’ll be a strange way to show it if he chooses a secretary who will stand between our kids and the educational options we so desperately need.

I lead The Oakland REACH, a group of thousands of parents in Oakland, California, who are standing up to interrupt an intergenerational cycle of school failure. We’ve sought opportunities in public schools of all kinds, district and charter — and there’s strong speculation that Biden would choose a secretary who would be actively hostile to charter schools. So far, there’s little sign that his transition team wants to hear from families like ours at all, despite plenty of rhetoric.

What would we tell him? That we want him to seriously consider a first-ever Black woman as the next education secretary. That we demand MORE access to a quality education for our kids, not less. That we want someone who has skin in the game — someone who is actively working to make our schools better for our kids, not just talking among the adults.

I am not naive about how this process works. And I know President-Elect Biden and his team may have already made a decision about this Cabinet position. And I don’t like what I’m seeing.

We’re watching the way folks are coming for promising women of color being discussed for this role, like Baltimore City School Chief Sonja Santelises. She’s a visionary advocate for the kind of opportunities our children deserve, with an exceptional record of accomplishment. She is only the second Baltimore City school CEO in the past 23 years to be offered another contract, and has been praised by teachers, families, and city leaders alike for her transparent approach. She would also be the first Black woman to serve in the role of education secretary. I’ve sat across the table from this woman and know she has our backs.

White opponents, closely aligned with teachers’ unions, rose up on Twitter to tear her down as too interested in education reform. We’re wondering what the real problem is.

I spend my days fighting for public education, and my kids go to district and charter schools. They go where I can give them a fighting chance at college and a career. They go to the best place I can get them into to give them a shot.

I’m sick and tired of white progressive “allies” who post Black Lives Matter signs in their windows and then work to curb our access to better options for our kids.

I’m sick and tired of watching them take advantage of the plenty of choices they have for their own kids — moving to the suburbs, enrolling in private schools — while taking away our only shot at choice.

To the Biden Administration, show me the rumors aren’t true. Please choose someone who sees us and understands that education is a life-or-death issue for our children.

That’s what you did during the Obama Administration with the selection of John King — a Black man who thought big, and knew how to work within the system to advance quality for ALL kids. Please show us you will put kids first again.

But if you nominate somebody who wants to give money with no expectation of outcomes from kids, somebody who wants to reduce the ability of our families to go to the schools that they choose because their lives depend on it, I am going to be there. The families of The Oakland REACH are going to be there. Black women are going to be there, holding the secretary accountable for her actions every step of the way.

Listen to us, trust us, and choose a Black woman to lead.

At The Oakland REACH, we have a cheer, “Who’s got your back? I got your back.”

We had your back, President-Elect Biden. Please have ours.

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