7:26 PM / Thursday September 21, 2023

3 Jul 2020

Alawfultruth: Being Black in private and public education

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July 3, 2020 Category: Commentary Posted by:

On May 25, the world watched in horror as the life was squeezed from the body of George Floyd in Minneapolis by  former police officer Derek Chauvin, who has since been charged with his murder. While no one knew who Floyd was before that fateful day, his death sparked a movement of rage that has led to uprisings around the United States that still continue.

As America began discussing in earnest the need to shift and reimagine what happens in its police departments, Black children lifted their collective heads and began chanting through social media, another dark secret — their traumas from covert and overt racism from educators and their peers, in schools everywhere. 

Suddenly, we saw Instagram pages emerging. “Black Mainline speaks” is one such example, where elite private, charter and public schools are taken to task by past and present students.  In one post, the following was written:  

“When I was a sophomore, we had to talk about the death of Michael Brown and other Black people in homeroom. Before the conversation could even start, a boy in my class boldly said, “Maybe if Black people stop committing crimes, they won’t have to worry about being killed.” I looked at my homeroom advisor to say something, and she was silent. That same homeroom advisor later asked me if I knew who my dad was.” 

– William Penn Charter ’17

As a direct result of these stark truths being revealed daily, young Black people have begun doing videos to share what they have dealt with, and oftentimes, their parents are only just now becoming totally aware of it all.

Amatullah Brown, who is 21-years-old and a recent graduate of Swarthmore College, posted a recent video on YouTube (the video can be viewed at: ) that led to her mother’s stunned reaction. Her mom thought Amatullah — whose name means “ female servant of God” — was just experiencing social anxiety. 

 “I wanted to spend my last semester at Swarthmore learning from home, and while my issues there were negligible, I realized watching other people discussing their experiences, that mine over the years were connected, and they happened to other people, too,” Amatullah said. 

Repeated incidences of micro and macro aggressions left her feeling uncomfortable during her formative years, and looking back, she realizes her mom was largely not aware, because she could not fully verbalize what was happening far too often in school.

While Amatullah majored in linguistics with a minor in French at Swarthmore, her mother Katera was floored that her daughter was looked at in disbelief in school when she traveled internationally, and said the problems began at Germantown Friends School, where her son was called a “ni**er” at the age of 10. Amatullah meanwhile was one of the highest performers academically, where she quietly tried to ignore the discomfiting events happening around her. She switched to Central High after the 8th grade, where she tested into the honors math class, only to watch her grades slide drastically. 

Concerned, Katera went to speak with the math teacher, who told her “These kids come from neighborhood schools, thinking they know everything and they don’t.” When Katera told him she paid $30,000.00 a year for her child to attend GFS, and that Amatullah tested IN to his class, he did an about face. His bias towards Black children from public school settings were clear according to Katera, and she further claimed that this math teacher discouraged the Black students while uplifting the Whites and Asians. As a direct result, the smartest Black students often gave up on taking the most challenging courses, even as they were gifted and quite capable.

Amatullah passed this class, then tested yet again into two high level math courses, but this time her mother had to coax her into taking those classes because of her previous experiences. She took the honors geometry class and faced the same thing with a Black teacher, who discouraged the Black students according to Katera, who says she was told by a guidance counselor that this was a pattern at Central High School even as every year, the children had to take placement tests to get into the rigorous classes; the discouragement was palpable when they were there.

Frustrated, Katera pulled Amatullah from Central in the 11th grade, and placed her at Philly Free School, an alternative school setting for her final year, and she also took courses at CCP.  From there, Amatullah transferred to Swarthmore College, where she kept finding difficulty transitioning socially. She had no real issues with the professors there, just the students.

As a direct result, Amatullah says that she is quite ready to live anywhere else but in America. She plans to spend a year with the Peace Corps in Morocco, then graduate school out of the country. Her long term goal is to live in a place where she can have better experiences. She is aware that anti-Blackness exists everywhere, but her experiences in other countries have been much better.

Amatullah’s advice for other young people currently in the K-12 school system was this: “Talk to your parents as things happen. It may not always be obvious that it is racism, but if you feel comfortable enough, speak up for yourself, even if it feels scary, and know who has your back; teachers, friends, etc.”

Katera, who has a PhD and works at Penn, told her daughter the following: “This is your life. I am challenged every day, and you will be challenged, too. As you go through life, you cannot let them beat you in these white spaces — you have to claim your own space.”


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, The Philadelphia Sunday SUN, the author’s organization, committee or other group or individual.

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