‘You’re either a racist or you’re anti-racist:’ Montgomery County educators urged to fight racism

Iheoma U. Iruka, the keynote speaker Friday at Learn to Earn’s 12th annual Readiness Summit, challenged Montgomery County educators to be anti-racist.

Black students in Montgomery County fare poorer than white students on many measurements of educational achievement, including kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, eighth-grade math, high school graduation, college enrollment and college completion, according to the annual Learn to Earn Dayton report.

Iheoma U. Iruka, the keynote speaker Friday at Learn to Earn’s 12th annual Readiness Summit, emphasized that disadvantaged students are not to blame for these worse outcomes.

“(Children) did not cause this; this is an adult and assistance problem,” she said. “We have to figure out how do we continue to face it and put them on the path to be successful over time. But how do you also ensure that we’re not minimizing their assets and the culture they bring to us?”

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Over 500 educators from across Montgomery County gathered virtually Friday morning for the conference focused on creating racial equity in education. Learn to Earn Dayton is nonprofit that works to promote success for all Montgomery County children from birth through college or another secondary degree program.

Iruka is director of the Early Childhood Health and Racial Equity Program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, challenged attendees to do the hard work of addressing racism in schools and child care centers.

“You’re either a racist or you’re anti-racist; you actually have to be action-oriented,” she said.

Important steps include learning about the history of racism in America, bringing more Black and minority voices into the decision-making process, moving away from counterproductive punishment of students and intentionally affirming students’ cultural identities, Iruka said.

Iruka thanked Learn to Earn for not shying away from addressing racism head on.

“We will keep talking about our Black kids and we will keep doing a better job of prioritizing and supporting our Black kids as we go forward,” said Robyn Lightcap, the executive director of Learn to Earn Dayton.

As part of the virtual conference, Learn to Earn unveiled the design for a permanent art and play installation. The 400-square-foot piece designed by the Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton will be installed this spring at the Omega Community Development Corporation’s Hope Center for Families, an educational, health and employment center being built in Northwest Dayton.

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Conference attendees got mosaic tiles shipped to them ahead of time and were asked to write messages of hope on their pieces and send them back.

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