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CATF, sorority partner together to highlight racial inequality in schools

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Feb 12, 2021


SHEPHERDSTOWN — In honor of this month being Black History Month, the Contemporary American Theater Festival and Eastern Panhandle Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. banded together to hold a film showing and discussion of “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” on Feb. 3.

The documentary film, inspired by Monique W. Morris’ popular book of the same name, was played on Zoom. After it finished, questions raised by the documentary were fielded by moderator and Shepherd University Associate Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Chiquita Howard-Bostic. They were then answered by a panel of experts on the topic: Black playwright Terence Anthony, Springfield Public Schools Assistant Principal and Gifted Coordinator Tiffany Burris, 3D artist-educator Theresa Davis and Mothers of Diversity America founder and executive director Gregg Suzanne Ferguson.

The documentary featured interviews with a number of Black girls, who struggled with succeeding in the public school system, due to flaws in the system ranging from educators’ implicit biases to the system’s failure to educate with understanding of the interviewees’ stressful home lives. Each of the interviewed girls, through the course of the documentary, explained how different educational systems, mentoring programs and the Arts helped them begin succeeding academically.

“Even though I’m not a school counselor, I’ve done a lot of counseling with students,” Burris said. “You have to validate these girls. Oftentimes, when they get to you, they’ve not been able to give their story. They’ve always been shut down and shut out. You have to give them a voice.

“When they’re not acting ‘right,’ you have to show them the alternative. You have to show them where this alternative can get you, versus that alternative,” Burris said, referring to mentoring’s ability to show them how to succeed. “They need to have good models in front of them.”


While Ferguson agreed with Burris on the value of mentoring, she noted it needed to be paired with change in the public school system.

“The real problems happen with the teachers and permanent administrators in the schools,” Ferguson said. “I would encourage teachers and administrators to go into their (Black students’) communities and get involved with their families. A lot of times they’re from different worlds — especially when you have white teachers educating Black students.”

She also encouraged educators to take an online test, to make them aware of their implicit biases.

“Get a harsh look at where your implicit biases lie, before you teach impressionable children,” Ferguson said, mentioning educators should also research resources available for their marginalized students, such as mentoring programs, and invite those resources to partner with their schools.

“When it comes to any marginalization that occurs — when it comes to being Black, or being female, or not being able-bodied — it’s important to be sensitive. You have to center the identity of all the students you’re teaching,” Ferguson said, explaining that a history teacher, for instance, should teach about all perspectives of a historical event — not just from a white male perspective.


Along with empowering and better educating students, the panelists emphasized the need for society in general to stop stereotyping or hyper-sexualizing Black girls. According to Ferguson, for those efforts to make a permanent difference in the Black community, they must happen from the top-down.

“We need to focus on empowering mothers, so we don’t increase the disparity between their two generations. Mothers need to reenforce things [at home] that they may have not learned themselves, just so there is a continuum [in what their daughters are learning],” Ferguson said.

The book the documentary was inspired by, “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools,” is available at Four Seasons Books. To get a copy, call 304-876-3486 or visit http://www.fourseasonsbooks.com/.