Back to All Blog Posts

From a White Educator to a White Businessman in Response to His Letter: "Another Lost Opportunity for the Baton Rouge Community"

Composite photo of a school event

I am a proud EBR public school teacher in North Baton Rouge — a school in Mr. Tramelle Howard’s district, a school that has faced tremendous loss and challenges and has persevered through the tireless work of our teachers, administration, and our families.

I will not speak to Mr. Tatman’s, Ms. Bernard’s, or Ms. Evelyn-Ware Jackson’s decision, but as a white teacher in Mr. Howard’s district, I cannot stay silent as you call him disingenuous and surmise that those who voted for him might regret it, simply because he did not choose your preferred candidate.

Mr. Howard has a law degree. He works on national education issues full time. He ran a successful campaign and was elected by his constituents, my babies’ families, to represent a district that looks like him. When I explained to my students that we had voted in two young Black men to the EBR School Board in 2018, they were ecstatic. My students marveled at how these two young, educated, successful men looked like them. We talked about how they could be decision makers when they grew up just like Mr. Howard.

But the fact that you seem to believe that you know what my Black students and families need better than Mr. Howard does is white supremacy at work.

For far too long, white education reformers have focused on policies that they believe will improve school autonomy and accountability, while ignoring the impact of long-term systemic racism on our students and families of color. I strongly believe that a school system could implement every reform policy with fidelity and still have a huge achievement gap if they haven’t focused on policies to dismantle decades of compounding racism, oppression, and disinvestment in Black communities.

Black kids and families have been let down by government entities in Louisiana and Baton Rouge for centuries, as they have been across our country. First they were enslaved, beaten, raped and killed by slave owners, then they were lynched, denied voting rights, incarcerated, redlined, and beaten, then killed some more, this time by state sanctioned police. The Advocate even reported that the Baton Rouge Area Chamber found “jarring” racial disparities across poverty levels, household incomes, educational attainment and workers in management positions. This means that my families still feel the lingering effects of systematic and institutionalized racism crafted by slavery today. Because of this, my families want representation that looks and thinks like them to address the urgent need for transformation in our school system.

I believe Mr. Tuck would be an excellent Superintendent in a different community. But if Mr. Howard doesn’t believe that this particular white politician is who our district needs at this time, then as white people it is our job to listen and learn. It is also not our job to tell him that he is wrong, or that he is disingenuous for his choice. You may disagree with his choices, but you may not use character attacks against him and his colleagues.

You said yourself that the other two final candidates are strong, so why are you so upset that your preferred candidate wasn’t chosen? You might think it is a coincidence that your candidate is a straight white man, but it is likely due to an unconscious bias built up over decades of living in America — where every movie and book and news story tells us that white men are leaders and Black men are lazy criminals.

White people have had the luxury of never thinking about race in hiring decisions because we’ve always been able to choose a leader that looks like us. But if Black leaders of a system that serves majority Black students say that it is important to them that their next leader is Black, then business leaders, especially white business leaders like yourself, need to listen.

By all means, please hold Mr. Howard and the next Superintendent responsible for their results with my kids. But first, ask yourself why you think you are better equipped to choose the next Superintendent than Tramelle Howard, J.D. Is it because he’s young? Needs another degree? I challenge you to unpack the reasons as to why you think he’s unqualified to make this decision. You would be hard pressed to come up with a valid reason that you would feel comfortable sharing with the public.

One white leader in Baton Rouge said that if the School Board didn’t vote to move Marshall Tuck to the final round then the business community would stop supporting education in BR. If that’s the case, then they never cared about my kids anyway.

If you really want what is best for kids of color in Baton Rouge, I challenge you to spend the next few years doing the following, so that you can be better prepared to support the next superintendent search in Baton Rouge:

First, read the following books:

  • White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
  • The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James Loewen
  • How To Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi

Then, commit to reading only books by authors of color for an entire year, so that you can better understand their lived experiences. Visit every school in Tramelle’s district, including mine, with him, and ask students about their experiences in school. Ask what they love about school and what they would change. Sit down and look at achievement data, discipline data, and survey data with Tramelle and the principals. Each week, meet with a parent from Tramelle’s district and simply listen.

I invite you and all members of the business community to my classroom, to meet and talk with my students. Listen to my little ones sing the sentence song and talk about how their teachers love them. Learn with us about how we can help our community access fresh vegetables in a food desert. But please, leave your assumptions about what my Black students, families, and elected officials can and can’t decide for themselves at the door.

— June Conti [Twitter @teachmeadverbs]

June Conti is a white, Queer, 4th year teacher currently teaching 2nd Grade in North Baton Rouge, LA. Graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2017, June organizes with the South Louisiana Coalition for Education in their pursuit of #equity4all, while also serving as 2nd Grade Lead Teacher and a member of both the Technology Team and Leadership Team at their school. June fervently believes in EBRPSS’s future as a means to an equitable education for all Black, brown, LGBTQ, and other marginalized students.