Here is an important story you might not have seen in the mainstream news media. Earlier this week, an 18-year-old African American Freshman student of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) was forcibly wrested to the ground and detained by members of the DC Metropolitan Police Department after opening a door for a young White family struggling to enter a bank with a baby carriage. Jason Goolsby, and his friend, high school student Michael Brown, both students with exemplary academic and civic achievements, spent almost two hours in handcuffs on the streets of Southeast DC as suspects for a crime never specified.
Today UDC held a press conference on behalf of both Jason and Michael. Ironically, I was at UDC co-presenting with professor Joseph B. Tulman, director of the Juvenile and Special Education Law Clinic and the Took Crowell Institute for Youth, on how to address and interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline (STPP) for the faculty of the David A. Clarke School of Law.
Interrupting our presentation, we gathered with faculty and students as the president of UDC, Ronald Mason, addressed the press agents and attending public with the Dean of the law school and the CEO of the community college at his side. He addressed the extremity of this racial profiling directly, and pledged to address injustice not only in support of Jason and Michael, but also as an institution of the greater community. The coverage of the account of the incident and this press event has not adequately addressed the profound implications of Mr. Mason’s actions as a social justice leader.
As president of the University of the District of Columbia, Mr. Mason addressed the foundational racism inherent in our institutions of public education and the dark foundational history of institutions built on the back of slavery. He exemplified through this press conference how important it is for institutions to not only stand by, but actively stand up in support of their students to obliterate racial hatred, prejudice, and injustice. “When the woman [who called police] saw these boys outside the ATM, she saw what America taught her to see, she heard what American taught her to hear, ” he said. The faculty and students in attendance of the press conference not only applauded these words, they were primed for action. The David A. Clarke School of Law regularly addresses injustice through clinical law practice in the community, but Mr. Mason indicated that as an institution, UDC would pledge to address injustice and racism across all departments.
This is social justice in action. This is how education can and should lead. Jason is a first year student of UDC. Michael has not yet graduated high school. In showing strong leadership in support for these two students, Mr. Mason set a precedent for all public institutions. Our students matter, at all times, in all circumstances: whether on or off campus. Mr. Mason’s actions indicate clearly how institutions of public education can play a clear role in dismantling pervasive, institutional racism across all systems. Leading at critical junctures makes the difference in the perpetuation of inequities or ensuring inroads for social justice.
Graduate student, Education, Leadership, and Policy, University of Utah
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