It has been about a month since the controversy surrounding comments made by D.C. Councilman Trayon White regarding the Rothschild’s controlling of the weather began to subside. As someone who trains organizations, schools and corporations on diversity and leadership, I am completely mindful of how hurtful these comments were and how they can be dangerous to the promotion of peace and understanding.
While White’s comments were wrong and misinformed, as he stated, White demonstrated something that few politicians do in President Donald Trump’s America — apologize and attempt to right a wrong. Too many of our so-called leaders stick to their guns (sometimes literally) when called out for racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic and xenophobic comments and so much more but White attempted to make a change and there should be more discussion around how to heal and move forward as one city.
The D.C. Council passed a great budget in May that addresses several issues including more funding for rent supplement programs, day cares, programs to end homelessness and so much more. The Council also approved $11.5 million and $7.2 million for D.C. Public Schools and D.C. Public Charter Schools, respectively. My hope is that some of those funds will be devoted to ensuring that all students received a culturally relevant education? If we truly want to make sure that our great city does not follow the rise in hate and ignorance we are witnessing across the country, one way to combat this is to ensure that our students are receiving culturally relevant instruction.
I have spent many years teaching at the K-12 level. When I taught the 6th grade, I found ways to incorporate stories that reflected the experiences of students that helped them identify with a curriculum that they felt did not identify with them. These small shifts improved performance for our students. For over a decade, I have worked in our nation’s public, charter and private schools including D.C., training teachers and school administrators on culturally relevant instruction. In short, culturally relevant instruction deals with creating a curriculum where every student feels that their culture is celebrated and not just merely tolerated, if recognized at all. It means creating schools and classrooms where the histories and experiences of non-White male privileged students are not only recognized during a month. I know this is possible to incorporate in all of our schools.
D.C. teachers are among the most professional, dedicated, educated and compassionate teachers whom I have ever encountered across this country. Despite all of the changes and challenges our system has endured, the majority of teachers in D.C. wake up every day thinking about how they can further advance their students. Some schools have made strides in culturally relevant, education, but the city leadership needs to put solid financial teeth behind the efforts that some educators are already undertaking. We can construct new buildings, give pay raises and other policies, but nothing can compensate for making a student believe that her culture matters. Once students know that their schools buy into them, they will buy into the schools. As one student mentioned in a study on Black males in education, it’s not that many students of color do not believe in education. They simply do not believe what passes for education today because it is not relevant to their culture and their lives.
As our city becomes more diverse racially, professionally, religiously and economically, we need to ensure that all students feel welcome in the spaces where they spend the majority of their daylight time. Culturally relevant, education is also more effective in helping reduce suspensions and expulsions. More importantly, culturally relevant, education can also help to ensure that our students learn about the histories and importance of all people, which will ultimately create informed students who will become culturally informed adults. If our city’s leadership is serious about promoting tolerance, respect and diversity beyond a breakfast meeting and a museum visit, which was important and necessary, we have to do more to invest in creating young leaders who are culturally competent to live in a city that is becoming more diverse by the day.
Omekongo Dibinga is a candidate for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council. He is a professor of Cross Cultural Communication at American University. For more information, go to www.dibinga4dc.com.