Chris Stewart and Kaleem Caire August 2020
And we're live with Kaleem care for Madison, Wisconsin. He is the founder and the CEO of one city schools. It's a organization that does early childhood education and as growing elementary grades, after that as a strategic way of improving a longstanding gap. Between black, Brown and white students in Madison, Wisconsin, Kaleem.
Good morning. Thank you for joining. Uh, thank you. Thanks for having me. So at the outset, you and I were just talking a little bit about if you live at a distance and you hear about Madison, Wisconsin, as I do, I'm in Minnesota. So I'm one state yeah. Over. So I have a little knowledge of what Madison is you think, wow, this is a kind of like in all Wisconsin, this is the aggressive Disneyland.
This is the place where things are good for people because you have a college, college town. That's educated people. Uh, the standard of living is not so bad. That's pretty good. I visited, uh, twice I think. And man, it it's nice. It's pretty. Uh, but the underbelly is kids can't read. Well, when I say kids, I should be more specific black children and Brown children in Madison are not fairing well, which would be the best way for me to put it when it comes to education and the outcomes there.
So what gives, tell me, how is it possible? In a city, you are there. You've grown up there. You went to school, there you've come all the way through the system. You did everything you were supposed to do. You went through elementary all the way through college there, and you're still there. What's going on there?
Tell me what's going on. You know, there's a, there's a report that was put out. It was a study back in, I think it was 1934 by two. Uh, by two professors. And in that report, the study, their outcome for African Americans was, and it was called them at the, the Negro and Madison, what it was called. And it was a journal published journal article.
And they talked about how, when we came here, our main thing that we had to do in order to succeed was to assimilate don't challenge, the power structure and sort of get what you can get. And for most African Americans at that time, that's how they survived in a city like Madison, which even back then, you know, considered itself very progressive mean we could live here, but there were certain places we couldn't live.
You know, we could engage in public life here, although we couldn't really hold public office. So it was always this a work. We're glad you're here. But don't challenge us and don't try to be a part of us. And that's my experience. Even as a young man growing up here in the seventies and eighties, my family got here in 1907 and, uh, has done all kinds of things in Madison, but always pushing and the system constantly pushing back against you.
Um, it's only recently that I believe the system, at least the people in the system was the people are changing finally, where they're more open. Um, or becoming more open to allowing us not to just be at a table, but actually to have some authority and some influence at the table. So this is the city.
Like, we love you. We, we, we, we, we, we love black. We're not racist, but we have sports teams and in junior leagues and all these things where you don't see black kids. And if you do, you always see one. You know where our kids go to school with black kids, but their friendship groups have no black kids in them, or if they do, they're like I was the popular black kid who was good at sports or something like that.
Um, when you look at their study groups at schools and high school, middle school, late middle school, high school, where these children, um, start to mimic their parents, you know, behaviors with. You know, relationships, you start to see the man playing with a little black kid back in elementary school, but then there's no black children in there, real peer groups.
And so that's the something here and then they hit it. Yeah. Where we would talk about it. And they were, they would give you like a brief moment and shine here in the media. Well, they would shine a light on certain things. So that's why I have a lot of history that I've shown people that this stuff has been going on here for a long time, but then they let it go away.
Mm, only until the last 10 years when we try to get this charter school here. When I came back from Washington, D C in 2010 in the community blew up about it, did, um, we start to see more. Longterm honest, sustained reporting on things here. So for Madison, a lot of people are experiencing the racism now and seeing it it's like their first discovery I've heard.
So I had no idea all this was going on here. I'm like, no, it's been going on a long time. People. No. I think that was one of the interesting stories that I heard from way back. When was that? Nine, eight, nine, maybe 10 years ago that you were at the urban league, you were proposing a school that would split take on the so-called.
Yeah, she meant gap, but the gap racialized gap in achievement, specifically for black students in your area. Um, and I would have to say at that time, I'm sure across the country, there was like this movement towards black male achievement, focusing on black male achievement. There were cities like Oakland that were instituting programs specifically at challenging the city on how they were going with black boys.
Um, and like in many places you faced an uphill battle and even trying to establish a program to do something good. Uh, for those students, what was behind. The battle to stop you from being able to start a school, specifically working with black students in Madison at the core of it. And I didn't see this right away.
Cause I thought it was just people's reflux or against, uh, you know, against and their reaction to charter schools. But out people were saying, I'm not racist. You're calling me a racist. And I'm like, no, at one time, Did I call you guys a racist? There was one point where I did question it and their ability to move the needle with black children because they hadn't yet.
You know, but it's like this fear of being called something that you actually might be, you know, and now not wanting to in the mirror and say, well, what man, what's the deal definition of racism when it comes to me and you stand standing and in people's way, people constantly, you don't let them move forward.
It might not even necessarily be intentional, but you are doing it right. Over and over and over again, these folks are coming to the table. There's some smart black people here and we've got a university town. There's some smart black people here and they come and they give you the same response and the same input and the same advice.
And, you know, they try to share common ideas with you that we've held for years about how you can help move black kids forward, but you never really allow a man and you'd never let him, I truly hope you do it. And so. There's this fear that people have here of, um, Latin night being called racist. And there also, I kept hearing it's not okay to segregate.
It's not okay to segregate. You guys segregated all the time, black and live here. You would know that. So I would crack up and I would crack up when I would see. White colleagues or friends of mine who would say that? Yeah. Well, do your friends have any black friends of your kids have any black friends or they hang around any black kids outside of school?
Do you have any black kids or black families over for dinner? I mean, things like that. So you talk about segregation. Um, But you're complaining that my school would segregate things in. There was the feminist movement, too, man. They were like, no, we're not going to have anything for boys that we're not going to have for girls.
So then we were like, look, we'll do girls too. We had a plan to do girls. Just try to do one at a time and decided to put that forward. And the people still went against it. And so, um, I thought it was a psychosis after a while I'm like this, the city psychotic, they will Harbor an, a gap where a let world 10% of black kids read at grade level every year for the last 30 years.
Okay. And they'll call me and want me to come to a committee meeting. But then when we try to do something about it ourselves, all of a sudden something's wrong with us and we're, we're being white supremacists or black supremacist and, um, we're right wing and all these things that I would hear, Pam, how are you going to be both?
It's insane. It's insane. And so that's what I, my summary is, it's just insanity, still hard for me to identify why. Because just everything that's going on now, we got shooting every day, man. And a lot of these young people I know, and some of them would have been in my school cause I know I talked to their parents and they're okay with CNS on this prison is this pipeline to prison.
And then they'll want to go in front and they'll want to go stand with black people about defunding the police. But what about creating institutions that don't help us prevent us from being engaged with the police and that, so it's psychotic. You know, one of the things that kind of always bothers me about a story like yours and starting this school is that there's so much power in being able to say no to a community.
So you can be doing a bad job with educating a historically marginalized population and you are in charge of everything and doing a bad job. But when they try to develop a homegrown solution, you have all the power in the world to say, Maybe we will do this. Maybe we won't do this. No, we don't like it.
We don't like you doing that. What is up with the power imbalance? What is the black community like there? What, where was the black clergy when you were having this issue? Like, what was the response of the black community to you being denied? The opportunity to start a school specifically for black children?
As such a great question. When I returned home from DC, you know, I've always been that guy on fire, you know, ready to move and do things. When I became being the leader of the urban leading one of the first things I did. Cause I took, um, two groups of people. We have these beautiful lakes here and I took them on a boat ride and you could fit like 30, 40 people on these boats.
So I took one boat ride where there was a little bit more diverse group of activists, people in the community leaders. And I took another one, which is all black folks. And on it. I had everybody talk about, about what, what the vision for Madison could be, because what I heard in my first three months back was that people had no vision here.
There were a couple people, but most people had, and it hadn't been because they're not visionaries. It's just visionaries either. Don't stay here very long. Um, or it wouldn't stay here very long because they're busy. Their vision was constantly bumping up against this brick wall of liberal thinking here again, whatever they call, whatever, how they would define liberal in this city.
Uh, And they couldn't get anything done and their kids would struggle and they were like, nah, I'm done. So then I would leave. So that was one of the reasons why, you know, we, we, um, the black community here would lose a lot of its innovators and his visionary very quickly. Um, or they would become very quiet and say, I'm done tired, wore out and I'm moving on.
Then the other is like a lot of our advocates from the seventies and eighties who I recognize as strong leaders in the black community. They're older, you know, and there's a time when it's easy for everybody. But then next generation, my generation wasn't pushing from multimedia. We were trying to be a part.
Yeah. Uh, rather than actually create the systems are to change the systems. And so for every one black person here, my age, or a little younger that was trying to change the system, you had probably seven or eight that were struck either stuck in the, the system or being affected by it. And a couple more that were just trying to survive it.
You know, so we didn't have those real revolutionaries, not enough people to push. And then third, there was no Avenue really for people to, um, aluminate their voice, but it's been wild. Cause in the 10 years, there's a, there's a newspaper here called Madison three 65 that a childhood friend of mine, Henry Sanders created, uh, we'd go back to our diapers man.
And his mom is one of those strong voices. His dad too. They've all like all these old elders at re-emerge now and are really helping to push. So we've got this general intergenerational push, but Henry started that newspaper and he's targeting markets. Like we're talking about these progressive small cities where the struggle is real, but the voice is not there.
And he's given us a form and a voice. Plus we had other papers here, like Capitol times state, they started to say, okay, we better. Beyond the string and be a part of it. So people are hearing more now and seeing more now activists that have always been here. Um, and as new the generation, their voices are getting louder and louder and stronger and stronger.
And honestly, yeah, they're smarter. So, but that was established the experience here at being black. It was like to survive here either. Got tired and left you, you assimilate, like you just said. All right, I'm done. I remember you gave up or you went along with it and, uh, it's changing now though. I'll say that it's changing for the better.
Changing for the better. Yeah, it is. It is, you know, it was fun to see my own kids, a part of that, but I, but it's unique. It's it's it was before George Floyd. It was when, uh, Doug Nelson and used to be the head of the Annie Casey foundation in Baltimore. And he's from here. And so when he retired, he came back home and he told me, he said I was at the urban league still.
It must've been around 2012. He said, Colleen, he said, you're going to get killed here. He said, I'm aware of these progressive cities. I grew up here. He said, I've got my formative years here. He said, I'm back home. He said, we're going to start something called the race equity project where we wait, we're going to go around.
We're going to do all the deep research to pull the bandaid off of. What's been going on here. And then we're going to go talk to all the leaders in the community. So it's not shocking to them. We're going to push them and then we're going to go public with it. Well, he did all of that. And what dope man?
We look like South. We look like the deep part of Alabama up in Wisconsin. People are like, what us is like you, some of y'all have known it for years. You never want to give up any power, any authority. You never want to see that something's wrong with Madison. You got to create, like you said, in the beginning, that beautiful image of this city, man, these people work really hard to create that.
And some of them are. Pissed right now, because what's been happening with us for years is now for public view and let's type in Madison and be in black and you'll see it. And so they're like, Oh, given a bad image of the city. Well guess what image has always been here? You created an image that didn't allow us to get the support or respect.
We need it now. We're getting it anyway. Well, you know, nothing creates a bad image, like a bad reality. So if the reality is bad, the image is going to be bad. It's amazing that Madison has had any good image when the reality has been what it's been. I'm looking at this article that you wrote for. Three 65, the paper you just referenced and it's called why black people, Madison are impatient and should be, this was like, you know, a stunning bit ground for me because you know, in your, your text here, you had a lot it's of interesting things to say, of course the text is, is the setup, but then you have this long list of articles about the black, the experience in Madison, going back to 1931.
Yeah. And it, you know, you have like how many, I mean, you have, this is the most comprehensive thing I've seen in any city detailing the black experience in a city. You have 107 links, um, to stories, um, starting in 1931 and ending up in 2013. Um, I've never seen anything like this, but I don't know how you can have.
Something like this and put it before people in a community and say, this is who we really are and who we've been for a long time and not have any other response, except for, we need to do better in whatever y'all want to do. Let's do it. Right. Um, how was this received? Like when you put this out there, how is this received?
Nobody asks me on a show like you,
I mean, this is deep. I'm going to tell you, man, I had, I think person, one reporter reached out to me about it. Um, other than that, man, nobody people said it, they saw it on Facebook or whatever. They liked it. They were commenting on it. You know, the same people you would expect to comment on how challenging it is and how bad it is.
I mean, they said that others who I'm sure it was shocking for said nothing. Um, or I would hear that they were talking about it amongst their friends and it got a lot of visibility, but it's, again, it's that fear to confront what has been going on. And for those, my age and older, who could have been confronting is I just turned 49, um, who could have been confronting this all these years.
They're compart complicit in this because they were in leadership roles while this was going on. And it's like, okay. Yeah, you got to address it. And their, their responses. See, Madison's getting worse. No, Madison's never been really great for us. You got to see that and you are in power. You add some authority.
Why didn't you do things? Why didn't you move harder? Why didn't you move faster? Why didn't you listen more? Why don't you give up some power? And, uh, because there's a lot of people who have been around a long time, I'm assuming that's one of the reasons why. Um, I didn't get much personally engagement from it.
Yeah. You know, here in Minnesota, we have this saying, um, well, first of all, everybody talks about Minnesota. Nice. You're your neighbor, you know, right here. So you understand how Midwest works and how, um, we have this, uh, image like Madison does of being this, you know, uh, salt of the earth. Center of the country, heart of America, good natured, uh, happy, you know, uh, old school Humphrey liberal type of place.
And like you all, we are harboring a gap. Right. But. We say oftentimes, well, at least we're not Mississippi. And I shouldn't say we, I have this rule about not saying we went, I'm not included in the way. I'll say people here. They didn't say, well, at least we're not Matt, our Mississippi. And at least we're not Alabama.
And they have this vision of the South and deep South as being more backwards than then. Uh, we are here and I like to remind people that we have the Jim Crow with the North going on in Minnesota and that some of the biggest Hicks I've ever seen having grown up in new Orleans and living in Minnesota for a long time, some of the biggest Hicks I've ever seen are been very educated.
Uh, people who drink a very fine beer here in Minnesota. Right. Um, and, and they don't know that they're Hicks because they're too busy being metro-sexual to know that they're actually Hicks, but here's the thing like, uh, people forget. Uh, um, it's not that they forget. They never know they're startled. When you say things like.
Minnesota is the second or third worst place in the United States to raise a black family. It's one of the best places to raise a white family. Yeah. Yeah. And Wisconsin's number one joke for years, I'm like, we cannot be number one in racism, you know, but Wisconsin's number one in the world place to raise a black family in the country.
Um, and, and it hasn't the nation's biggest black, white achievement gap. Uh, in the country, at least one of the, it's a nation leading achievement gap, for sure. In Madison, in your school district, you know, you got what, 27,000 kids, 50 schools, 32 elementary schools, 18% of the students are black. Um, and by all means, You know, uh, Madison's kind of a mixed a district.
We talk about integration. I mean, uh, 18% black, uh, um, 9% Asian, 9% Hispanic, uh, half percent, uh, other, you know, multiracial folks. So it's 42% white. So it's kind of the mix that you would say makes a integrated district, even though it's not integrated, but. 18% of the students, uh, are black 57% receiving out of school.
Suspensions are black, 54% receiving in school. Suspensions are black. Um, and students with disabilities are really catching Hill. You've had a series of teachers there who have been let go for using racial slurs in the classroom. Uh, which I think is kind of an interesting thing. You had one teacher, there was a black teacher who told a student I'm not your nigger.
And he got arrested for just telling a student not to call him that name, which I thought what's interesting with him. When they told him he was getting fired, he called me up Marlin Anderson and his son is ahead of the BSU at that, at that school was just graduated Noah and I couldn't believe it when he told me that went to the school and I was like, wait a minute, you did this.
This kid is young man who I met. Um, went off on him and he said, I'm not your nigga. I'm not, they just said it like you don't call me that fired him for it. I was like, are you serious? So we got a little national press from Marlon and got helped him get his, uh, his respect. I don't know if Marlin's back in the school system or not, but.
It was crazy. I thought it was interesting to see that, you know, um, you were interviewed as you were running for school board last year, and one of the questions you got was around this. So I had to look it up, you know, what is this deal? And, you know, I found a news report that basically said there was a string of teachers in Madison that had been let go for using, um, racial slurs.
Um, those are easy to me that just. Talks about an environment in your system or your schools that people wouldn't expect from for such a liberal place. But to me, the biggest way to call me a racial slur is in the results. And, um, Between since 2012, well, reading proficiency has gone up for black students by 7%.
Um, that takes it up to a whopping 19% that are reading proficient. Uh, it's went up in math 2%, which gets it up to a whopping 15% that are proficient in math and, and, um, an 8%. A 12% that graduate and take the act that are ready and reading an 8% that graduate and take the act that are proficient in math.
Um, these all sound like we're a number soup when I say them to people like when I put them out there, but it paints a picture. I think numbers paint a picture. This picture says the gross majority of black students in Madison, um, are facing futures. That are not going to look nearly as bright as the white students of Madison, which I don't know how you can yeah.
Fix the wealth gap, the job gap, the housing income gap, when these are your numbers, um, who who's really taken that bull by the horn and saying we have to do better. Uh, our super in a previous superintendent, Jen Cheatham, I'll give her some credit. You know, every superintendent has said, that's tried to do something.
I'm not gonna say they haven't, but it's how far they'll push the system forward. And she happened to come at a time when our, the unions in our state were beleaguered. Um, where the voice of teachers unions were diminished dramatically by the Scott Walker administration and, uh, what they did overnight that brought a hundred thousand teachers to the Capitol and their advocates to have a gate against them.
Um, the policy they've put in place that diminished teachers unions and influence in the state. Um, so she came in with women. At a time when people are like, you know, not only are we have this race issue now that Colleen, you know, is pushing and other people are getting on board with, and, uh, we gotta do something now we've got other largest progressive voice in the city.
And the teacher's union is struggling to find his voice. So she came in at a period where. People knew we needed some change and were willing to support a little bit more radical change in the district. And she tried to get the district to are moving in a common direction. Cause Madison, we used to be a school district where every teacher was sort of doing their own thing and they didn't implement a new curriculum or whatever, but yeah.
People would interpret the work themselves by the however they want it to. And so, you know, Howard fuller out of Milwaukee, you know, you always talk about how teachers you're trying to dance with the lemons or parents or land roulette, trying to figure out, you know, which, um, Teacher, they have to pick for their kid.
And if you're in that group that knows who all those teachers are that are really gonna move the needle for your kid. Then chances of you getting in that classroom, if you have some influence is good. But a lot of our people here didn't have that kind of influence Madison 80% in 2010, a census 80% of black people in Dane County we're at or below the poverty level.
So the level of influential voices we have here was limited. Um, so we had superintendents try this, but, uh, at the end, Jen Cheatham, she got everyone focused on the gap, reading and math, and then she left. And now we have our first African American superintendent who just started his job a couple of weeks ago, who absolutely had his roots in education here.
He was a principal here, assistant principal, and, uh, back in the early nineties and did his master's degree in graduate degree here, PhD at Madison. He's coming back from your area, the Minnesota area, dr. Jenkins, and we'll see what happens, but, um, Folks here, man. They, the, the struggle that they've had is changing the system to do the type of work that needs to get done, to help our kids move forward.
And those reading scores and things, it comes down to ideology about reading. We don't like direct instruction. We don't like this. We don't like. And so you can then take them down South or somewhere else where there are some schools. That are getting results with our kids. And guess what they're doing, they're doing those things that we keep reacting negatively to.
So there's ideology around education. There's fear of addressing the issue of race and class for fear of being labeled somebody who's harbored this for a long time. And then just the fear of giving up power. I'm here. Yeah. And it was interesting. There's all these people that are actively opposed to segregation are now promoting pods in the middle of, I guess, any black kids are going to be in their pod.
They're privatizing education right now for their benefit. Yeah. Well, you know, for people in Madison, Wisconsin that are watching, um, I'm from the outside. Um, so I don't live there. I don't live in Madison, so I'll just like give you the news. You are racist. You have been racist for a long time. You need to get over it.
You hold all the power. You are a white supremacist, liberal stronghold. You are a progressive stronghold. And because you have to the progressive. Kool-Aid in your system. You think it's impossible that you might be the person that you actually are. If you have been harboring, um, a gap like this gap, like this, a segregationist gap, like you have a, um, a discipline gap like you have, and you continuously use your power.
To have the final say on what these students will and won't get whether or not they'll have a charter school, whether or not they'll have an alternative program, whether or not someone other than you can teach them, um, whether or not you'll do direct instruction or not. That is what I like to call white power.
Your ability to tell another population what they can and can't have, and have the final word on it. And zero, zero self reflection on what you're doing when you do that. Right? So here's a voice from the outside. Go ahead. I'm sorry. What'd you say zero accountability for it. Zero accountability. I watched a school board, Madison school board meeting where the board was just talking and like many boards, listen, I'm not going to beat up on your board.
And you have some new members since this one that I watched, uh, like many school boards that I watch. So I'm always amazed by who's in control of the decisions of a district because. Good. Good Lord. Do we have no criteria for the people that actually govern our school districts sometimes? Um, but you know, in that there were several white school board members who were going back and forth about, I think this may have been on the, when they were making a decision about a new charter school that was going to be a Montessori charter school.
And they were just like, you know, we haven't seen it. We like about this proposal. We haven't done this. We haven't done that. We just, you know, I don't know. I need to see more information. And your, what, you're one of your black school board members? I think it was the only one I'm sure. Uh, I'm not sure at the time said we don't know, we have to stop acting like we know.
Um, what we're doing, we have to stop back. Like we know how to educate and every time something new comes up that, you know, we know better. And I thought that was like one of the single, most honest reflections that I had seen out of that board. Um, do you think they're getting more humble now, you know, after Jennifer has been with them, the superintendent that they had, who pushed them on these things, do you think.
Better now I think the slew of, uh, uh, like just the massive amount of. Advocacy that's taking place in our community now. And it's, as I came back to the urban league to lead it in 2010, it's just been picking up steam where people of color in this community are really pushing in ways in a sustained way that we had never done before.
So they're have to pay attention to it. I think it is changing the hearts and minds of more people. More people are willing to confront it and say, you know what? I have been. Part of the problem. It's still not a great number yet, but I'm telling you, man, what we've also never had is we've never had a majority of color people leading our board education.
We now have. We now have and where they don't always see everything the same way they do work together. And so right now, I think they have a majority of people on the board think, you know, five, at least five of the people who really are pushing, um, to support our community four. Definitely. I think we have a fifth, uh, from what, how I've seen the votes coming out lately.
So I do think there is some progress being made there. But as I keep pushing them, I told that I told one of those board members who I consider to be the most Allie Muldrow of that group. Um, I told her, I said, you guys out exceeded my expectations when you made the choice to the superintendent that you did, because, because honestly, I never thought Madison would hire a black male.
We'll be at superintendent, whatever your ability is because that's like giving up the Holy grail of power. And, uh, and they did that. So, but then that would have not happened. I'm not kidding that happened if we didn't have people of color, a majority on that board. So it's changing, but it's only changing in large part because we are a part of changing it.
We had record number of people running for state office. We now have in the last four years, two black people serving in our state legislature from Wisconsin. And before that, we net zero. You know, more black people running for and Latinos and Asian community members for office in our city, our County elections, and some of these people are getting elected.
So the change is on the question is how long will we be able to sustain that? And we'll like this pandemic we're in. You know, push us further back. Cause you know, in America goes through an economic crisis. We're the ones who are most effected by it. There'll be, we'll have to see, can we sustain momentum in the midst of all that's going on?
You know, in 2000 you, you can correct me on the arrows maybe nine years or so, so that you had the interaction with the school board and locals about trying to start the school through the urban league, it was going to be Madison prep. Um, and you had a plan for that and that didn't go through them because the school board actually denied it.
And you had, I read. Uh, transcripts people coming to speak in favor of the school. There were people, you know, from the black community who were saying, um, this is something that we need. It felt very much like having to appeal to a power base to give you something. Um, and then fast forward to now, you know, I don't know, it's been maybe two years or so.
Um, you now have a school, a different school. What changed between you trying to do Madison prep and the one city schools that you have now? How did the conditions change? Um, for lack of a better analogy, uh, some of the field Negroes got in the house. That's a good analogy. It was like a plantation man.
Master, could you please master, could you please, or being afraid to challenge math was what might happen to you? If you say something, you know, um, But some of us got courageous, man. And we're like, you know, we're going to go, we're going put ourselves within the changing systems. And so part of what's happened is you have things like the rise of Madison three 65, you have some newspaper people like Paul, um, fan Lynette as that, the capital times he's been their publisher editor, uh, who has, you know, he had a crisis of conscience and he started to use his newspaper, which is very popular.
Um, And, you know, historic newspaper and Madison, a mainstream paper, and he started writing about things. You had pastor Alex G one of the pastors write a stinging article called justified anger. And, um, the Capitol times published that and that opened people's eyes. You have Doug Nelson's work and his daughter, Erica, with race to, uh, with, um, the race to equity project.
The urban league and, um, who succeeded me in Rubin, Anthony, they just announced a $5 million project to not out, to help ag folks buy homes in this area that's being gentrified. And you have a number of white folks that are stepping up to try to help that. And it was interesting is that they weren't talking anything about race.
Really? In 2010, it was a really quiet we're in the last mayoral election. Racial equity was one of the top two agenda items. And, um, the person that one she's really struggled to find her place and that has been getting herself into trouble with it. Uh, mayor Conway, because, you know, it's, it was like, you can't just get there by, you can get there by lip service.
But now, because there's this momentum in our community, people are wondering, what do you we want to do? And she's feeling it heat about getting something done on, right. That issue. So this is your mirror. Um, she's our mayor, she's our mayor. And you know, she didn't have a whole lot yeah. Connections with our community before she here.
Um, but she's Madison, you know, second female mayor and, you know, smart on cities. Cause she helped support mayors across the country, in our previous work, but not really smart on our people. And so, um, now we have a group of people that are so emboldened. It's like, you can't just get there and be there and bring us to the table and give us lip service.
We want more than that. And we're smart. We're capable these young activists in our community, man, they are smarter than the activist that I grew up with. Do you know how they're doing it and how sustain their momentum is and their voices. And so it's because we've gotten into these institutions is because some of the institutional leaders have finally stepped up and said, all right, we're going to be a part of that.
Rather than this thing over here, that's been holding us back and then it's. It's the, it's the, it's the flood of things that are just rushing through their houses to say these things have been happening forever. And guess what? You've been a part of it and, Oh, you've been ignorant to it. Yeah. All these years there, you, you know, so people are now starting to react to that.
And so we do have momentum moving forward. The question I have is where we now make all the hard calls that we have to make. To put young people in general, who've been a part of generations that have been held back. Are we, are we really ready to make the real transformation on decisions to help move them forward?
And so with my school, the challenge for me was also, I would persistent. I looked at the people who are going against me. I'm like, so I'm 38 and you're 58. If I keep myself healthy, I'm going out last year.
We all live. Um, you know, and, um, but I also listen to them, but I just keep moving, man. You sometimes you gotta make certain decisions to get what you need. But when we started this preschool, it was outside the realm of unions and all of that, because preschool education is, and people were able to see what I was really about.
What we're doing. And then we develop the elementary school because our university system got the ability to charter schools who would have never gotten it through our local school. So what are you thinking? So you w is actually a charter authorizer. They can run schools and system, but new w could be a charter provider.
Cause the way the Walker law, whether they put it into law every four years, And every two year institution and also including colleges could charter schools now, if they want to. And so the biggest position comes out of the university though. Yeah, but this was a little worried that he sit them in his president.
Red cross had been in the SUNY system before he had come to mad. And when we had charter schools there, why don't we have charter schools here? And so governor asked to be a charter authorizer, and that is who we got chartered through. So that combined with the fact that we got a million dollar grant through UWA partnership programs to study our school, we're going to do a longitudinal evaluation and look at how we're doing.
There'll be interim reports put out later this year, early next year and every year. So it's like our openness to transparency goes beyond whatever you see in a public school environment. Uh, so those things have helped get us to where we are. No. When I was there, when I came to visit, um, I got, I went to a school called lighthouse.
I think it was called lighthouse lighthouse. Yeah. Yeah. Um, and, um, And so, you know, on the tour, I was like, man, this looks great. It's nice. It was a great facility. Um, very loving and caring people. The, the folks who were walking me around were just the nicest people, very caring, very loving. It's a place you would put your kid.
So like, if you were that type of parent who went and did a visit, which all parents I recommend should do is you go and visit different places and get that gut feeling. So in certain places you get the gut feeling. That's like, Brian, Like grab your child and run. And then other places you're like, Oh, this would be a place I would leave.
My kid in lighthouse was like that. Um, those kids, first of all, the amazing thing to me was that they were taking kids at 16 weeks. I was like 60 weeks because I was asking them what grades are, where they start with kids or whatnot. And they take kids damn near out the womb. Um, um, and, and then, and then they keep them and those kids learn Mandarin.
I want to say that they learn Spanish. Um, um, you know, they become trilingual. They also learn about service. It's a, it's a faith based organization. So they learn about service. They have a faith culture underneath them. And I, my thought when I was, there was, this is amazing who could be against this, like, like anybody come in visit who could be against this.
As Marcio, Sierra and TSA Sierra man, there are beautiful couple. Um, I used to mentor, uh, Marshall's older brother Rafa, who ironically, he and Marcio both came here from Honduras, I believe. And, uh, their father came here to get his education at the university and they hated the fact that they were an ESL classes and sort of shun to the side when these were the, some of the smartest kids you ever would meet.
And Rafa is the ambassador deputy ambassador of the U S for his country. Now. And before that he was the ambassador for Anne Tyler. I think it was Taiwan or one of those countries. And he came out of this community and people don't know him, but it's like, that's the thing. Emily and Marcio and his wife are so into our kids and community.
And, uh, they started the school years ago. And then when the voucher came along, it allowed them to expand. But because they're a school that uses school vouchers and we can't give them any shine in Madison, we can't give the Walker administration, the previous administration, any credit for that. And we don't want vouchers.
We'll let you exist. As long as you're kind of quiet over there. And I know that they've had donors. Who want to give them money, but want to be maintained? They're there they're want to be quiet about it. And I understand that I'm glad they're giving them some money, but here you have a school that deserves a lot of attention and a lot of support.
And they're working with a lot of the same kids, man, that, uh, school systems are, but no one will go over there to try to learn from them because they're taking a voucher and then against the liberal thinking in this community. Whereas I like give me a part of the videos I'll go out in that area. I don't care what people think.
These people are. They'll support 40, 50 years of black and Brown underachievement. And think that I'm supposed to be standing over there with them when I'm going over, come over here and stand with you. Hmm. I want to ask you kind of a tough question now. Cause it's all to me, each of these stories from one progressive city to another, the story has a pretty similar mix of individuals, actors, and players that are involved.
And I just want to test this one on Madison A. Little bit. So, um, In each of these markets, you definitely have the white mom who is very sympathetic to the white teachers in the classroom, which means that they are very often in concert with the white teacher's union. Not because they believe that union Newsome just by itself, but just because it's a, it's a, it's a compact made of similarity.
They, they, they, they sympathize with each other. Right. So they sympathize with each other and then they become a power block. And that oftentimes as good as people are and as nice as they are. And as much as they voted for Obama, they actually become really illiberal in what they vote for in terms of policy.
Um, But that's not to let black folks off the hook too. Cause in each of these places, I will notice that there are, there's a contingent of black folks too, who don't want to privatize. They want to give you lectures about neoliberalism, like the others. Do they want to talk to talk to you as if these are all our schools?
Oh my God. They're busting up our schools and, and so. And some of them will do it with a very like Afrocentric standpoint too. Some will do it just because they're in the system and they're being paid and they have pensions in the system. Others will do it with the dice Sheekey on with a raised fist talking about these are our schools.
We're not gonna let anybody come in and, and give our families choice. Do you have that contingent? Uh, in, in Madison? Yes, but it's small. Yes, but it's well, you're lucky if it's small. Yeah, no, I'm trust me. As I've worked on choice issues for a long time, people don't know this. I haven't written anything about it, but I crack up every time I see something written about the school voucher program or charter schools in DC because of my job, man, after I left as the founding president of.
The black Alliance for educational options with our fuller, I was their founding CEO. I was working closely with John Walton and Jim blue and different people like that in DC, along with the local leadership there. And my job was to help get that school voucher program in the city. And that's not what we originally intended.
It was going to be private, but, uh, Raul Fernandez is one of the owners of the wizards. He's a, a young dude back then he asked the question, we were in a meeting, right? With Don Graham of the Washington post and a bunch of other people talking about how we can help things in D C move forward. He has, why don't we try for a public program?
I mean, we've got a sympathetic legislature for that at the, you know, you know, and, uh, the government federal government. And so my job was to lead that three sector effort, which was to get all that money to help. I support the public charter and the private, you know, the school voucher program. And then we launched the voucher program and whatnot in that city.
So I've say that because. It's coming back to, there was a lot of that in DC at the time, and I understood it more there because of the deep rooted nature of the federal government, just running that city, you know, the whole situation, a home rule. So I was like, all, like, these are my people, you know, get why they are struggling with that, this idea.
So I got in trouble with some people on the, uh, some people on the right, because. They were like they had their own agenda. They were trying to push the vouchers and stuff for years. Well, what I did is I just went through the route. I went through the black churches. I went through leadership in the city council, business people.
I wanted to make sure their voices were at the table. And, um, that's how we got to where we are, but I understood that black boys that pushed against it there when I got here and I heard the blank wall pushing against it. Um, it didn't make as much sense to me, man, where it felt like. They had been. So co-opted by whoever their friends were or the people they were for were that they started to buy the same message, um, that somehow the right wing was taking over or going to take over.
But I'm like, look at you don't have a right wing leadership in Dane County. You just don't. They make up maybe 25%, 30% of the electorate. If that. These are all white liberals running and been doing it for years. And we are in a worse state than the kids in Washington, DC are. So what's up with that. So I can't, I can't tell you, man, I looked at it and said, as I looked at some of the people and said, they believe what they believe in.
You know, you still gotta love these folks. Right. But the source of their beliefs. I really think we're wed to their cultural orientation. Yeah. You can be black and not have the same culture as other black people from block to block. And so their culture was very different than my own. I came from that.
We're going to push culture. My family were all activists and vocal and you know, we're all about the black community all the time. And so people couldn't see then how could you be for school vouchers and for black people? Hmm. And my question coming back was how can you be for this liberal, progressive establishment and be for black people when black people are suffering under their leadership.
And so I just felt there was a cultural disconnect that I felt more when I came back home than when I was in DC. I can understand people's fears and push against the system there and against what we were doing, which is why we tried to work as closely with those folks as possible. Um, to make it's the way they wanted it done.
Whereas we're not saying, Oh, that message didn't work here. Well in white liberals, um, form a power block in a city like Madison or the twin cities or Seattle or wherever else. Um, they adopt the language that is like, uh, all about civil rights, progressivism. Um, equity was like one of their favorite words, equity over and over again.
You'll hear that. And then they'll have someone come to them from the black community appealing for an alternative to their rule, something that, you know, to an educational option outside of them. And one of the ways that they do put that down. Is well twofold one, they go and find the black folks that are so invested in the current system that they'll come and have a Mandingo fight with anybody.
Who's trying to have any like, you know, change, but the other way will be this narrative around. Well, you're just a sell out. You're just paid by the right wing to say these things that you're saying, you know? And, and, and it'll be a weird kind of dumb dual consciousness that you'll have as a black person.
Like, it'll be weird. Like, so all my lived experiences wiped away. You think. You know, you're going to erase all of my lived experience as a white person, sitting there by using the words, Neil liberalism and privatization, and working for the right wing and invoking the name of the Waltons and all that.
Does that really? Do you really think that that's a successful strategy and the truth is it is kind of successful? Isn't it? It is. It is successful. I mean, it was successful with some folks with me. There were, there were still early on. I think it's changed a lot now, but there was still early on. Some black people were like, Woah, I don't know, Colleen, you know, as if our voices, like I gotta, somehow when you get white people with money that I'm now going to be weak, you know, like I'm not gonna be here, who I am, and I'm not going to say what I'm going to say, and I'm going to be disingenuous around them because they're white people with power, with money.
I mean, I wasn't raised scared like that. I am now the same way with them. And what I do is I just looked at it and said, what's the greatest Avenue, black people to get some power and authority here and to have a say in the education of our children and that we can actually create that. And I've been wanting to create my own schools since I was 17, man.
It was hard growing up here. Three only had, I never had a black teacher in Madison, Wisconsin growing up ever, and I didn't get one until it was Effie Barry mayor and Barry's X, Y when I was in Hampton university, she was my health teacher. And, um, that was the first place I had black educator, but, um, but I've always had the same voice.
And so people it's like, they can't see your individual personal power throughout being sanctioned or supported by these other people in the system. It's like, they don't move me. They don't rule me. I believe what I believe. Maybe they do some people, but not this brother, you know? And so in, um, that's been a struggle I've had since I've been in.
There's work in education or advocacy is, do you do have people who look at you because of how far you can move an agenda? And wondering, somebody's got to be back in you or helping you and you know that, or they won't trust you. So what I did with this school too, um, I didn't get any national support, any support outside of Madison for our school.
We're now going into our sixth year of our preschool. Um, our third year of our charter, uh, I got it all locally and it was over $10 million. And so then I finally got some money from the Walton family foundation and charter school growth fund last year, which we desperately needed and happy that we got.
Um, but it was to show people that no, I'm not led by a right wing. I'm not even the hard line paid person in my schools, man. And I found them I'm tied for fourth, bruh. Know, you're starting to start up. Sometimes it's like that. You're trying to get the best people you can find, but the people who are like, Oh, he's just doing it for the money.
No, I could be making a lot more money. I know that doing other things, but I'm that convicted to change them, to change things for our kids. Because as you said, no education. We're not going to solve the problem of housing, disparities and income disparities, and wealth gaps. If our children on these 15 to 20% or less of our kids can read at grade level, by the time they graduate high school, that's simple.
And who run around here talking about everything, man. And don't focus enough on that. I think that's what gets really hard and progressive cities is to keep people with their eye on the prize, found the prizes, these numbers, these numbers, like we live in a math society with a bunch of people who can't do math, but I can do math and we have numbers.
Like you just said, those numbers to me that with those equal, those equal. Fewer jobs, fewer houses, less income, less home loans, loans, less mortgages. All of that interest rates on cars. Just keep going down the list worth worst health outcomes. All the disparities that we talked about have math beneath them.
And that math is easily predicted by the number of students that can't read in third grade, fourth grade, eighth grade, can't do eighth grade math. Can't graduate high school. Prepared for college. Even when they go to college, they need remediation and only like a handful come out. The other end with a damn college degree, as one part of society is not having that exact same math underneath their problem.
So how you would even have to stand before a group of folks in the city that are lording over that problem and defend yourself like where your money comes from. Dammit, you can pull up my nine 90 and talk about my salary all day long. First of all, I don't work for free. Neither do you. Nobody ever coming at me as a free worker.
And if they are they married well, so like, you know, either married well, or they had parents that have actually married well. So, um, so this idea that we either need to work for free and be in poverty, um, or we're not true to the people who are oppressing us, um, is a weird one to me. And I only bring this up because I wonder what you and I and others do to prepare the next wave of fighters.
Who are going to be fighting for the same things we fight for to confront that and put it down quickly. Don't let it become the thing that, that dogs you, or let it work with you. What do you think about when you think about the next group of people coming up to prepare them, to have those battles with, with the power establishment, with white, progressive and, and others.
It's funny. You say that because about four or five years ago, um, I started feeling like, man, there's more I could be doing to help. You know, so I started working behind some of the folks in our local community that have organizations. I'm not going to say their names. I'm never going to disempower their great efforts, but they would come to me and like, man, how do you raise money?
How do you do this? How do you structure your presentations and proposals? How are you raising all that money? So I would just quietly work behind them and bring them over to my house, whatever we. We'd go through some planning sessions and, and in the midst of that, the conversation, like they've never seen a weak brother when they look at me ever, they've never, and they never will.
And I don't mean that doesn't mean that I won't agree with people that I might disagree with. I can, I can be changed. My views can be changed, but you gotta have, it's got, it takes an effort. You gotta help me understand things, but I don't have to change who I am. And I can still move forward and they can see you get knocked down and get right back up.
And so I think that's important to live your life openly like that too. So people can see that, you know that through this effort, if you're going to win anything, you're going to go through some challenges, but you can keep moving. And so seeing that is really important. So the worst thing I could do with Zen, right?
I give up, I could have gave up after that charter school and then people would have been like, see, we can't get nothing done in this community. But as I know, I took a different progression and took a different angle and a massive different support group to the people that started this school with me to Sue Cruz and Sally martini exits like that.
Um, they're still with me, man. And they weren't concerned about my so-called affiliation was whether they were real or not before they wanted to support these children. And so even they being at the table. For the reasons they were in the people that they helped bring along. Like, wait a minute. Yeah. We don't have to be concerned about all that BS.
You know, we got to just learn about the children. And so what we've done now in our city, man is pretty extraordinary. You know, we're. Where I'm doing well as a school, even through this pandemic, it's going to be crazy to see. Cause we're going back in person and virtual. We let parents choose which one they want it to do because our baby's gotta be in a classroom.
You know? Um, then they're not going to be selected into a lot of these pods. Their parents aren't even have the money to be in these pods to pay teachers, to do the work. And, um, Fortunately, we still have support from our community for that. And it's built in, but man, I'm ready to do more. You know, one thing I told him, I'm going to help take on his leadership and make sure that charter schools are able to continue to support children in the state.
Because we, as a black people, we need that Avenue in order to be able to produce something different. For our kids in this state. So I'm going to have a larger voice on that while at the same time preschool education, I believe it should be free to every kid in this, regardless of race or income, public education is what we're on the free market till age five.
Right? And if our parents can support something positive, we can have a positive nurturing as young children, that type that shouldn't exist. We should cover the cost of that. So, um, You just gotta, we gotta keep pushing our agenda man, and be consistent and be pliable, you know, be willing to look at things and say, okay, maybe, maybe I got that wrong.
But at the same time, you can get knocked down and not get back up. That will stop any movement. Well, I think that's a good place for us to on too. And I definitely would love to have you come back over time and keep talking. Um, we're about to publish a blog post that you, um, that you allowed us to publish that I think has.
Like just one of the most elegant and awesome breakdowns of the 365 to 400 year battle that we have had for an education. And it kind of, I think arrives at a point of saying, we shouldn't have to beg for this. This should just be our right to get what we need. So we'll be publishing that on citizen ed soon.
But I do want to wrap, which is like a minute or two from you on what you just talked about. You. You know, maybe a decade or less, uh, you know, tried to start a school. It didn't get it. Didn't go, well, you put a lot of time, effort and blood, sweat, and tears into it. And that could have been that not going through.
Could have been the thing that made you say I'm done. I'm going to walk away from this. Now we're talking about a new model that you have and a school and whatnot. Um, so you stuck with it. I want someone in another city to hear that and think about that, but this new, uh, one city schools that you have. Um, someone listening and watching.
What was the theory of change around that, that you think, uh, makes it the way to go makes it successful and that someone else, somewhere else can replicate. We looked at all the research on education, going back. Yeah. You know, years and looked at what other things that they say define a great experience for children.
And we looked at not only research, but we looked at practice, some practices aren't always researched. And so I visited did a bunch of schools around the country. I looked at the research. I talked to people who've been practitioners and researchers, and we said, okay, we're going to build a school that has, you know, a healthy meals program.
You have a full time chef and a cook cooking for our kids every day. It matters that we're going to have a longer school day, longer school year to overcome this persistence of achievement gap. But not just doing the same old things in those longer school days, longer school years, providing more intensive support at different times of year, but also great experiences.
We have academies, our kids are taking martial arts and doing art dance and drumming and all that stuff, things, and we have a soccer Academy, things that they could not afford out in the local community. We can afford it here. Um, so we are going to build those things in great teachers, leaders, you know, and fund that.
And we have two teachers in every classroom through second grade because we know a lot of our kids come and they need that additional help. And they're, they're all taught to teach. So even my assistant teachers go through this same teacher training as the teachers do. And, um, the teachers define the curriculum with the assistant teachers can actually teach it and we're trying to grow our own teachers that way too.
We have one that just completed their, this is test. And, um, so we're growing our own. So charter schools give us the ability. To create that environment for our young people in ways that it's harder to do are these big traditional public school systems. But when we are also open to is we're open to public scrutiny and critique, we are very transparent and every report, every quarterly report to every city council person, County board person, whether they like charter schools or not.
We've invited people in our former teachers, union leadership, Doug Keeler, he came in and toured the school and was blown away that, yeah, this is a real school man. And when the newspapers asked them last year, what do you think about one city or he's about charters? They're like, look, we're not down with independent charter schools, et cetera.
And then when they ask, well, what about one city? So we'll, we'll we'll well that one, you know, that he had to say what he saw. And so. I just tell people that, you know, don't get caught up in these arguments for against the democratic is really going against charter schools now, which they started. Um, it's crazy for me, but, uh, we have to do what's best for our children and our local communities, regardless of how we get there.
And if you don't like the way charter schools are structured, then co-opt them, you know what I'm saying? Like, Build the cotton in schools that use it as a vehicle to build the kind of schools that we need, rather than just shooting it down and sticking with the model that you got, because a model that you got, it's not getting us there.
Um, so that's what I would say, brother, cause I can go on and on and on, but we got to create schools that are customized to what our children need. And so everything in my school, I tell people I get too much credit provision. Because I wasn't trying to just cast my vision. What I think is important. I was looking at well, what is working and how much of that?
I'm more of an architect come on with that. Can I build into my school? And we've had challenges, you know, with behavior and things like that, but it's stuff we make. We go at it, man. You know, we try to make things work. I'm really excited about this upcoming school year, too. And so anybody wants to learn from us.
You always have to go to our website, just go reach out to us. We'll talk to them. We share whatever. Oh, that's how we will share everything that we've got. Budgetary only thing I won't share is how much my employees make. Cause you don't need to know. Yeah. Well, we just dropped the, uh, the link to one city schools.org in a, in the comments here so that people can see it.
Your Twitter handle has been going, uh, throughout the show beneath its, uh, at care Coleen, um, on Twitter. And, and so we want people to be in touch and to share. Like shared across city lines, state lines, whatever's working. That's the way it happened with black education in history, um, was across city and state lines, black educators and others were sharing information with each other that made them all better.
So, um, I appreciate you, man. I wanna, I want you to come back again. I want to keep talking. We'll keep talking.