SA employees gathered on Wednesday, December 1 at the network office (and virtually) to discuss The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. The following article covers the revelations of their discussion, including additional resources and concrete steps we can take to effect social change.
At SA, we are committed to engaging in productive conversations about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) topics to expand our viewpoints and promote accountability in the workplace. To spark these conversations, we initiated network-wide readings, starting with The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
Employees read and unpacked the text — which our high school scholars read in their US History & Government classes — in small groups across schools and network office teams. These discussions culminated with a network-wide book talk hosted by our CEO Eva Moskowitz and SA-HSLA-HA Senior Leader Dan Rojas on Wednesday, December 1.
Originally published in 2010, The New Jim Crow has inspired a new wave of activists to put criminal justice reform at the forefront of the racial justice movement. Alexander, a former civil rights lawyer, argues that the American system of mass incarceration is the New Jim Crow.
Participants in the network discussion talked through the book in chronological order, focusing on the ways in which white politicians and law enforcement target people of color — particularly black men — through the War on Drugs and other campaigns, labeling them as felons and subsequently relegating them to a second-class citizenship. America has been reluctant to face this difficult truth; the predominant narrative is one of color-blindness, even while millions of African Americans are imprisoned and denied basic civil and human rights like access to jobs, housing, and the democratic process upon reentry.
In her book, Alexander writes, “A new social consensus must be forged about race and the role of race in defining the basic structure of our society if we hope ever to abolish the New Jim Crow. This new consensus must begin with dialogue, a conversation that fosters a critical consciousness, a key prerequisite to effective social action.” And that’s our goal as an enterprise.
Recently, we completed unconscious bias and DE&I training designed to promote respect and diversity of thought, ensuring everyone can be their authentic selves within our culture; however, our network discussion of The New Jim Crow showed us that issues of racial injustice are pervasive throughout society. The general consensus was that the book is correct: social change will require more than just legal support on a case-by-case basis; the criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul.
For more information on this issue, check out New Yorkers United for Justice, NYC Books Through Bars, or one of the nonprofits Alexander highlights on her website. You can make a difference by writing letters to incarcerated people, forging humanizing connections with those cut off from the outside world, and learning more about this issue by consulting other forms of media, including the podcast Incarceration, Inc. with Van Jones.
Education is a powerful tool; we must continue to educate ourselves as well as our scholars. According to Adam Schaefer, a Lead on the COVID Command Center at the network office, conversations like these “give one hope that through the transformational power of education, the generations of scholars we are teaching will go on to hold positions of power and authority to help design a more just society.”
As an enterprise, we look forward to our next reading and discussion. In the meantime, we encourage staff to consult the DE&I Library — Literacy for Equity — now live on the EIL for school staff and Network Central for Network employees.