Black Education Strategy Roundtable receives grant to advance racial equity

Federal Way-based organization aims to create equitable educational opportunities for Black students.

A local organization working to ensure equitable educational opportunities for Black students recently received a racial equity grant from Kaiser Permanente.

The Federal Way-based Black Education Strategy Roundtable (BESR) addresses statewide systemic changes in the public school systems to result in better outcomes for Black students, said Executive Director Steve Smith.

BESR aims to undo aspects of the long history of racism Black people have faced by focusing on students of color, Smith said, and if action is taken to address these educational injustices, then all students will benefit from collective changes.

In March, Kaiser Permanente announced four community-based nonprofits in Washington would receive grants totaling $500,000 with focus on civic engagement, policy changes, and the cultural development of healthcare, education and business.

The grants aim to dismantle discriminatory policies, systems and practices, according to Kaiser Permanente, and will impact nearly 52,000 individuals statewide.

“Too often the education system has looked at Black students and seen … a variety of deficits that they think ‘we have to be sorry for these kids and help support them and not challenge them too much,’” Smith said.

BESR wants to change this mindset, Smith said.

“Our students need to be challenged. They need to be challenged academically, we need to have high expectations for them. They are capable of doing this work,” he said. “It’s really irresponsible for us graduating students who are not well educated.”

The grant funding helps further the Black Students Report Card project, an analysis of strengths to highlight the genius and capability of Black students, Smith said.

“We want to create a narrative around ‘who is a Black child?’” Smith said.

BESR is taking time to conduct interviews with the board of directors, partner organizations, community leaders, parents and students statewide to craft together this narrative, which will serve as the foundation of the report card.

These report cards will include qualitative and quantitative data to shape future education policies, he said, and ultimately, tell stories of Black students, families and communities.

“The pandemic has been good in showing that we can get things done and do them differently. It doesn’t always have to be the way that we’ve always done it,” he said.

It’s as if a curtain that was hiding the conditions and challenges across the country has been pulled back, revealing a lack of connectivity and internet access, he said. As these disparities and weaknesses show up, BESR members identify which areas need reshaping and how to do so.

Some of their prior work includes diversifying the student make-up in Advanced Placement courses statewide and advocating for collections of performance data for students who identify as Native American, Pacific Islander, Black and other communities of color.

Other local recipients include Africatown Community Land Trust, Bryd Barr Place in partnership with the Tubman Center for Health and Freedom, and Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle in partnership with Tacoma Urban League.

The four grants are part of Kaiser Permanente’s initial $8.15 million investment of a $25 million commitment to racial equity and ending systemic racism in healthcare and the accompanying trauma cast on both individuals and communities of color.

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