How Organizers Can, and Do, Make Conferences Accessible for Parents and Caregivers

by Vikki Law

Originally Published by www.Rewire.News

 

I still remember the first Allied Media Conference (AMC) that my daughter and I attended. It was June 2008; I was in the final editing stages of my first book and wanted to start talking about resistance and organizing among women behind bars. My daughter, who was 7 years old and already experienced in children’s programming at various political events, was eager to check out the conference’s newly established “Kids’ Track” that offered a handful of age-appropriate workshops about different types of media.

So I pulled her out of school and we headed for Detroit to spend three days among media makers from across the country. While I attended a training for women of colour, she and the other kids learned about the basics of block printing. While I participated in a panel discussion about incarcerated women’s voices, she learned how to design and cut out stencils, then spray paint them safely wearing a respirator and latex gloves. In between these workshops, she and the other kids (and adults) had a chance to play and have unstructured fun. She cried when it was time to leave; she had made new friends, learned new skills, and had an amazing time.

We returned the next year and were amazed to see that the Kids’ Track had ballooned from three children (and an occasional baby) to nearly two dozen. Since then, the Kids’ Track has grown even more into the “Kids’ Practice Space,” with several workshops specifically for children.

The AMC isn’t the only conference working to ensure that people with children can attend. Though conference policies—and the conversations around them—continue to evolve, many recognize the importance of ensuring accessibility for parents, caregivers, and children, especially when organizing for social change. When this happens, it not only enables caregivers and kids to attend a conference, but sends the message that they are valued members of and contributors to larger movements.

The annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference, entitled “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” is in its 31st year and has always provided child care.

“It’s not any harder than any other aspect of event planning,” Lucy Trainor, CLPP’s associate director, told Rewire. “It takes time and money to plan catering, it takes time and money to plan events, and it takes time and money to plan child care.” CLPP views accessibility as integral to its mission to fight for reproductive justice; thus, the conference not only offers child care, but also pays for speakers to travel with their children and, if necessary, pay for another adult to attend and help care for those children. “For us, it’s part of a larger commitment to access,” said Trainor, noting that the conference also provides financial support for speakers with disabilities to travel with their personal care attendants and language interpretation.

CLPP’s conference costs $285,000 to plan and produce. It takes place each year at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, which provides in-kind support, such as classrooms and lecture halls for the conference, as well as year-round office space. The college also allows conference organizers to draw on students for child care, which limits those expenses to only a few hundred dollars for supplies. But, said Trainor, “even if you do have to pay for child care, you budget for it.”

Facing Race, a three-day biannual conference dedicated to racial justice, does just that. Organizers have made sure to include child care in their budget since the 2010 conference in Chicago.

“A huge number of people in Facing Race are parents and caregivers,” explained Rosana Cruz, the organization’s leadership action network director. As the conference grew from 1,000 attendees in 2010 to more than 2,000 in 2016 (plus a waiting list of 500), organizers have pondered how to grow to accommodate families and caregivers. “After each conference, we think, ‘That was great, but we can do better,’” reflected Cruz.

For instance, she recalled that the 2014 conference did not have a room for nursing or pumping. As any parent who has ever breastfed can tell you, nursing or pumping requires a space that is quiet; a refrigerator is needed to store breast milk. This year’s conference included a breastfeeding and pumping room. “We also bought screens for privacy and rented refrigerators,” added Cruz. For the 2018 conference, organizers are thinking about expanding to offer programming for children and youth similar to the AMC’s Kids’ Practice Space.

The challenge for Facing Race, which takes place at a hotel in a different city every two years, is ensuring that accommodations work for children and caregivers. “We need to secure a space in a hotel room that’s big enough,” explained Cruz. The size of that space dictates how many children can be in child care. Child-care costs also include paying licensed and insured child-care providers as well as renting cribs and a projector to screen movies when a quieter activity is needed. But organizers see these efforts as integral to building their movement: “What makes it accessible is what makes it a great conference,” Cruz said.

“It’s a little extra brainwork for people who have never had to think about this,” Cruz, who is the parent of a teenager, reflected. “But if you’re determined, this is just a given. Just like you’d value amplified sound or a keynote speaker.” Plus, when put into the context of the entire conference, child-care costs are negligible; for Facing Race, organizers say paying child-care workers and buying supplies makes up less than half of 1 percent of the total conference.

AMC, meanwhile, costs more than $400,000 each year. Child care and the Kids’ Practice Space are only a fraction of that price tag, costing $1,400 and $2,500, respectively. The value of not only accessibility, but creating relationships with future media makers and movement builders, goes far beyond that fraction, Morgan Willis, the conference’s program director, said.

“The money comes next,” said Willis. “Once you figure out what you want to do, then you figure out the money.”

The AMC has never encountered hesitation from funders about child care and kids’ programming costs, which are explicit budget lines. Willis noted that, when seeking funding, AMC organizers explicitly talk about how accessibility—whether for people with disabilities or people traveling with children—can be expensive. “We articulate to grant makers what we’re asking for and why,” she explained. “We’ve never had pushback around accessibility. Funders have responded extremely well to that.”

When the Allied Media Conference began, she said, “none of us had kids. We weren’t thinking of ways to include kids; we were in our 20s.” While the conference has always offered child care, she recalled that the parents and caregivers in attendance pushed them to do more to include the youngest attendees in conference goings-on.

As the years went on and the Kids’ Track evolved into the Kids’ Practice Space, conference organizers, in turn, challenged presenters to make their content more accessible. “What does it look like when someone with very little experience is in your space?” mused Willis. “That’s where we received the greatest amount of pushback, from people used to traditional forms of presentation.” The pushback didn’t last long; instead, what ended up happening is that considering the presence of younger attendees encouraged speakers to present information more clearly, making it more accessible to everyone who attended, regardless of age.

Unlike CLPP, the AMC is not connected to the university where it takes place each year. But, Willis said, Wayne State University has never balked at having child care or kids’ programming on site. Of course, there were questions and concerns about liability, reflecting what Willis described as “a conception of kids exclusively as a liability,” but the conference and university administrators worked through it.

It’s not just conferences centered on social justice that make accommodations for caregivers and children. When Natalie DeYoung Ricci was asked to read her essay about death at this year’s BlogHer, a conference for women in social media, she was pregnant and expecting her first baby to be born the day of the conference. Knowing that first babies often arrive later than expected, she said yes with the caveat that she might not be able to attend. Rather than write her off, the conference organizers agreed to include her. Furthermore, they offered to have her Skype in from the hospital if she gave birth earlier.

Ricci’s son was born a week early. She contacted the organizers and asked if she could bring him. Not only were organizers willing to accommodate the new mother and infant, but they encouraged her to take as many breaks as she needed, bring him on stage with her, and bring her husband to take the baby from her if needed.

Exhausted from giving birth four days earlier, Ricci only stayed for her session. She said that not only organizers, but attendees welcomed her and her young son. The experience inspired her. “This is my first baby,” she told Rewire. “To know that I could still have a professional life outside of being a mother meant a lot to me.”

The experience also set her expectation that other conferences will be as flexible. “It demonstrates goodwill towards inclusivity of families,” she said. “Many writers struggle. Child care is not always affordable, or even an option.”

BlogHer does offer child care for attendees. “It’s very key for us,” Jenni Ottum, the public relations director of BlogHer’s parent company SheKnows Media, wrote in an email to Rewire. “We actually have a digital storytelling and a media literacy program called Hatch that takes place live during our conferences so kids have a place to go where they learn while their moms do the same thing.”

Some conferences are already seeing children return as teens and young adults ready to participate in the larger conference goings-on. Trainor has seen people who initially came to CLPP as children with their caregivers returning to participate in the larger conference as adults.

About one-third of the children and youth who attend the AMC return the following years. And now, conference organizers are beginning to read workshop proposals from people who first came as young children.

“We reached an interesting challenge in 2015 where the content for the Kids’ Practice Space was so good that the adults were knocking down the door,” recalled Willis. The number of adults crowded out children from attending two of the kids’ sessions. Another conference organizer asked, “Can we ask some of the adults to leave so kids can get in?”

Recalling that particular scenario, Willis added, “With over 350 sessions, you’d think you’d find something that wasn’t for kids!” But the popularity of the workshops indicated the quality of the programming offered to children and youth.

“I’m sure that there will be a very short time before we’ll be seeing people say, ‘I was 12 at the conference in Baltimore or Dallas and now I want to present my own workshop,’” reflected Facing Race’s Cruz.

The organizers of Facing Race, AMC, and CLPP see accessibility for families with children not only as essential, but, as Cruz puts it, an act that “pushes back against the rugged individualism that is a hallmark of white supremacy. So it’s not, ‘I don’t have kids’ or ‘I don’t need translation,’ so why should I pay for this? It’s ‘I love this conference because people who are monolingual, people who are deaf, people who have kids can come here.’”

They also note that, while child care is offered, none of the conferences require children to stay sequestered in separate spaces. “We think children deserve to be in these [conference] spaces,” said Trainor. “It’s positive to have younger members participating in these discussions. Children are not a distraction.”


 

Vikki Law
Victoria Law is a freelance journalist focusing on intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance and the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. Her next book, Your Home is Your Prison, critically examines proposed “alternatives” to incarceration and explores creative solutions that truly end mass incarceration.

Re-envisioning Our Communities

blue, black and white illustration of 3 brown kids happily eating cupcakes

Facilitated by: Shabina Lafleur-Gangji 

Why are so many of our QTBIPOC (queer and trans black, indigenous and people of colour) spaces so often inaccessible to parents and kids? What do we need to do to change that dynamic? How do we build community and movements of inter-generational voices that don’t just simply leave people behind when they have kids? These were the questions I was asking myself and so I decided to explore these questions in a roundtable discussion with a few racialized queer/trans parents.

Shabina: Can you introduced yourselves?

LeRoi: I’m LeRoi and I’m an educator at Africentric Alternative School and an organizer for BlackLivesMatter Toronto. I have a two and a half year old whom I’ve single-parented since he was born…although I recently decided to start co-parenting with someone who has always been FAM to us.

QueenTite: I am QueenTite, owner of Natty (natural mobile salon), Co- founding director of PFFD inc, and creator of QTPOC – Toronto. I am single mother to 18 year old Ayomide and 7 year old Iahnijah of Nigerian/Jamaican Roots.

Akio – I am human rights activist and  a Mother of 8 year old multiracial child of Black and Métis heritage with one on the way

Amandeep: My name is Amandeep Kaur and I have two kids aged 2 and 4 years.

Shabina: How do you find navigating queer/trans spaces as a parent? Do you find most spaces are accessible to you?

QueenTite: I find navigating queer spaces as a parent kind of challenging. I am still new to the city, so I haven’t had much opportunity to explore…but I don’t find [queer spaces] really available. Finding events that are family-friendly have been challenging.

Akio: Navigating queer spaces as a parent is hard, as it often feels like I have to create the spaces for myself or fight to have the space accessible to me and my spawn. Which I often don’t have time or energy for.

LeRoi: I find navigating queer/trans spaces as a parent to be challenging sometimes. There are some queer Black events and spaces that I’ve gone to that have been really dope for bringing kids, but I feel like there’s a lot of emphasis on creating queer/trans spaces for youth and not much for older people…I think lots of times people don’t think of making events accessible to parents if they haven’t grown up with lots of kids in their life. Also in terms of community organizing spaces sometimes there is just no effort to accommodate parents. I’ve brought my kid to meetings before when he was really little and spent the whole time chasing him around the hallways of Flemington Park Community Centre while everyone just continued their conversation.

S: What have you found really helpful in making community spaces accessible to you?

QueenTite: I have found having ECE (Early Childhood Education) educators present to engage the youths is helpful and a room equipped with fun stuff.

Akio: Most spaces aren’t accessible to me nor any of my intersectionalities.

POC spaces aren’t sex worker positive, queer spaces too white and all of them are very clique-y and no one considers that parents have value and therefore they should have accessibilities for us. So Basically I have to A) create my own, or B) work with/fight with the organizers to create space that’s safe and accessible (found this easier in queer white spaces than queer POC spaces)

LeRoi: What helps to make spaces accessible to me is parties in the daytime. They have this dope party for BIPOC queers in Oakland where people turn up from like 2 to 8pm. I really wish we had that here. Cuz even if I get childcare to go out at night, nobody’s tryin’ to wake up at 7am with my son.

LeRoi: Yea, childcare being offered is helpful to me, but I also like when people just find ways to make spaces engaging for kids, like the other day I went to the book launch for “I Love Being Black”. They had a bunch of play-dough set up in one corner of the rooms for kids to sit and play. There was food like samosas and cupcakes…and there was a big chalkboard for kids to write about what they love about being Black. So in that way it was like kids were invited to be part of the event and to contribute. That was dope.

QueenTite: I’d like a community of willing affordable sitters also.

LeRoi: Yes to affordable baby sitters…cuz sometimes you can’t bring your kid to childcare at an event. If they have to nap or something and they wont sleep in a room full of people. Also I like when I bring my kid somewhere and people explicitly tell me not worry about him making noise or crying…then I feel like I can relax a bit more

QueenTite: Sometimes I don’t want to beg my child – I want me time to network and such. But affordable sitters are not accessible to me. Charging nearly fifiteen dollars per hour with no masters in parenting.

Amandeep: That event sounds amazing! and I wanted to agree with the point about more affordable sitters..

LeRoi: I feel like what actually ends up making events more accessible to me when there’s no childcare offered is friends taking turns kicking it with my kid..taking him outside to go crawl all on stuff or into the hallway to be loud…Other parents I know end up being the ones to do that lots of the time.

Akio: yeah, always.

LeRoi: Also people in my life who spend time with my son ‘cuz they want to build a relationship with him and ‘cuz they have privilege and time…

QueenTite: I know nobody so I don’t have that option… I haven’t entered any cliques, it’s just me. But yes what a blessing – and a necessity.

Akio: Yep, the folks that usually want to help with my child are usually white people.

LeRoi: Yeah, I’ve had that experience too…

Amandeep: Having more folks want to make the trip to where I live cuz they want to spend time with my kids doesn’t happen often enough. I am fortunate to have my mom and my sister on occasion but feel I don’t have any other friends to rely on now.. the dayjam idea sounds too good though..its being intergenerational, being able to connect in different parts of the city with other queers of colour and parents and knowing who is close by through friends of friends would be great to try and build this in more local and accessible ways.

Akio: I like to keep my circle small and tight cause I’ve seen how folks treat their own and I’m not trying to have my private business out there for the local queer 6 o’clock news. So often I go it alone and for the most part I’m okay with that. Hired help when it can be afforded works for me.

LeRoi: Yeah, I love that. There’s a queer Black BBQ during Pride that is pretty dope like that…there’s also Queer Black FAM JAM that has lots of kids roll up usually.

S: What do you find are common problems with things like child care at events?

QueenTite: Problems with child care – not enough variety in the space for the age ranges – emphasis on the very young – older kids get slightly less attention. No, disability based thought put into spaces to accommodate a variety of abilities/disabilities.

Akio: They are subpar, not age appropriate and often boring.

LeRoi: Sometimes I have found that there aren’t enough people working in the childcare room and the childcare room is kind of just like mayhem. People need to realize that for babies/young toddlers the ratio should be 1 adult to two babies. The other thing is I feel like there isn’t respect for childcare being a position that requires a lot of skill and experience. Sometimes the people doing childcare aren’t trained properly and they’re just like “winging it”. Like my ex put her son in childcare at this event once and the person doing childcare let him tape his mouth shut with duct tape

Akio: Duct tape!!!

LeRoi: hahahahaha

Akio: See I’d need bail money. But I digress…

Amandeep: omg yes LeRroi.. haha..

LeRoi: I think this points towards….for those of us who are Black …sometimes when childcare is offered by white people there is a bit of a cultural disjunct. Like, I don’t want my child running up and down, doing any and everything.

S: What do you think people need to address in order make community space accessible to parents and children? How do we build intergenerational spaces?

QueenTite: More family based activities – co planning with the expectations of including youths. Create the activities we aim to see. Ensure that we see family based activities for all. This convo and thinking proactively is apart of it. Create solutions to the problems. Remove obstacles. Break the cliques apart…collaborate and connect – get kids together at BBQ family based days etc..

Akio: Advance planning, Invest in resources (money, activities etc), engage parents, age-appropriate child care.

LeRoi: What we need more of I think is an effort to make events accessible…we need people (not just parents) to clap back when you see events posted that don’t offer any childcare. We need people to value us…so for example if you are doing community organizing and you are used to calling your meetings with no notice, during the evening you are not gonna get parents out…especially single parents. Daytime parties. People who are not parents being like…okay let’s tag-team. I’ll go to that event for the first two hours and then I’ll watch your kid so you can go.

Akio: We can’t even…Folks barely recognize intergenerational folks much less. The thought or actions to make spaces. We gotta break it all down and build up from scratch with accountability and transparency.

LeRoi: That can be true so much of the time. I have seen some really dope things in practice though. Like I saw this daycare one time that was housed in an an elderly care facility which was really, really cool. And the kids got to interact with elders all the time at “school”. I would be really interest in working on a project like that/creating a space like that.

Akio: If I had a dollar for eeverytime I took my time and energy to help start something only to have the jancrow them fly over and either shit on it or take it as their own but LeRoi that would be amazing. Depending on the space. Old people can be unapologetically racist. Speaking as a nurse.

LeRoi: I would be envisioning something specifically for Black community. I feel like BIPOC in Canada have a lot issues finding appropriate care for our elders and appropriate education for our youths. Both need dignity and programming that is Black centered. Also we need more things like the Radical Monarchs, BlackLivesMatter Freedom School…programs for kids to be engage in what we are building in our communities

Akio: Toronto Child Care collective here in Toronto But it didn’t have the right clique to gain momentum But the more we create spaces for us by us the better we will be.

LeRoi: Childcare collectives are really dope though. I remember there was one in Montréal that offered free childcare for families without status and for events and ting. Also, they would do a March Break camp that was really cool where kids would learn to DJ and stuff.


LeRoi Newbold
Leroi Newbold is an artist, community organizer and an educator at Canada’s first public Africentric school.

QueenTite
I’m a winnipeg born, west coast grown, toronto based multidisciplinary artist. I AM; a black, proud, queer, Hybrid. My roots are laid in art, activism, education, black liberation, poetry, love, and in constant pursuit of more love. When I’m not busy changing the world, you can find me devoted to my personal projects which include; Co – Founding Prosthetics For Foreign Donation & owning Black Heir.

Instagram and Snapchat: @missqueentite

Akio
Akio is a Single mom, Human Rights activist, Educator and Community Organizer.

Justice in our Schools

Building Safety for Black Youth Living with ADD and ADHD

by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

 I recently caught up with Leroi Newbold, a bad ass teacher working in the Toronto District School Board doing amazing work with youth. This interview I did with him focuses on how Black youth living with ADD and ADHA are being impacted by ableism is schools and transformative solutions.

Shabina: Can you introduce yourself and the work you do? 

I’m LeRoi Newbold. I’m a community organizer with Black Lives Matter – Toronto, a parent, and an educator at the Africentric Alternative School at Keele and Sheppard in Toronto. On a daily, I teach Grade 1. I’ve taught Special Education and have taught in a “behavioral” classroom in the system. I work with Black kids who are struggling with being educated in a system that is oppressive, and I try to share some tools with them about how to resist in that system, or how to be successful through understanding how that system operates.

I am the co-founder of St. Emilie Skillshare in Montreal, which began as a skill-sharing organization to provide free studio time and photography/silkscreen lessons to people living in of South-West Montreal, and queer/trans *BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour). I am the founder and director of BlackLivesMatter – Toronto Freedom School, which is an arts based program to teach Black Liberation, political history and political resistance to young Black children (4-10 years-old). We especially focus on Black Liberation work done by and to support Black *cis women, queer, and transgender people, poor Black people, Black people in prison, and Black people living at the margins of our communities. We teach kids how to organize, how to use arts to communicate, and how to fight back against police violence and oppression.

I am on the steering committee of BlackLivesMatter – Toronto. So….we support people who want to speak out about police murders of their family members, and police violence. We also try to create space for Black artists making work in Toronto, hold systems accountable for state violence, encourage people to rely on each other for safety instead of police, and support alternatives to traditional schooling for Black kids etc.

 Shabina: What is an IEP and how are Black youth impacted by them?

An IEP is an Individual Education Plan. On paper an IEP is a seven page document that is written to outline how a child is going to get support over the course of a year in the Special Education system here in Ontario. The IEP outlines accommodation, which are things that a child might need to be successful in school like extra time on exams, different exam formats, condensed work etc. In some cases it outlines modifications, which is when a child’s whole curriculum is altered so for example, a child might be enrolled in Grade 4, but according to their IEP, they are working on elements of a Grade 2 curriculum as a point of departure.

On paper an IEP is a collaborative (so written together) by parents, classroom teachers, Special Education teachers, and principles. IEPs are in theory positive because they are personalized and student based. They outline a student’s strengths and needs, and the idea is to use a student’s strengths to address their needs. So for example, an IEP might stipulate that a child is very strong in music and that those strengths should be used to address their need to develop stronger reading skills or skills in mathematics. IEPs are also technically documents that hold teachers accountable to a plan for how to address a student’s needs, who may need support academically or even socially/emotionally.

The problem with IEPs is sometimes they are in fact not collaborative documents. Sometimes they are documents that teachers write and ask parents to sign without even properly explaining what they are. Sometimes they are documents that confuse parents because a child’s report card is reporting on their progress on their IEP instead of progress in the classroom. For example, a parent is seeing A’s on a child’s report card, but not understanding that their child is working below their Grade level. Sometimes IEP’s, are documents that criminalize kids and put families in danger because the IEP states that 911 should be called when a child does a certain behaviour, even though the child is 5 or 6 years- old. Sometimes IEPs are a problem because they lead to an actual lack of accountability. For example, a child may never fail a grade in school, but might remain on an IEP that says they are working at a Kindergraten level while they are enrolled in Grade 2, and then again while they are enrolled in Grade 3, and then again while they are enrolled in Grade 4. There is a lack of processes of accountability for teachers to ensure that the plan written in the IEP is met and that the child learns the things the IEP says they’re going to learn.

Shabina: Can you talk about some of the barriers set up for Black youth living with ADD, ADHA and other ‘behavioural disorders’ in the public school system?

One barrier is that ADD and ADHA are often treated as behavioural disorders. ADD/ADHA are not behavioural disorders. ADD and ADHD affect the executive functions of the brain. So in an educational setting, a child might need support directing their attention to a particular task or instruction. What a child does not need is escalating punitive measures related to the struggle they have with focus or attention, and therefore their tendency to get up and wander around or “distract” other kids. Punishing a child for the executive functions of their brain is very violent and very ableist.

This can be exacerbated by the fact that Black children are often read as defiant in a way that is not appropriate. In “Educating Other People’s Children” Lisa Delpit writes about the way white teachers tend to give verbal directives. She writes about how white teachers tend to give verbal directives in a way that is very passive aggressive (Ex: would you like to read a book? Ex: Is that where we put the scissors?). For Black children whose parents speak to them in very direct ways in their up-bringing, passive aggressive ways of speaking and interacting can be very confusing. Black children will often take what is being said at face value, and respond by saying, “No, I don’t want to read a book.” And then the child will be read and labeled as defiant even though they are just being honest. Passive aggressive verbal directives can be an even bigger problem for children who have communication based learning disabilities or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) because passive aggressive communication can be hard or impossible to understand.

Another issue for many Black communities and families is that education has been used as an instrument of colonization. So because of this, parents and families don’t trust the education system here even though education is a priority for Black families. There is also a breadth of research to suggest that Black communities have diminished trust in the health care system because of racism, mistreatment by physicians and having received substandard health care. Because of this, diagnoses for Black children with disabilities like ASD or ADHD might happen later in life or not at all. It is very hard for parents to effectively collaborate with teachers around things like IEPs when there is little or no trust there.

Shabina: How do you see the school-to-prison pipeline affecting Black youth with disabilities?

There has been a shift for people from talking about the school-to-prison pipeline to actually talking about schools as carceral (jail like) spaces. The case of a 6 year-old Black girl who was recently handcuffed at school by police in Mississauga clearly demonstrates how schools can act as carceral spaces for Black kids (especially Black kids with disabilities). A 6 year-old was handcuffed by police at her school because she was having an outburst, and potentially punched her principal. The child was 6 years-old, so weighed less than 50 pounds. For an adult principal (who is an authority figure within a school), being punched by someone who weighs less than 50 pounds and is 6 years-old might be surprising, but it does not present a threat to safety. When police arrived on scene the child was banging her head against her desk, which suggested that she was in emotional distress. It is likely that the child needed support processing her emotions, and that maybe she needed attention (maybe a hug) from an someone who cared about her and whom she trusted. The fact that the child had apparently had many incidents such as this, suggested that she may have needed ongoing social/emotional support. Instead, the police were called. Instead of de-escalating the situation, the police then handcuffed the child by her wrists, as well as by her ankles. This was an act of excessive and humiliating violence, and one that will be potentially traumatic for a very young child. What leads an adult principal (trained to support children) to seek the assistance of a police officer (whose job is address crime) in calming down a 6 year-old child is anti-Black racism.

In 2008, Toronto Police Services implemented something called the SRO (School Resource Officer) program. The SRO Program is part of TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy). TAVIS is a program that was implemented to curb gun violence by increasing police presence in specifically designated areas of Toronto, which included many Black neighbourhoods. The SRO program specifically placed police officers in a number of schools across Toronto with the goal of improving relationships between youth and police. By 2011, about fifty schools had School Resource officers, including a large number of schools in majority Black neighbourhoods, and including not only high schools but elementary schools (serving children from 3 and a half to 12 years-old). This means that Black children increasingly have police present in their schools, and police brought in to assist with conduct issues and conflicts between students and between students and teachers. This affects Black children in many ways.

This affects Black children and youth psychologically. They may wonder why it is a necessary to have a police officer present in their place of learning to survey them constantly. It affects Black children in terms of increased violent incidents with police. We remember the case of Spring Valley High School where a police dragged a teenage Black girl out of her desk and threw her against a wall. It affects Black children with disabilities because Black students with behavioural “exceptionalities”/disabilities are often the ones being suspended and going through other punitive processes at school. It affects Black children with disabilities because they are then at an increased risk being referred to Ontario Youth Corrections due to their behaviour at school. It affect Black children because youth are one of the fastest growing prison population in Ontario, and so are Black women.

 Shabina: Can you talk about some transformative models used to implement disability justice within a classroom to keep Black youth in particular safe, nurtured and humanized?

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense created a school called the Oakland Community School, and the school did not use punitive measures such as detention, suspensions, expulsions, or even timeouts. Instead they had something called the Youth Justice League. Through the Youth Justice league, youth (in the presence of an adult) would be responsible for addressing conduct issues that occurred in the classroom. For example, a young child who did not do their homework would go to the Youth Justice League for what they called “course correction”. The youth would ask the children why for example, they didn’t do their homework. The child would then outline the reason why they didn’t do their homework. The youth justice league would suggest ways for the child to correct the issue. They would ask the child what support they needed in making the correction. This is an example a transformative justice model because the Oakland Community School transformed the circumstances in which education took place. It transformed dynamics of power so that Black and Latinx communities decided what kind of education was appropriate for their children. It transformed dynamics of power in that it gave opportunities to youth to experience the same power as teachers (decide on course content, co-teach lessons etc). In an event that a conduct issue arose it gave power to children in terms of being accountable to each other rather than an authority figure. They were given a chance to talk about their level of engagement in what they were learning, and being given support to address their own behaviour. This is crucial for children with disabilities because punishment is not appropriate when your what is seen as inappropriate behaviour might happen because of a cognitive disorder or something else beyond your control. Disabilities justice means that transforming the spaces that we are part of to be accessible and sustainable and to prioritize people with disabilities. People with disabilities cannot be honoured within an educational institution that corrects atypical behaviour through punishment, isolation, violence, or humiliation.

Shabina: How can teachers stand in solidarity with Black youth living with ADD and ADHD?

1.Teachers working within the system should recognize ourselves as an arm of the state, and therefore an arm of state violence. We must, wherever possible, intervene in the routine intervention into and harassment of the Black family by police and Childrens Aid Society.

2.Nerotypical people and neurotypical adults must take leadership from people with disabilities in how to transform our classrooms and educational spaces into spaces that are accessible.

3.Educators must respect, love, and share power with Black families, students, and communities


Leroi Newbold
Leroi Newbold is a parent, community organizer, and educator and curriculum designer.  Leroi is inaugural staff and Grade 1 teacher at Canada’s first public Africentric School.  He organizes on the steering committee of BlackLivesMatter – Toronto and is the director of BlackLivesMatter – Toronto Freedom School.

Shabina Lafleur-Gangji
Shabina is a queer mixed race weird witchy lady from Guelph who is into community organizing and revolution.