How do we know inequity is hurting kids in Humboldt County?
We know community members, particularly the many caring professionals working with youth, want all youth and students to have abundant opportunities to succeed in family, work and life. While our individual and collective intentions may be the best, data helps us see honestly where we need to focus attention, intention and time to actually achieve equitable outcomes. Data in a variety of sectors helps us see that we have work to do as a region to make that so. There are a growing number of websites and reports where school or district outcomes illustrate racialized disparities, including:
- The United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights Data Collection now releases data every other year on racial disparities and other forms of discrimination in most schools and school districts (where the data exists), from pre-K through 12th grade. The data shows which groups of students each school suspends, who gets referred to police, who gets arrested at school and who gets access to high quality teachers and advanced courses. Find that data here.
- Educational outcomes reflect the wealth and privilege of where you live as well as the color of your skin -- even in Humboldt County. Data from the New York Times 2016 report and online tool Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares shows structural disparities (over time, geography and influenced by many policies and institutions) between wealth and school district performance, searchable by most U.S.school districts. Illustrating a wide gap in racial and wealth factors influencing school outcomes in Humboldt County, for example, the Jacoby Creek School District student population is 73% white and 12% Latinx, with an average $99,000 average household income in the highest quartile, and a student body that performs one grade level above average. In contrast, the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District student population is 86% Native American and 10% white, average household income in the district is in the lowest wealth quartile with an average $35,000 household income, and the student body performs at 2.6 grade levels below average.
- Data from a recent report by the Community College Equity Assessment Lab titled From Boarding Schools to Suspension Boards shows that Humboldt County has two school districts rated in the top 10 statewide for the highest rates of suspension of Native American students.
- Children in Humboldt County are placed in foster care at two times the rate of children statewide. Of those children placed in foster care, 35.7% were Native American, even though Native Americans make up only 7% of the county's population overall.
What are we doing to help?
We are working with community members, school districts and organizations to recognize, address and change equity outcomes for local kids.
What does change look like, and how does it happen? For some people, it starts with a challenge close to home.
Chuck Powell, a Humboldt County resident since 1979, describes himself as having been in a “comfortable” place on the issue of race. The owner of a successful small business who raised two children in the area, he once considered it a badge of honor to be “colorblind,” or ignoring the rich differences in people’s race and ethnicity, and the diversity of experience and truth that comes with those differences.
“That was my aspiration, that was my comfort zone,” he says. “Then my youngest son married a woman of color. And he said, ‘Someday you’re going to have grandchildren of color. Being colorblind isn’t good enough. I need you to be more than that.”
Powell says he “took a deep breath.” It was hard, he says, having his cultural norms and assumptions that he didn’t need to examine his own relationship to racism as a “white liberal” challenged, to be told he needed to try harder, dig deeper. But he heard the call. He went to a three-day seminar in Berkeley that his son and daughter-in-law recommended.
“It just broke me open entirely," says Powell of the training from StirFry Seminars & Consulting, which offers diversity training and consulting that address issues of conflict, anger and hurt. “It broke me open emotionally, culturally. It broke me open in terms of my privilege. I came back from that and I was so distraught, excited, fired up. Once home I talked to some friends I have here… who pointed me to the Humboldt Area Foundation Racial Equity Roundtables, and I've been participating ever since.”
Powell says that every Racial Equity Roundtable he attends through Equity Alliance of the North Coast produces at least one “Ah Ha” moment for him. Those moments help him make personal change internally and facilitate it in others who want to take a similar journey toward being an increasingly fair and respectful person like Powell intends to be.
Powell is invested in helping. He’s currently the leader of the equity arcata working group helping business owners in Arcata develop ways to make their businesses welcoming for all community members of color, after hearing complaints over the last several years about patterns of discriminatory experiences. He sees many people working together “leading the community to a deeper place of awareness,” respect and inclusion, beyond just being “colorblind.”
Internally, he sees his own shift measured in units of time.
“My experience as a white man is that… when my biased reality is challenged, the lag time between the feeling of that challenge and then feeling and saying ‘I hear you, I get it,’ has gone from days or hours down to minutes.” That change he says “is in no small part due to the Humboldt Area Foundation Roundtables. It’s really important work. It’s comforting to me to know that HAF will continue serving the community with the Roundtables.”