Today we’re excited to share the first episode of our HOPECAST series of conversations regarding education equity and the hope we have for students coming out of various initiatives we’re seeing happen across the country.
Listen in as Chris LaTondresse and Nicole Fulgham Baker of The Expectations Project share updates on the upcoming Justice Conference and a uniquely creative partnership with Kirk Franklin via the Omaze platform.
CHRIS: Hi, welcome to HopeCast. This is Chris, your host with the Expectations Project. I’m here today with Nicole Baker Fulgham, who is the founder and president of the Expectations Project. In HopeCast Episode 1, we’re kicking off this series of short broadcasts, hopefully, weekly, where we’ll be giving you access to expert perspectives, faith-based leaders that we interfaced with around the country, answering questions you’ve got about education equity or maybe something you are dealing with in your own backyard and also give you some tangible ways to address educational quality. Also, this is a format that we were really excited about because in addition to having conversations with experts and influencers, this format is designed to give you a voice. So, when we schedule these shows, what you know about it, you can dial in and ask questions in the comments. And at some point, you may even be a guest in the show, so we’re excited to be working with you on this. Nicole, thank you so much for being with us today. We’re really excited to get this started.
NICOLE: Sure, me, too. Let’s do it.
CHRIS: Great! So, our topics today, we’re going to talk about our exciting new partnership with Kirk Franklin around the Hope For Students campaign and share a little bit about what that campaign is about. Number two, you’ll see that on the Hope For Students website, that’s hopeforstudents.org. We’ve launched a new feature called The Weekly Roundup. We’re going out and identifying some stories in the cross-section of public life, education equity maybe, they even bumped up against faith that we think are worth reading or that offer a perspective that’s worth reflecting on. And, this will be a setting where we reflect on those each week. And then, number three, we’re going to be talking of the Justice Conference which we have coming up next week. And Nicole, you are a speaker of that conference. And we’re going to be hosting a free conference with Bread for the World. So, let’s get started. Nicole, we just recently launch this partnership with Kirk Franklin. Can you tell us a little bit more about Kirk Franklin? I know you have the opportunity to go visit him to talk about education equity. Tell us about that meeting, what you’ve learned about his passion for this issue.
NICOLE: Yeah, first of all, it’s definitely a thrill to get a chance to spend some time with Kirk Franklin and some members of his management team. I’ve been a Kirk Franklin fan, so I definitely had a bit of a fangirl moment when I first met him. I think I was pretty chill and professional. But, it was great to have a chance to meet someone who’s in so much for the Christian music industry. And I think, really, he is a forward thinker and performer and an artist in the space. But, I think what really stood out for me is his compassion and his commitment to this issue of education equity. It’s very personal for Kirk, and I think he shared his story about some of the challenges he had in highschool and when he thought he didn’t get in his own high school where he grew up. He and his wife, Tammy, they have five kids in their family, and it’s such an important issue for them, personally. I’m sure that their kids get what they really need in school in able to be successful. They have a child. I think one child, who is now in college. And it’s very important for their family. So, it was great to hear him speak from that personal place, why it matters to him in contrasting what he didn’t get to what he hopes all kids get. It was actually, really very powerful and moving.
CHRIS: So, it sounds like for him, this isn’t just a cause. This is something that’s deeply personal to him that’s written in his own background story and experience and really drives his commitment to the issue.
NICOLE: Yeah, I really think that it does, and he’s such a transparent performer and minister, who I think, really, because he’s so real and so honest. It helps people feel connected to him because they can see themselves as some of the challenges he may have experienced, or just the things he has overcome in his life and with his family. And, this is definitely one of those issues. Again, he spoke pretty candidly about the fact that he didn’t graduate from high school and just had some challenges in that environment. And, he wants to make sure that no other kids sort of face those challenges and clearly his story is a story of success and overcoming. He has accomplished so much, but that’s not always the case for kids who dropped out of high school as we know. And I think he’s very aware of it and that he wants to make sure that kids get a chance to achieve all the potential that God’s put in them. And that’s so much of what he talks about in his music and when he ministers about his purpose and destiny and, being the best that God has for you and really seeking the face of God in everything that you do. And, I think from his perspective, that includes the role of Christian should play in helping to really improve an area of our country that has a lot of challenges — the public education system and what it looked like from that system to be sort of redeemed and represent God’s best. So, I think for him it’s very personal and very much passion work for him.
CHRIS: And in fact, that’s one of the reasons why we started this Hope for Students campaign. We’re so excited to have his partnership because, you know, Kirk, in many ways, he is a big time celebrity, a Gospel recording artist, well-known, but his own story bumps up against this issue in a really important way. And, every single one of us, we talked about often, if the Expectations Project has an education story. But, what we’re really hoping for this Hope For Students campaign is that people of faith, people like Kirk, people like any of you listening here at home will really take this on as a cause. Or at least take that next step, think about how you can pray for the students in the school, either right in your neighborhood or maybe across town where students aren’t getting the same opportunities. And, one opportunity that we have for you for the Hope for Students campaign is to stand up and be counted, to raise your hand as somebody who cares about this issue or asking people to take this Hope for Students pledge. If you want to take the pledge today, you can text the word HOPE to the number 44144. Again, that’s the word HOPE to the number 44144. That will give you a little bit more information about the Hope for Students pledge. We will give you the opportunity to sign up for it. We’ll resource you with perspectives from experts and other faith leaders, and also just give you some tangible ways to get more involved and look for more just in the coming weeks, we got really exciting announcement coming up, the Justice Conference, specifically around the Hope for Students campaign, your involvement and what Kirk’s gonna be doing in the next couple of months. You know your observation about Kirk’s background, I think it’s a really interesting segue to our conversation about our weekly roundup. Our weekly roundup, as I said earlier, stories that we’re going to be posting on a weekly basis that spotlight certain issues on education equity. This week in the round up, we’re spotlighting this really significant report that came out from GAO this past week on, I believe, it was the 62nd anniversary of the Brown versus Board of Education decision. And, this report show that six decades after the Supreme Court outlawed segregating students by race, that there’s still this stubborn disparities that persist and how our country educates foreign minority children. One of the findings of this study showed that in the 2013, 2014 S.Y., 16% of our nation’s public schools have high concentrations of poor black and Hispanic students. And that’s up from 9% at the start of the millennium. So, in just 15 years, our schools were roughly 9% segregated about 15 years ago, and now there’s 16% segregated largely along lines of race and class. Nicole, given your background, as an education expert, as you taught in low income public schools, mostly with Black and Brown populations, what stood out to you about this report as an education expert, but also as a parent and a person of faith?
NICOLE: It’s so disturbing and so troubling, Chris. You know, I talked about my own experience, usually when I think about the role in the segregation place in our schools. And you know, my parents, my dad in particular grew up in the south and went into segregated schools in North Carolina and I can’t imagine how my grandparents fought so hard to ensure that my dad in elementary school had a chance to eventually go to integrated schools and go into college. I can’t imagine, they would have fought, you know, here we are, 62 years after the Brown decision and we’re still faced with this issue. And, yeah, there are tons of things wrapped up and part of it is, you know, where kids go to school and where they live, and we know residential segregation is still very strong in our country. People do tend to segregate by race, and it’s partly driven, of course, by economics, where you can afford to live. But, there’s a lot more to it, right? We know that when a neighborhood gets to be a certain percentage African American, White fights still happens. And this can be a neighborhood of African Americans or Latinos who are incredibly well-educated who have their PHDs. We have these issues still happens almost across the board, right? There’s something inside of us, as humans that we need to deal with. Why is it that we assume about people who don’t look like us often, and everyone and a lot of us do. But the troubling piece there is that, you see not only segregation in schools but segregation of resources. This article and this report also talked about the fact that fewer than half of the schools that are deeply segregated with high concentrations of African American, Latino kids have the same type of AP courses, the advanced math courses, which we know are huge barriers for kids getting into college. These courses are the gatekeepers. Because We know college acceptance is getting so much more competitive, and so if kids in those schools don’t have access to the same high expectations, same resources, the same rigor of just classes, right? Just having access to take a class that we know is necessary for college, they’re just already behind the curve. It’s just painful to read as a parent. You know, there’s an intrinsic value and the human value of wanting to have our kids have experiences with kids who are not like them or not from the same racial background in school. There’s huge value. This world is so diverse and so much more global than it was, you know, 40 years ago and the damage being done to kids who are raised in an All-White school quite frankly. When I say damage, you know, in many cases, getting a good education but they’re not given the opportunity and the privilege of getting to build relationships with kids of different backgrounds. But long term, you know that’s the challenge for them at some point in their life and in their career. But, for us, as Christians, it’s not the image of the body of Christ, and we know we have our own issues with segregation on Sunday mornings. They were still working through and that’s real. But, we know in this space, not allowing kids to have those relationships, is just a challenge, I think, all the way around.
CHRIS: Yeah, you bet, how can we form young people into not just productive citizens, but in an era of polarization, really bitter political fights, I mean, empathy is really important issue. And certainly people of faith, we believe the compassion and important virtues but only surrounded by people that looked like us that come from similar backgrounds. That’s the big problem which not to mention the fact that, you know, some many of our nation’s students just aren’t getting what they need academically. Well, I think that’s an interesting segue into our next topic which is the Justice Conference. So, next week, the Expectations Project is going to be partnering with the Justice Conference in Chicago, in a big way. Nicole, you’re gonna be one of the plenary speakers on Friday night. Also, co-hosting a pre-conference track with Bread for the World which is a Christian hunger advocacy organization, specifically around this challenge of childhood poverty in America which connects directly to the issues raised in that GAO report. Can you talk to us a little bit about the Justice Conference and what’s that moment, what this event represents for Christians and how that gives us a little bit of an insight into broader Christian engagement with issues of social injustice?
NICOLE: Sure, I am really thrilled and honored to have a chance to be involved at the Justice Conference this year in Chicago next month. And, you know, this conference is, with the name alone, I think it speaks for itself, right? It’s focusing on justice and making the world more equitable. And in the last, you know, 15 or 20 years, but really in the last 10 years I would say, you’ve really seen the Christian community at large, step even more deeply into the space, and they have been of course, Christians and people of faith have been fighting justice issues since the beginning of time. But, we’ve seen, I think, a broader group of people stepping into the justice issues and education and equality, what we’ve been talking about Chris, and it just fits squarely and sort of in the middle of that. And, so to have a chance to speak about this issue in front of people that are deeply committed, it’s an opportunity to really speak on behalf of those who often don’t have a voice — kids who are on the margins in our societies, families who are on the margins who have such power and potential, right there, but often don’t get a chance to just speak and be heard. And, that’s what my work is really about, ensuring that those communities have the power that we know already exists sort of being elevated. And, in the Justice Conference is the perfect chance to do that and even partnering with an organization like Bread for the World who again has been in the forefront. I would say an advocacy of poverty issues specifically hunger for years to be able to merge these 2 issues together, to partner because we know that the challenges of kids in poverty go far beyond having challenging schools, right? There are kids who are suffering with, you know, hunger, food and security. And coming to school hungry it’s hard, right? To focus on learning to read or do fractions when your stomach is empty or kids who are experiencing other traumatic events in their lives oftentimes connected to living in poverty. It’s just i think a wonderful place to marry these two issues and to speak to people about the whole challenge of educating kids, who are often growing up in some pretty tough circumstances.
CHRIS: Yeah, and that’s what we’re gonna be doing at that justice pre-conference. It’s going to be about childhood poverty more broadly, but we’re gonna be offering up education equity and domestic hunger as to real powerful case studies and what domestic poverty looks like in the U.S. Can you give us a little bit of a teaser on what you’re going to talk about Friday night from the main stage? I know, you know, I have discussed that a little bit. Specifically, I prefer you talking about wanting to bring more of a frame about not just how poverty and income inequality affects our education system, but specifically race and our nation’s longstanding, just, injustices and inequities on that level.
NICOLE: Yeah, definitely, I mean I think a lot of issues in our country is I think more comfortable for people to talk about education inequality from the lens of class because money and sort of social economic status just is less loaded. And I would say issues of race in our country, for all the reasons we know, the history of our nation. But, look, it’s real. You know, race continues to play a role historically, it helps explain a lot of why our schools are the way they are today. We can’t ignore the legacy of everything from, you know, slaves, not being allowed to read, to Jim Crow, to kids in Southern States, who spoke Spanish, not being allowed to attend schools, which, you know, were designed for White children or children from native communities, indigenous populations being pulled from reservations to go to schools that basically shoot them off their culture because it was the law. And, that is some heavy stuff, and it’s uncomfortable and I get why we don’t like to talk about it. But, you know what? We have to because it’s part of the challenge left with the legacy of schools still being segregated, and we can see from that the study we just talked about, it’s not just segregated. Right, round resort of education. You know, this study we just talked about, is still happening. And, it’s not just the kids are going to school with kids who don’t share their same racial identity, but then, resources that are connected to that have all of this inequality that’s preventing, creating barriers for kids of color. It’s everything from potential bias that, you know, really well intentioned teachers may have from certain communities and backgrounds. It’s messy. But, the church is called to be reconcilers and for those of us and people of faith, this is, again, another space where we should be speaking about it and get over our issues talking about it, and be okay to address it because it does have systemic issues in our schools.
CHRIS: Well, we’re certainly looking forward to getting a recap on The Justice Conference perhaps in our next HopeCast and maybe a little bit of a snapshot of what you actually talked about, Nicole. And that brings our conversation today to a close. This will be fairly short conversations. Again, we’d like to invite all of you to, if you haven’t already, take the Hope for Students pledge. Text the word HOPE to 44144. I’ve taken the pledge. Nicole, you’ve taken the pledge. Kirk Franklin had taken the pledge. We want everybody listening to this right now to take the pledge. And I will be asking you about it on the next podcast. Thank you Nicole for being with us today.
NICOLE: Thanks, Chris.
CHRIS: And hope, we’ll have a conversation with all of you soon.