By Jarred Meeks
On Sept. 11, a Columbia University professor posed the question of how to make sure all school children in the community feel they belong at Zionsville schools.
Cornelius Minor, a Brooklyn-based educator, works with teachers, school leaders and community-based organizations to advocate literacy reform that promotes equality in various cities throughout the United States and around the world.
Minor spent time working with Zionsville teachers this summer, listening to concerns they had about diversity and inclusion in their classrooms.
He presented some of his insights to the community as part of the Zionsville Community School’s “Everyone Belongs” series at the Zionsville Community High School Performing Arts Center.
“For so many of our young people, school is a place where they feel similar feelings, where they feel like I have to mute or erase or silence essential parts of my humanity in order to fit in here,” Minor said. “So, a lot of my work this year has been driven by one question: How do I make school a place where you don’t have to erase yourself?”
Minor explained that girls are often under-represented in many science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.
“We know children of color, in schools, specifically, continue to be suspended at exponential rates compared to their white peers,” Minor said.
Addressing such issues, along with others, has become the primary focus of Minor’s mission.
In an effort to tackle “systems of oppression,” Minor wants to instill specific strategic values in Zionsville and other communities. One of the values is what Minor calls “aspirational discomfort,” the notion that to be better, communities have to step outside of what feels comfortable.
He also pushed for inclusivity, empathy and flexibility when talking to students. For example, Minor emphasized the importance of making an effort to talk to kids three times. Some children, Minor said, won’t open up the first time a teacher tries to address them. It might take up to three times.
And if that doesn’t work, Minor recommends sending another adult to talk to student, up to another three times if necessary, to create an environment where children feel adults are taking an active interest in their life and education.
Minor also said real change can come when parents and community members advocate for access and equality for children who aren’t necessarily their own.
“It’s really easy to think about our kids, the kids we know,” Minor said. “One really easy way to think about crafting a more inclusive Zionsville is to simply ask yourself the question: Who are the kids here who don’t have parents like me who would show up and advocate for them?”