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Arts & Culture

"Pipeline" offers perspective to Buffalo Public School District

Thomas O'Neil-White

Last week, students, parents, and Buffalo Public School District faculty explored the themes represented in the play Pipeline at the Ujima Theater.

Actress Shanntina Moore spoke with Buffalo Public School faculty, parents and students about the traumas children of color bring to school with them every day.

Moore stars in the Dominique Morisseau play Pipeline, as Nya, a mother struggling to keep her teenage son Omari on the right path after he gets in trouble for assaulting a teacher at his private school.

The name pipeline is in reference to the school-to-prison pipeline, a national trend zero tolerance suspension policies funneling school children out of schools and into the prison system. The play puts into focus Omari’s internal and external struggles as a young black man in a predominantly white school.

BPS Administrator Tanika Shedrick said the play hit home for her as an educator and as a mother.

“Oftentimes in schools across America our African American students are treated as if they are adults,” she said. “Or given harsher disciplinary actions or consequences. Or treated as if they’re not children who are still learning.”

Credit Thomas O'Neil-White

Shedrick worries her son will be looked at and treated differently because of the color of his skin.

Dr. Fatima Morrell is Associate Superintendent of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Initiatives in the Buffalo Public School District.

She said the school to prison pipeline is a hot topic in the community and the play explores issues which are relatable to the work the Buffalo Public School District is currently doing.

“It really is a great extension of our disproportionality work around culturally responsive practice.” Morrell said. “And this year we’re really looking at the school to prison pipeline and how we can how we actually disrupt and erase that pipeline.”

She said suspension rates among Buffalo Public School’s black and brown students has been in decline for several years.

Credit Thomas O'Neil-White

Buffalo Academy of the Performing Arts student Aleigha Floyd said what she saw in the character Omari, she sees in her own brothers.

“Omari’s struggle in being an African American male,” she said.  “With that anger, and having to be such a sweet and kind person, but also having people be afraid of you.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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