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'The time is now': WNY educators rally to end systemic racism in schools

Ryan Zunner/WBFO News
Supporters gathered in front of city hall during the rally, and in Niagara Square.

Educators from across Western New York gathered yesterday on the steps of Buffalo City Hall for the second time as an act of solidarity to combat systemic racism in the education system.

Credit Ryan Zunner / WBFO News
Dr. Demario Strickland serves as the principal at the Harvey Austin School. He admits he isn't perfect himself, but wants educators to recognize their faults and work towards a better future.

Longtime Buffalo teacher James Payne, who along with many other educators, composed the Change Starts With Me rally.

“There is nothing you can do if you’re not committed to embracing our students and embracing the educational apparatus of the school in which they’re at," Payne said.

The movement not only recognizes systemic racism in schools, but calls on educators from all backgrounds to be the first step towards solution.

“At Harvey Austin, we talk about the students having a significant input in terms of what is taking place," Payne said. "The students buy into it, because the principal has bought into, because the teachers have bought into it. Because they understand not only are we there for work, but we are a collective family.”

That Harvey Austin School principal, Dr. Demario Strickland, said the time is now to act.

“The time is now for all of us to share these inadequacies," Strickland said. "The time is now for us to do something about our widening opportunity gap, the time is now for us to use testing as a guide for further instruction of our students, and not as a marker for their intelligence.” 

Other educators who spoke at the rally talked about how a collective effort is needed. Whether it’s how they engage their students in education, opening dialogue on things like culture and race, and making sure students have a voice and aren’t marginalized to what they see as a “school to prison system.”

Another gathering is being put together by the group, this time being a virtual "town hall" where organizers with Change Starts with Me hope to continue a dialogue with educators, and the community alike.  

Ryan Zunner joined WBFO in the summer of 2018 as an intern, before working his way up to reporter the following summer.
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