The conversation that will be happening in Muskegon Heights Saturday, Jan. 18, is one that is occurring across the country:
How do we change a system in which black girls overwhelmingly and disproportionately face discriminatory, punitive and unfair treatment in schools?
How do we change a system in which black girls are being suspended, expelled, referred to law enforcement, and arrested on school campuses at rates that far exceed their white peers?
How do we make our schools a place of healing, instead of a place of punishment—instead of a place where black girls are pushed out of schools and into prisons?
“Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools,” a feature-length documentary that takes a powerful, heartbreaking and transformative look at the educational, judicial and societal disparities facing black girls throughout the United States will be shown at Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System (2441 Sanford St.) on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 2pm. Following the film, there will be a panel discussion with community leaders and a conversation with the audience.
There is no cost to attend, but registration is required. Please click here to secure your free tickets.
“This is a film that needs to be seen by everyone,” said Theresa Randleman, the founder of T. ROSE Foundation, which works to empower girls worldwide, and the leader who is bringing the film to Muskegon Heights—and to cities across Michigan, from Flint and Detroit to Grand Rapids and Benton Harbor.
“It’s awareness for everybody,” Randleman continued. “One person said to me, ‘I’m not prejudiced or anything, but is this a black thing?’ I said, ‘No, it’s a human rights thing.’”
Inspired by the book published in 2016, “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” by Dr. Monique W. Morris, the documentary “takes a deep dive into the lives of black girls and the practices, cultural beliefs and policies that disrupt one of the most important factors in girls’ lives—education,” the film’s website states.
“The documentary underscores the challenges black girls face with insight from experts across the country who have worked extensively in the field of social justice, gender equality and educational equity,” the website goes on to say. “These experts give context to the crisis and provide a roadmap for how our educational system and those who interact with black girls can provide a positive rather than punitive response to behaviors that are often misunderstood or misrepresented.”
Alongside these experts, the film provides interviews with girls from throughout the country whose stories of punishment galvanize viewers to demand change, said Randleman—who lives in Lansing but has long been involved in Muskegon, including when the company for which she is the CEO and founder, T. ROSE Entertainment, previously brought stage productions and entertainment to the Frauenthal Center in downtown Muskegon.
“For the majority of the film, you hear from the youth,” Randleman said. “It’s not the adults talking about their experience; you hear from the kids. Hearing this can break you down, but it’s so important to hear. You hear in-depth what they were experiencing, and they take you on a journey. You’re consumed with what they’re saying.”
According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, black girls make up 16 percent of girls in the country’s schools, but they represent 42 percent of girls receiving corporal punishment, 42 percent of girls expelled, 45 percent of girls with at least one out-of-school suspension, 31 percent of girls referred to law enforcement, and 34 percent of girls arrested on a school campus.
“Too often, when people read these statistics, they ask, ‘What did these girls do?’ when often, it’s not about what they did, but rather, the culture of discipline and punishment that leaves little room for error when one is black and female,” Morris said in an interview with The Atlantic.
The disparities facing black girls are overwhelming and rooted in histories, and continued realities, of racism, oppression and trauma—but we as a country can change, Morris emphasized. We—educators, policymakers, community leaders, and so many others—can take a hard look at changing our own lives to better support and empower black girls, as well as advocate and create policies and practices that address these issues.
Part of that change, Randleman emphasized, is our ability to understand the problem, discuss it and plan what our next steps will be. It’s a conversation that is often difficult and daunting—and it relies on so many of us recognizing how we have been a part of the problem.
“There were two older white women in East Lansing who had retired from the school board, and they came up to me after the movie and said, ‘Oh boy, we wish we could take this back to an East Lansing board meeting because we know girls this happened to,’” Randleman said.
“There was a teacher in Flint who stood up after the film and said, ‘I’m guilty. I’m guilty of doing this,’” referring to pushing black girls from schools, Randleman said.
Following the screening in Muskegon Heights, there will be a panel and audience discussion about the film and the topics it raises. Angela Matthews will moderate the panel discussion, during which panelists will field questions on everything from anti-bullying to mental health, and much more. The panelists include:
Trinell Payne Scott, the president of the Muskegon Heights Public School Board and an employment specialist at Goodwill Industries of West Michigan. She also holds more than 15 years of experience in the mental health field, including past work experiences as a behavioral specialist at Hope Network Behavioral Health.
Latanya Wheeler, who works with special education students as a social worker in the Muskegon Public Schools. She is also a trainer for the district in therapeutic crisis intervention through Cornell University, is the owner and sole practitioner of Elevation Empowerment Services—a private practice she launched in 2019 to help fill the gap for those desiring mental health assistance from professionals who look like them, and the founder and director of Shekinah Sistahs, a community women’s group aimed at empowering women of all ages and backgrounds.
Rané Garcia, Superintendent of the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System. She has served students across Michigan, Texas and Illinois in various positions, including teaching first, second, fifth, and sixth grades, and working as a math coordinator, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent.
Rema Reynolds, an assistant professor in the Department of Leadership and Counseling at Eastern Michigan University. She is a former teacher, counselor, administrator, and scholar-activist who currently organizes black parents. Dr. Rema’s research centers around schools serving minoritized students and families.
Joy Robinson, a state of Michigan certified Master social worker and school social worker whose work experience covers individual and group therapy to the elderly and their families, individual and group therapy to students, mental health services and therapy for the mentally impaired and developmentally disabled. She has served as a liaison between students, homes, family services, the courts, protective services and any other contacts that will best serve children and families that face the challenges of disabilities, abuse and poverty.
Erica Sandford, a published author, mentor, community advocate, and the founder and executive director of the Purpose over Popularity Program—a community and school-based female leadership development program empowering girls of color in Muskegon’s underserved communities.
“Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” will be shown at Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System (2441 Sanford St.) on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 2pm. There is no cost to attend, but registration is required. Please click here to secure your free tickets.
Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.