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Spiriting urban educational justice: The leadership of African American mothers organizing for school equity and local control

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Abstract

Inner-city school systems serving marginalized populations around the world are hindered by undemocratic and anti-public, political forces given global neoliberalism. This paper highlights a three-year case study of community organizers’ efforts to resist such forces and increase school access, equity, and local control in Detroit, MI (USA). Authors emphasize how the leadership of African American mother organizers was particularly instrumental to positive change. Literature on educational activism, leadership, and community organizing help frame the organizational and political value of the organizers’ efforts. In-depth interview, observation, and artifact data further reveal how the activist-mother-organizers, motivated by their spiritual beliefs and liberatory aims, guided effective educational reform campaigns to oppose school closure and cultivated critical hope among their fellow organizers through a process the authors name as “spiriting urban educational justice.” Spiriting urban educational justice involves enacting border crossing and boundary spanning activities to navigate placed-based politics and seek educational equity with spiritual clarity and drive. Authors discuss how school and district leaders can learn from this process and collaborate with activist-organizers who serve as spiriters of justice to improve urban schools.

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Notes

  1. All personal and organization names are pseudonyms to maintain anonymity and blind review.

  2. The website link is not included in this version to maintain blind review.

  3. While community organizing is a form of activism in that organizers work for social justice and collective uplift, we recognize that not all activism involves organizing. Activists can contribute to a justice movement individually without enacting the distinct training and skills that organizing requires via mobilizing others and coalition building (Warren & Mapp, 2011).

  4. We withheld citations here to protect the participants’ anonymity.

  5. The work of various subpopulations is crucial to the CBO, such as African American, Latinx, Arab American, and white parents and teens, plus non-profit leaders, non-parent community members, and other allies.

  6. Within education, participatory action research typically involves academics and/or school practitioners collaborating with community members to democratically design and implement research that addresses immediate problems affecting a community. They then draw upon their findings to take some immediate, solution-oriented action (e.g., See Guishard et al., 2005).

  7. The Republican Party of the U.S. is the more socially and economically conservative party of the nation’s two largest and most prominent political parties. Party leaders are generally supportive of neoliberal agendas.

  8. For more information, see https://www.schoolslastudentsdeserve.com/, https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/metrocenter/ejroc and https://www.facebook.com/chicagograssrootscurriculum/?ref=page_internal.

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Correspondence to Camille M. Wilson.

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Wilson, C.M., Nickson, D. & Ransom, K.C. Spiriting urban educational justice: The leadership of African American mothers organizing for school equity and local control. J Educ Change 24, 265–290 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-021-09443-1

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