An alliance of community leaders and education leaders held a virtual town hall on Monday (Aug. 31) to discuss education solutions for low-income and working class families during COVID-19.

The virtual session; which was viewed by students, parents and reporters; included two one-hour panels. The first hour focused on the institutional barriers to a quality education. The second hour was centered around solutions such as universal broadband, additional funding for families of school-age children, education reparations, learning stipends and other options to creatively improve education.

Panelists included Chris Stewart, president of brightbeam, Carol D. Lee, PhD, professor emeritus, Sharif El-Mekki, founder and CEO for Center for Black Educator Development, School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, Dr. Chike Akua, professor of Education Leadership at Clark Atlanta University and Dirk Tillotson, founder and executive director of Great Schools Choices.

“We try to draw on the history that we have,” said El-Mekki. “We use the freedom school models and add components to fit our context. Our program is a teacher apprenticeship.” The pandemic forced us to provide freedom schools nationally. We have actual results of students improving.”

“In the midst of the pandemic, all of the things we were demanding before the pandemic when we were told we were too radical, too left,” said Epps-Addison. “All of these things are even more relevant and more necessary. Our first and number one job is to get ourselves, our families and our communities through this pandemic alive. We are in a place where we are engaging in harm reduction and power building.

“Abolition is not about absence,” she added. “It is about abundance. We get to own the systems and use them in a way that is healthy and, in a way, where we have agency. Every child deserves a quality education. When it comes to thinking about liberatory education, we should be thinking about ending racist standardized testing, police-free schools (officers are not protecting children), culturally relevant curriculum and community schools. If education is not a tool of capitalism but finding gifts in children, then we create what works for kids and community.”