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Hosted by the Catalyst Network Foundation on Tuesday night, a panel discussion on the topic of social inequality and injustice in the American public school system took place.

The event was at The Taj Lounge in New York City and was crowded with men and women, eager to hear what the Meeting of the Minds panel would discuss. Expertly fielding dense, complicated questions, the six lawyers, teachers, and advocates on the panel remained poised and responded to the audience’s questions eloquently.

When asked by an audience member what was one thing that they could change about the school system, they responded “perception.” According to them, teachers and administrators perceive people of color differently than their white classmates. They also declared that minorities need to change their perception of themselves as well. They said that minority parents can help their children see themselves in a better light by empowering them. More positive feedback would give these young boys and girls more self-confidence.

This two-sided approach was echoed by all the panelists. They described a shared blame for the vast achievement gap between American youths, urging a call to action for all of America. Encouraged by applause and cheers, the panelists explained what they think the main problems are and how black youths, particularly males, can avoid the so-called “school to prison pipeline.” Covering everything from discipline in the homes and schools, to the punitive education system, to the importance of decriminalizing marijuana, the panelists each made some very poignant remarks.

After the formal panel was over, we had the opportunity to ask a two of its speakers some questions of our own.

When asked what kind of future young minority males envisioned for themselves, Christina Bonne-Annee, an attorney specalizing in education stated:

“I think a lot of, particularly in very urban areas, children are living day to day, and they are not thinking beyond their immediate future. So it’s not am i going to go to jail or am I going to go to college, it’s more of how am I gonna get through today. Our young people aren’t even in a place where they are dreaming beyond their immediate moment, which is a part of why things like school and professional development are not important. They’re not even on the spectrum because they’re thinking about that immediate second.

We also had the chance to speak with Jason Sinocruz, also an attorney who spoke on the panel. We asked him what he thought it would take for young minority males to view education as power, rather than violence or street life. He responded:

“I think we need to fix our school system. I think young black men go to school and they are pushed out and into the school-to-prison pipeline and, as a result, they end up jaded and don’t see it as an opportunity but see school as something that’s oppressing them. We need to fix the school system to be nurturing and to welcome them and  really develop them as young people and not push them out. I think that’ll increase their desire to want to be in school rather than turning to violence.”

It was a pleasure attending this panel. It was great going to an event where some many people were so focused on the education system and the young children that are within it. Without these people who are open to having these discussions in order to better the system, millions of children all around the country can feel a little bit better knowing that there are some people out their that have their very best interest at heart.

Ishaw Thorpe and Sophie Jacob both contributed to this article.

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