DES MOINES, IOWA — Earlier this month, the Des Moines school board took a stand for immigrant students by passing a sanctuary resolution. School board member Dionna Langford says next week the board will make another public show of support. “For me it’s about doing what’s right.”
The Des Moines Public Schools District’s board is standing behind three words that often sparks debate. Black Lives Matter. At their next meeting on Tuesday, Langford says several, if not all board members will be wearing black shirts with those very words. “It sends the message to the community that our black students, our teachers and employees, we care about them and they matter.” Fellow board member Heather Anderson will be wearing the shirt. “I think it’s pretty powerful and it is a controversy but not everything has to be.”
The message, which grew nationally from police shootings, is taking on a different meaning in Des Moines. “We say we care about all of our students but what does that mean? When you look at academic achievements in the district they are lagging behind their peers in several indicators.”
Shirts were designed by a local company called 8-7 Central and half of the proceeds will benefit two local groups. Brother to Brother, which Langford says partners young men of color with other mentors within DMPS and the community.” It will also Investing In Our Future, an organization which pushes black students to pursue higher education.
Board members aren’t shying away from the blowback for supporting the movement. “Of course we care about all our students and we definitely care about our black students.” Students that Langford believes may be in danger of slipping out of sight of a brighter future. “If we really say all of our lives matter that includes black students and when we look at the black students in our district they aren’t doing well.”
According to the Iowa Department of Education, the African-American dropout rate in Iowa is over double the rate of white students and five times that of Asian students. Black students are the only race with a graduation rate under 80%.