By the time I reached JFK airport on Friday, October 26th, the unseasonably warm winds were starting to stir and planes were already being delayed. Reflecting on the important week I’d just spent at the annual Grantmakers for Education (GFE) board meeting and conference, I was grateful to be headed west, and worried for the New York friends and colleagues I was leaving behind.
Earlier that week I had walked along DUMBO’s waterfront under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge Overpass, and was delighted to see 6th graders gathered to plant hundreds of native plants for the riverfront restoration project below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Friday, I visited the adorable 80 year old Cuban-American aunt and uncle of one of my best friends (an Oakland teacher), and conversed with them in my rusty Spanish. I walked past the Park Slope Armory on 15th street, into Prospect Park, and over to the Brooklyn Main Public Library. Everywhere folks on the street were swapping stories of survival from past storms, floods and evacuations, but never did I imagine those very pathways I walked would be inundated by 5-8 ft of water, or in the case of the armory, would become a safe haven for evacuees in two short days.
On the plane that night I was outlining my first blog about all the amazing equity and social justice themes emerging from the GFE conference: the concept of quality education as a civil rights issue, the importance of getting technology into the hands of all learners. But somehow the storm, this megastorm Sandy, served to instantiate the message of the fierce urgency of now.
I was aghast at pictures of the DUMBO area under water, the riverfront restoration, all the children’s plantings gone. I received email chains from Brooklyn locals asking for those of us able and in the area to please bring protein bars, hand sanitizers, blankets–anything to help the now freezing victims of the storm–to the local pharmacy (where I had just shopped!) to stuff neighborhood care bags. The resiliency of the Brooklyn neighborhood outreach was (is) so extraordinary! And suddenly, like millions across the nation, I felt guilty for being home in a safe dry comfortable environment. What could I do, two thousand miles away? Give as much as I could afford to the local relief efforts, sure, but what else?
Back at work a week later, I can’t stop thinking about the before and after pictures, and what I can learn and do now. Just as the storm victims couldn’t wait for food clothing shelter and medicine, our nations children (a growing majority both children of color and in poverty) cannot wait any longer for the optimum conditions for learning to emerge. With nearly 30% of our children now living in poverty, their parents under employed, poorly housed, under insured, and at times, underprepared to coach them to succeed in school, our public and private systems must all band together to create a floor of equity, below which no child will fall into the flood. A floor of equity that insures that both academic and non academic conditions for learning are met in every school community.
That’s why this year’s education grantmaking will again be devoted to early childhood programs, education equity programs, and our signature area of full service community school partnerships. That’s why we have a Disaster Preparedness program at the Foundation. That’s why we have an Immigrant Integration program, a Community Development Program, an Arts and Culture program, a Community Health Program, an Environment Program, and a Koshland Neighborhood Program, and why we all work collaboratively, side-by-side, for greater impact together.
Whether Brooklyn or the Bay Area, it still takes a village of public and private partners to re-create community, and to ensure the necessary conditions for learning. Join us as we seek to grow our collective efforts for all children, for our future.