Editor’s note: This is one of an occasional series of pieces about grassroots leaders in Milwaukee.
Teaching motivated Jamaal Smith to become an advocate for education equality.
“Education should look the same for every child regardless of color.”
Jamaal Smith was dressed in a black shirt with the word “justice” sprawled across the chest.
With a laugh, Smith said he’s a proud product of Milwaukee’s 53206 ZIP code — where there are more incarcerations than any other ZIP code in the United States. Smith said his childhood neighborhood was supportive, resilient and taught him about the fight for justice.
“Despite all the issues that may exist, I saw how people were able to still reach out to the younger generations. Someone reached out to me,” he said. “An entire community reached out to me and I felt an obligation to do the same.”
From Milwaukee Public Schools, Smith went on to attend college at Alabama State University and graduated with a degree in computer science in 2006. After college, Smith moved back to Milwaukee to work in information technology, but quickly realized it wasn’t the path for him. “There was no pleasure … doing that work,” he said.
Smith switched from IT to teaching. He taught at Destiny High School at 7210 N. 76th St. for four years. There, he began to notice the challenges that students of color faced in the education system, such as larger class sizes, budget cuts and the lack of teachers of color. From then on, Smith said he was motivated to become an advocate for education equality.
Smith, 36, said he advocated for students’ rights with the MPS school board and the teachers union. Smith also joined the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP as the education committee chair. “We lobbied for making sure all students of color have access to an education that allows for them to have opportunities similar to their white counterparts,” he said.
Smith said he focused on the disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates between white and nonwhite students and the difference in resources between predominantly white and predominantly nonwhite districts because these issues affect the future success of students.
“Education should look the same for every child regardless of color,” Smith said.
Now, Smith is the Racial Justice Community Engagement Manager for YWCA Southeast Wisconsin.
Smith said that he wants people to realize the power they have within themselves. He noted that systems such as health care and housing — in addition to education — are unfair to minorities. He attributes the disparities to lack of resources and lack of access for nonwhite, low-income communities. Smith said these disparities prevent communities from thriving and lead to other problems, such as crime.
Smith said that everyone deserves equal and equitable access to the same resources. “But we know we don’t live in an era where that exists,” he said. “If people had access to resources that they need, then we would see a different America.”
Michael Holmes says
May God bless you, and keep you safe. It is encouraging to hear and see the work you are doing.
Jamaal Smith says
I am honored by this…just want to serve my community! Thank you
Thomas Spellman says
Morning Thoughts 12/22/17
As always working in the extremes helps to see the continuum.
Long story here but I suggest that the children who do violent acts have suffered Psychological Trauma which is the underlying cause of the violent behavior.
Let us work with “Psychological Trauma” and the continuum is from normal to extreme let’s look at it closer
Normal Psychological Trauma Is the pain suffered in growing up and it is resolved through Care Nurturing Empathy Love
The opposite end of the continuum
Extreme Psychological Trauma Is the pain suffered in growing up, when it is NOT ONLY, NOT resolved NOT healed BUT it is compounded by Hate and behavioral training to use violence.
It is this “Psychological Trauma” that leads to violent behavior and the use of violence to solve problems.
This along with the three area to focus on
One to deal with each Schools, primarily elementary Prisons Gang infected neighborhoods
The essence for schools is… All belligerent behavior ie suspensions (in school or out of school), MUST be treated as if the child has a broken back and Tuberculous. The Adverse Childhood Experience(s) (ACE’s) must be identified and treated and healing must be visible ie change in behavior. Yes, lots of child abuse will be uncovered. Sort of like the sexual abuse of those in power and the clergy sexual abuse. This might be the right time. Lots of stuff out there just not grounded in the work of Dr Lonnie Athens. Do you know of Dr Lonnie Athens?
The essence for prisons is… All incarcerated individuals must participate in Treatment for their multiple ACE’s. They must figure them out and write about then and discuss them with their group etc. There are two programs that I know of Community Building Workshop as practiced by Robert Roberts and in Milwaukee WI now and the work of Lee Gerdes – Brain State Technology. ALL incarcerated individual MUST be treated for the multiple ACE’s that they have experienced
The essence for GANG infected Neighborhoods ALL gang “members” younger than 18 are picked up and placed in protective custody and seen as the victims of child abuse not as “young criminals”. They also MUST be treated as if they have a broken back and Tuberculous. The Adverse Childhood Experience(s) (ACE’s) must be identified and treated and healing must be visible ie change in behavior
At the same time
The adult gang members will be arrested for child abuse not released on bail and again just like those in prison MUST be treated for the ACE’s that they have experienced.
All of this is based upon the foundation that Dr Lonnie Athens has hypothesized and now is proven theory.
Tom Spellman 414 403 1341