What’s the Status of Black Education on Long Island? Community Gathers to See What’s Up

By: Miya Jones
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What's the Status of Black Education on Long Island? Community Gathers to See What's Up

Wayne Thompson, who came from humble beginnings, immigrated from Jamaica at the age of 14 years old and is now the vice president of telecommunications and internet management at Altice. When asked what the turning point was in his life, he credited mentorship and education.

During the Long Island Urban League‘s State of Black Education discussion, panelists Monique Darrisaw-Akil, Abja Midha, Anael Alston and Wayne Thompson agreed on two things: community engagement and representation matter and accountability works.

The screening of the documentary, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” started off the event with a detailed account of the history of education in the Black community from slavery to now. The film showed the advancements made by African-Americans with creation of Historically Black Colleges. It also highlighted the lack of progress that still needs to be made.

Many studies show that African-American students are more likely to be suspended, are less likely to take AP or high-level courses and are less likely to go to college.

What's the Status of Black Education on Long Island? Community Gathers to See What's Up
(left to right) Theresa Sanders, Abja, Monique, Wayne Thompson & Anael Alston

“In Nassau County, Black students are 5.2 times more likely to be suspended over white students and in Suffolk it’s 4.7 times,” said Midha, who is a policy advocate and deputy director for The Education Trust-New York. “Those disparities are huge and we dug even deeper into specific districts on Long Island and it’s even larger in some instances.”

The panel stated that suspensions negatively impact children because they lose instruction time. Alston, who is an assistant commissioner for the New York State Department of Education, brought up Seminars in Lieu of Suspension (SILOS), which was implemented in Lawrence’s school district by School District Administrator William Moss. With this approach, instead of a student being suspended, the child will come back to school with at least one parent. Within a three-hour period, the student and parent would work on vision boards and reflection papers.

“I spoke with students there who said they have not spent that amount of time with their parents before,” said Alston who works with New York’s My Brother’s Keeper, which has funded the expansion of these seminars. “Now the parents also build a little bit of a connection with the school.”

Darrisaw-Akil informed the audience that SILOS is similar to a restorative justice approach that looks at the student-adult relationship. This is an approach that she strongly encourages.

“We talk about young people a lot, but we don’t always make the space to hear their voice,” said Darrisaw-Akil. When she was a principal in New York City, it was a requirement for new teachers to do community walks in which they put themselves in the shoes of students by taking their route on the L train through Brooklyn to relate to and see what the kids go through. She is now working on similar programs in her Brentwood school district.

Darrisaw-Akil also highlighted representation and how having at least one Black teacher to relate to can make a real difference for a Black child.

This disparity has been studied along with the benefits of diversity. Darrisaw-Akil cited a John Hopkins study that found, especially for low-income Black students, that having at least one Black teacher increased their chances of graduating from high school and going to college by 13%.

“On Long Island specifically, one in five Black students attend a school with no same race teacher,” said Midha. “In Suffolk it’s almost one in four.”

With the lack of diversity on the island, Alston wondered how this could affect not only African-American students perceptions, but white students as well.

Other strategies mentioned by the panelists that can help increase increase diversity in education and help students of color included:

  • Going to school board meetings
  • Running for school board
  • Encouraging children of color to pursue education as a career
  • Knowing the school district’s hiring policies & code of conduct
  • Enforcing Implicit bias training & culturally responsive teaching
  • Having teachers attend community events (brunches, BBQs, etc.)
  • Funding programs that work
  • Making schools create some sort of declaration to increase diversity and track their progress with statistics
Miya Jones

Miya Jones

Miya Jones is a Long Island native and the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Shades of Long Island. She's been a journalist since the age of 17 and is a diversity advocate. Follow Miya on Instagram and Twitter: @miyajones1996 and on Facebook as Miya Jones.

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