The Dr. Effie H. Jones Memorial Luncheon at AASA’s national conference honors people whose actions model what Dr. Effie Jones, former associate executive director of the association, embodied. Jones was a champion for equity in educational leadership for women and minorities.

The annual luncheon in her honor on Friday brought forward several individuals in education and youth leadership who fittingly represent her spirit and professional achievements.

John B. King, former U.S Secretary of Education and recently appointed president and CEO of the Education Trust, received the 2017 Dr. Effie Jones Humanitarian Award at the midday affair for his commitment to ensuring equitable and high-quality education for all students, especially children of color and those who live in poverty. Read about his full remarks here.

My goal is to earn this type of award again, moving forward,” said King as he accepted the award. “We need to fight for public education fundamentally. We need to be the voice for the children who are most vulnerable.”

A central focus in this luncheon was truly understanding what it means to help the total child and make school a safe place, especially on a social-emotional level. That way, all students can receive an equitable and high quality education, no matter their circumstance.

Less than 24 hours of being named the 2017 Superintendent of the Year, Matt Utterback of Milwaukie, Ore., joined the luncheon to share why he places such as strong focus on equity in his school district.

“We need to recognize that students cannot rise, if expectations are low,” he said. “When we hold students accountable, they rise to the challenge. We must talk about culture and racial identity. It has an impact on achievement gaps and graduation rates. With a diploma, we give students a voice in this world.”

At the heart of this luncheon was keynote speaker Monique W. Morris, author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, who emphasized how schools need to transform into locations of healing rather than harm.

Schools need to be safe spaces where students, particularly black girls—a spectrum that includes demographics such as Latinas and transgender girls– can learn. Yet educators need to understand the circumstances this subset of students encounter on a daily basis and how they relate with others.

“When black girls speak out and speak up, they are seen as combative,” Morris said. Yet speaking out “should be seen as a leadership skill. When we see Black women, truth tellers like Rosa Parks, we praise them, but we do not do the same with black girls. The way that black girls express themselves is something that is not routinely praised in the education setting. It’s a mixed message.”

Morris shared stories about girls she worked with over the past few years, many of whom she met at juvenile detention centers.

One such girl, Stacy, bragged about how she fought all the time, she wore that aspect of herself as a badge of honor. As Morris worked with Stacy, she saw how Stacy was a hurt girl hurting others. Stacy fought at school because she didn’t want to do the school work. That was the core issue—the root of her suspensions and expulsions.

In two stories, girls ended up homeless, on the street. Jennifer went through what Morris called the sexual abuse to prison pipeline. She was raped at age 12 and homeless by age 15. Soon after that, she was in a juvenile detention center.

Paris, a transgender girl from New Orleans, ended up on the streets as a teenager. In school, her existence was seen as a distraction. “Her experience was punitive and not led with love,” said Morris.

“Trauma can’t always be seen,” said Morris.  “I challenge you to help repair the relationship between black girls and schools. [Recognize] that discipline is [and should be] different than punishment, and shouldn’t be conflated. [To help them], there needs to be a broader perspective of these girls’ lives.”

Find the official AASA press release here.

(By Rebecca Shaw, a reporter for Conference Daily Online.)