‘Don’t make me come down there.” Many a Black mother has threatened to pop up at a child’s school, but for area advocate Lorreen Pryor-Trowel the words take on new meaning. They’re not a warning to a misbehaving child, but a promise to schools — and school districts — that someone is, in fact, watching.
Ms. Pryor-Trowel is president of the Black Youth Leadership Project (BYLP), an organization she’s led since 2010. With the rise of inequity in public education, programming expanded to include direct service advocacy to families experiencing racism and other disparate treatment. She got involved with the Elk Grove Unified School District (EGUSD) after a student at Pleasant Grove High School penned a letter to teachers.
“Instead of them really hearing what she was saying about her experiences on that campus, they decided to respond to her very punitively,” Ms. Pryor-Trowel shared. “And when she spoke out on the news, then they started retaliating in the classroom. I can just imagine how that pressure must have been for a young girl.”
BYLP stepped in to “take the blows” for her and other students.
“The whole district is a repeat offender and that’s because they refuse to acknowledge that racism plays a part in the biases that they have and the way in which they respond to our children,” Ms. Pryor-Trowel said.
“Our children are naturally brilliant and they’re naturally curious and those things in other students would be seen as positive things, but with our children they’re seen as baiting teachers or they’re seen as children who can’t sit still. They don’t see that as a positive, they see that as a ‘you are being defiant’ thing and ‘I have to tame you’ and ‘I have to kill your spirit.’ It’s our job as education advocates to go into the room and level the playing field.”
Being an advocate for students, she says, means actually listening to them.
“Out of the cases that I’ve had, the majority of them the children were right, so I go in believing the children until I’m shown something that is opposite of that,” Ms. Pryor-Trowel said.
“I believe in accountability on all parts, so if I have to sit down and reprimand a child, I can do that too. We’re holding adults accountable because the school system is a place that they’ve been able to do what they want to do with little oversight from parents, especially Black parents. They like it the way that it is and I don’t, so that’s why I’m there going up giving them hell.”
Lately, she’s been raising hell about the presence of law enforcement officers on area campuses. While EGUSD has refused to dismantle its school resource officer (SRO) program, Ms. Pryor-Trowel sits on the district’s hiring committee for new SROs. She has also co-written board policies and administrative regulations for the district on the delineation of responsibilities between administrators and SROs, and is currently in talks with other districts to adopt similar mandates.
“Our position is, if you are not going to release them from dealing with our children, let’s put some policies on the books that determine how they’re going to interact with our students, what is the scope that they are able to operate from? Most districts don’t have a scope in place so you get incidents like the one in (Kissimmee, Florida),” she said.
A video showing a school resource officer body slamming a Black female student head first onto a concrete floor went viral recently.
“We have to remind them that these are children that they’re dealing with and not criminals off the streets,” Ms. Pryor-Trowel said. “They don’t do all children like that. They do Black children like that and we have to be clear about that.”
Ms. Pryor-Trowel said she focuses on facts and data, not emotions.
“What these districts expect us to do as Black people is come in there, cuss them out because we’re upset, show up one or two times at a board meeting, and then disappear,” she said.
Emotions, she says, cloud judgement.
“I try not to go in emotional, but rather ready to get down to the nitty-gritty if you will.”
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer