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Ignoring Historic and Generational Inequity Irresponsible in Light of Anne Arundel County History

Below are remarks from District 6 Board of Education Member Joanna Bache Tobin on Wednesday, February 7, 2024 regarding proposed revisions to the AACPS Educational Equity Policy to remove language regarding historic and generational inequity.

During her remarks, Joanna Bache Tobin:

  • Raised concerns about historical injustice

  • Described destruction of generational wealth

  • Urged colleagues to vote on behalf of truth and facts

  • Emphasized the importance of taking responsibility

The transcript has been edited for clarity. The full video of her remarks are available below. 

In light of many things, including the particular history of the district I represent, I have grave concerns about this.

I remember — I think it was about a year ago, Mr. Silkworth — you and I attended an event in downtown Annapolis where there was an unveiling of a series of historical markers recording the Old Fourth Ward. For those of you who are not familiar with this history, there was a thriving community, middle class community of shops and homes that was largely African American and to some extent Jewish.

It was razed at the time of “urban renewal.” And the area which is now the Arundel Center, where the county government is housed, and the area across the street from that, which is a parking lot and what is now known as the People's Park, are in that area.

And Mr. Silkworth noted to me after the event that he had lived in this county his entire life and knew nothing of that history. The reason I raise it is it is directly demonstrates in my view the statement as originally made in the policy. As it stands now, the Board of Education of Anne Arundel County Board: 

acknowledges the historical, generational, and compounding reality of the systems, structures, and practices that have intentionally and unintentionally created and continue to afford advantages to some student groups while perpetuating inequities for others. AACPS must take responsibility and action for dismantling and actively repairing these inequities to ensure positive educational outcomes for all AACPS students.

For those who wonder what transpired after the razing of the Fourth Ward, you have to understand what that meant. That meant generational wealth that had been accumulated by African American families over decades was systematically destroyed. And we have in the Annapolis area public housing communities. In fact, all the full-on public housing in this county is located in Annapolis. Think of the Robinwood community, Newtown, and others.

Those communities were where many of these families were forced to move. Those communities were intentionally designed away from downtown, off easy public transportation routes, with one way in and one way out. And no shops, no locally, resident-owned businesses in those communities. There is no church in the middle of Robinwood. There is no shop in the middle of Robinwood. And it was intentionally designed that way.

I talk about this history for a couple of reasons. I have mentioned from this dais before, in other contexts, I believe we are not here to deal in magical thinking. We are here to deal in fact. This history is a fact. We are in the business of education. I have devoted my career to ensuring that my students understand the facts. Because when we learn them, when we teach them, and when we take responsibility for them, we enable ourselves and our children to do better. When we set out to erase them, we do harm. And so I am deeply, deeply concerned about this.

I think this reaches to many issues that will have massive implications.

I believe in taking responsibility. I believe that responsibility is not just for what you choose to bring into your life. It is responsibility for what is in your life.

We as a community bear responsibility for legacy decisions that have been made, that have set up structures that we now understand have significant implications for our students in this cluster and many other parts of this county and for our entire community. And so I urge my colleagues to vote on behalf of the truth. Vote on behalf of the facts.

Do not engage in wishful thinking of what you would like history to be or what you would like to have go away. The only way it is going to go away is if we decide to do better. And finally, I will end and thank you for allowing me this rather lengthy set of comments, Mr. President. I believe that one of the most important things we can demonstrate for our students is that nothing we find in our circumstances right now is an accident.

People in power made decisions which have landed us here. The only way to change that trajectory is for people in power to make different decisions. And that is what I hope my colleagues will remember. Thank you.

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