Race, Disability And The School-To-Prison Pipeline

Editor’s note: Our series “Life Cycles of Inequity” explores the ways in which inequity impacts the lives of black men. Each month, we focus on a life stage or event in which that impact has been shown to be particularly profound. This article is part of a package focused on implicit bias in schools.

Enikia Ford-Morthel speaks of Amo (a pseudonym) with the fondness of an auntie talking about a beloved nephew. She recalls watching Amo at his fifth-grade graduation from Cox Academy in Oakland two years ago. The memory of him walking across the stage still fills her with emotion. “He looked so cute in his little white suit, with his jewelry on,” Ford-Morthel says of his graduation. “I just cried.”

Ford-Morthel and Amo are not actually each other’s family. Ford-Morthel was Amo’s principal at Cox Academy, a charter school in a particularly rough section of East Oakland. Nor did they always share such closeness. Amo, an African-American boy, arrived at Cox as a fourth-grade terror. “He was hell on wheels,” Ford-Morthel says of those early days. On his very first day Amo was in class for just 10 minutes before he got sent to Ford-Morthel’s office for starting some kind of trouble, and for the month after that he was never in class for longer than half an hour before he started swearing at his teacher or otherwise interrupting instruction.

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