Building Back Better Means Listening to Young People

Break the cycle of miseducation. — King Amin Robinson

Since its inception, the education system has been designed so that the flow of knowledge goes downstream, but never up. Most schools have traditionally been fixated on controlling students, especially Black or Brown students, or generic approaches to education that deny the complexity and uniqueness of each student. When students, especially BIPOC students, are left out of conversations on what schools, classrooms, and curriculum should look like, they don’t have the support they need to develop their own intellectual curiosity or an understanding of their own and others’ cultural histories. Some students might even be made to feel like they don’t belong or aren’t being heard.

Students cannot be in a classroom, engaged and productive, if they are not heard. — King Kahlil Chatmon

If bringing students to the table to be active partners in designing their learning experience seems difficult or unrealistic, look at the work that organizations like the Kingmakers and the National Equity Project have been doing for years to center youth voices. It’s not a radical idea, but it may be a new one to some.

Capitalize the “B” in Black and the “K” in Kings. — King Jonathan Piper II

So in this moment, when educators are grappling with how to create safe, nurturing spaces for Black and Brown youth in the midst of a pandemic, where can they start? We asked the Kings, and they gave us some recommendations. In their own words…

  • Treat us like an asset, not a liability. Anti-racist spaces come out of celebrating each student’s uniqueness, not using cookie cutter approaches to try and control them.
  • Look outside of the box for curriculum inspiration. Students shouldn’t have to educate themselves on their own culture and history. Find learning materials that teach us to love, accept and have pride in their multiple identities.
  • Involve us in your professional development. Students and teachers should constantly be learning from each other. Partnering with young people to prioritize what teachers should be trained on, whether it’s bias or mental health training, will better equip teachers to support their students.
  • Don’t invalidate our experiences. If you’re serious about creating an anti-racist environment, then start by really listening to us. Interrupting us or trying to talk over us when we’re trying to explain ourselves will only break trust and relationships.



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The BELE Network

The BELE Network


We are committed to creating learning environments that equitably support every student — especially students of color and low-income students.