PHIlADELPHIA – On April 27 over 200 people attended a conference, Education Not Incarceration, presented by the Philadelphia Black Radical Congress (BRC) in association with the Criminal Justice Program of the American Friends Service Committee. Other co-sponsors were the Philadelphia Student Union, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, African People’s Solidarity Committee, Asian Americans United, Pa. Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty and the Social Action Committee of the First Unitarian Church.

The conference, held at the Friends’ Center in Philadelphia, examined the interconnection between public education and the growing prison-industrial complex as a civil rights and human rights issue. The conference called for sustained action, not just an exchange of ideas.

In the opening plenary, BRC Chairperson Ewuare Osayande pointed out some critical statistics: African-American people represent only 15 percent of the U.S. population but account for half of those behind prison bars. There are approximately 800,000 women incarcerated in the U.S., of which 75 percent are African American. A large majority of those in prison do not have a high school diploma.

Osayande laid out a historical timeline of the incarceration and failed education of Black people in the U.S. Osayande then posed a question to a panel of three respondents: “Based on your experience what is the greatest problem facing our city right now and what should be our collective response?”

Michael Coard, a criminal lawyer, cited the injustice of the death penalty – 90 percent of those on death row in Pennsylvania are Philadelphians.

Fred Pinguel, a public school student, compared his education at Central High School, an academic magnet school, to the inferior education received by thousands of students attending neighborhood schools. “We are being educated to be consumers and/or prison inmates,” said Pinguel.

Ayesha Imani, an educator, agreed with Pinguel and called on all adults to listen to our youth and support the students who are resisting privatization of the Philadelphia schools. This idea was echoed by Osayande, who exclaimed, “Take our children off the auction block and desegregate school dollars.”

The participants then attended seven morning workshops about Testing, Military in the Schools, Criminalization of Youth, Privatization of Schools, Criminality of the Criminal Injustice System, Know Your Rights and Discrimination In Higher Education. In the afternoon, participants attended six workshops: Equity In Funding, Youth Organizing: Cultures Of Resistance, Privatized Prisons, Women and Girls In the Criminal Justice System, School Reform and Community Development: Countering the War On Drugs, Crime and Terrorism.

Each workshop had outstanding speakers who shared information and dialogued about the issues. Each workshop came up with three action steps that the group referred to the entire conference.

Attendees then participated in four Caucus Groups for parents, students, educators and community activists. The caucuses discussed, combined and restructured the action steps from their point of view and will meet again in three weeks.

The closing plenary shared the action steps and featured Pam Africa from International Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Africa gave an update on Mumia’s case and informed the gathering of new evidence, including a confession by a man in prison who says that he, not Mumia, killed police officer Daniel Faulkner. The conference ended with the dynamic poetry of Amina Baraka.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net

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