In less than a month’s time, the tragic death of Trayvon Martin has sparked protests and raised dormant emotions concerning race throughout the nation. While Minnesota and the nation as a whole have made great strides in race relations since the Civil Rights era, the notion that we, as a society, are in some sort of post-racial period is illusory. With hope and diligence, the Trayvon Martin tragedy can and should ignite new conversations concerning race relations.
Institutional racism and problems of racial isolation are still pervasive in our society. The Trayvon Martin case should bring about renewed discussion concerning, for example, Minnesota’s continuing struggle with education and the achievement gap right here in our own schools. Minnesota has one of the worst education achievement gaps in the nation. This is true not only for African-American students but also for those in Native American and Hispanic communities.
By fourth grade, the achievement gap in reading throughout Minnesota is the second largest in the U.S. Ironically, Caucasian students in Minnesota typically score in the top 10 to 15 percent nationwide, while minority students continue to drop out at an alarming rate. Minneapolis itself has especially struggled with the achievement gap. Within the state’s largest city, the achievement gap in fourth grade reading is also the second worst in the nation.
The unfortunate truth is that tragedy is often the precursor to action. The death of Trayvon Martin has provided us a window for fresh dialogue concerning race relations. Here at home, we must continue to push our civic leaders to pursue policies that help minority communities succeed so all of our students can be successful.