United Methodist Women member Vickie Powell-Bass works in her community to uplift schoolchildren through her local school council.
After my husband died in 2002, I started attending Wesley United Methodist Church in Chicago. Soon after I joined the church two women who sat behind me passed me a card. It was an invitation to join in the next local United Methodist Women meeting. I decided to attend. I have always been a supporter of women’s rights. When I found out the Purpose and the work of the United Methodist Women organization, I was sold.
At the 2018 United Methodist Women’s Assembly, I attended a workshop about the school-to-prison pipeline. What stood out for me most was learning about zero tolerance in some schools. Students were being expelled for something as little as having drugs that were not previously listed in the principal’s office. I thought, “Wait—expelled from school?! How can we do that to our babies? How can they excel if they are not attending school?” I decided then that this cannot happen
I also learned about the statistics regarding race and zero-tolerance policies. The public school system is dealing with children as if they are criminals. When I was a child, I could go to a guidance counselor to talk through problems. Elementary school students were not thrown out of school, except in extreme cases. I could not believe what I was hearing. Today, children as young as 7 years old are handcuffed in school. This is how the school-to-prison pipeline starts. That is what bothered me. Someone needs to speak out. I knew I had to get involved.
I was born in Chicago and have always lived in Chicago. I live across the street from a park, and next to the park is my neighborhood elementary school. One day a parent on the local school council asked if I would be willing to run for the council. She and I had previously worked together on the Euclid Park Advisory Committee. She thought I would be a worthy member of the council.
The local school council is a policymaking body that reviews safety and security, curriculum, budget, principal selection and evaluation and more. I do not have children in the school, so I would serve as a community representative. I ran for the position and won.
I am on the local school council for Medgar Evers Fine Arts Elementary School. Evers does not have outside suspensions, just in-school suspensions. If you are disruptive in the classroom, you are sent to the counselor or one of the staff members assigned to determine and correct the problem. In 2021, the entire Chicago city school district asked its schools to develop alternative safety systems to resource officers.
As a member of the council, we get reports on the needs of the children. Some students missed school because they did not have proper uniforms. Evers’ principal shared that uniform shirts were most needed. After asking for the sizes needed and costs, I submitted an application to my local Church Women United for a community grant. My application was approved, and with the grant the council purchased 97 uniform shirts.
Follow Your Faith
My mom and dad had great faith. I watched my parents carry out gestures of love for their neighbors. My mother was a social worker in a preschool. She loved children. We always had somebody at our table. I watched her volunteer for many activities. She even worked at the polls. My parents fought for positive change in our neighborhood. I got a taste of advocacy at an early age.
Reading the Bible and using it as a guideline has helped me understand what God wants me to do. God tells us to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves and to love our neighbor as ourselves. I passionately believe this.
Some of the biggest arguments I have had in my life were with people who treated badly those unable to stand up for themselves. I do not appreciate people taking advantage of other people; I will step in. Jesus told us to do that.
Is the school-to-prison pipeline something you would like to help disrupt? My advice would be to follow your passion. You do not have to do everything that would combat this problem—find out what you can do. Perhaps you are called to serve on your local school council or similar board. You may want to visit lawmakers at your state capitol. You can advocate for teachers or parents. There is so much to do. You do not have to do it all, but together, we can do it all.