All Together: educational inequality and organized activism in Williamsburg

Last semester, I researched the African American YMCA movement, and I became particularly interested in activism through voluntary associations and the intertwining dynamics of ethnicity. As a prospective educator and a TESL/TEFL minor, I have also always been interested in issues of educational inequality, particularly its manifestations along racial and ethnic lines. Though I have volunteered in several of the local schools, my knowledge of these issues within the context of Williamsburg has been very limited. As a tutor, my engagement in Williamsburg educational system has been on a largely individual basis. When I began contemplating prospective projects, I hoped that I would be able to deepen my knowledge of the Williamsburg educational system while perhaps framing it in light of the increasingly multiethnic demography of the area.

I was excited to hear in preliminary meetings about a previous project done on the local organization, All Together. The group, which seeks to improve race relations in Williamsburg, is active in many key community issues, including education. As we discussed recent spotlighted education issues, including rising drop out rates and falling funding for alternative education , I became intrigued. A project focusing on the All Together’s involvement in local education issues sounded like a great way to tap into my interests in both voluntary associations and education.

I read the 2008 project on All Together and looked through the transcripts of associated WDP interviews, and have only become more intrigued by the organization. That the organization evolved from a small gathering of concerned citizens know as the “Turkey Club” to a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a vocal presence in current community issues is fascinating to me. Though the project offered a general history and addressed All Together’s influence in issues of housing affordability and displacement, I think that there is much to be added to their work. Specifically, I would like to examine All Together’s historical and present involvement in community education issues and consider how the shifting social, political, economic, and demographic environment of Williamsburg has shaped this involvement over time.

From the project, it seems that issues of education have always been a fairly central component of the organization’s efforts. The organization’s mission “to bring together the people of the Greater Williamsburg area across racial lines, to communicate and engage in activities that foster unity, inclusiveness and equal opportunity, and thereby, to improve the quality of life of the community and its citizens,” were once promoted through several steering committees, one of which was dedicated entirely to issues regarding education. As McCann and Sayles mentioned in their project, however, these Steering Committees have since been subsumed by a Board of Directors. I would be interested in examining how this structural change in the organization correlating with its designation as a501(c)3 non-profit has changed its function and the methods for addressing educational issues.

McCann and Sayles posit in their suggestions for future research that there is an increasingly international community in Williamsburg. They suggest that this population is largely comprised of non-resident workers whose labor is necessary to support business in Williamsburg, where most residents work outside the area or are retired. They assert that there are many issues associated with these population as they are often not incorporated as “full social citizens” of Williamsburg. I would be interested to see if there have been any shifts in the demographics feeding into schools, and to examine the role All Together might play in navigating issues presented by increasing internationalism in Williamsburg, particularly in terms of ESL education for both children and adults.

In looking into some of the recent Education news in the Williamsburg area, I saw that there has been increasing concern about rising drop out rates. Also due to drastic cuts in state budgets, there is rampant concern that the cuts in school budgets could require laying off teachers, eliminating enrichment and extracurricular programs, and possibly cutting summer school. The cuts seem to already be affecting alternative education programs for at risk kids. I hope to further examine how All Together is responding to these issues, and their influence in community negotiation of changes in education.

Overall, I think the project will be an interesting one, especially given the contentious and pressing nature of many these issues. Aside from interviews with All Together members, as I uncover some of the issues, I think gathering local teachers and students’ perspectives on All Together’s involvement in education could also be helpful. I would also like to obtain some demographic data about the school systems to better ground an examination of diversity in the school system and its role in shaping the debates on current programming and budgetary issues in education.


About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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