Monique W. Morris’s advocacy for Black girls and educational equity

The world sees Black girls as dangerous. Morris shows them that they are scholars.

“When I was in the sixth grade I got into a fight at school,” begins the TED talk that Monique Morris delivered in November 2018. On its face, this statement isn’t extraordinary; lots of children get into fights during their preteen years. But Morris is Black, so the stakes of her fight were high. Black girls are seven times more likely than White girls to be suspended from school. They’re three times more likely to receive corporal punishment in school and four times more likely to be arrested while at school. Being suspended or expelled, physically restrained or beaten by school officers, or arrested while at school can lead to chronic absenteeism, dropping out, and long-term enmeshment with juvenile and criminal punishment systems.

Morris wasn’t suspended, arrested, or physically punished for fighting in sixth grade. “The educators working with me led with empathy. They knew me.” Instead of rushing to judgment, the principal asked her what was going on. She helped Morris process the fight and connect it to her history of trauma, think through better options, and work toward a restorative solution. That little girl whose principal showed empathy is now a professor, educational consultant, juvenile justice advocate, nonprofit organization executive, and best-selling author whose life’s work is aimed at making schools safe and hospitable for Black girls.

It’s an uphill battle, because so much damage has been done to Black girls by educators who fail to keep them safe or attend to their other learning needs. “Schools need to become locations for healing before they can become locations for learning,” Morris says in the 2019 documentary film Pushout, which is based in part on her 2016 book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools (New Press).  The book starts with a summary of how the pushout phenomenon operates: