Advocates: Black Community Leaders Failing YCSD Students, Demand Action

Update: 1:22 p.m. June 23, Kevin Tarpley title
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It’s going to take a grassroots effort from the community to bring change to the Youngstown School District that is failing to educate Black children, say educators and community leaders.

“The system cannot educate our children in the Youngstown Schools. According to its own record over the last 22 years the district has recorded straight Fs. You can’t be outraged over George Floyd and not be outraged about the education of our kids being lynched,” said Jimma McWilson, vice president of NAACP Youngstown/Mahoning County Branch. “For $3 billion dollars, African American students have scored an F for 22 straight years.”

McWilson facilitated the discussion, “Beyond Structural Racism: We Black community leaders failed Black African descendant students in Youngstown City Schools,” Monday via a video conference. 

“In this era of COVID-19 and George Floyd, our children face a future we can’t even imagine. This is going to take a new mindset and consciousness because we have to address old ways of thinking,” he said. “Parents have to be challenged. It’s not about putting people in office or going to church and praying it improves. It’s a community not standing up and demanding excellence for these children. Praying and faith have produced an F. I’m charging the Black community to step up to the plate.”

Floyd, an unarmed Black man was killed while in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. Global protests and calls for racial equality have been ongoing for the past four weeks. 

McWilson said the problem can’t be resolved until parents and the community define and deal with the root causes of the problem, which he said isn’t racism, but rather a system that is structurally racist. 

“I’m not talking about an individual person, I’m talking about the system,” he said. “The root of the issue is families and the community and the system is just doing what it does.”

He explained that public education started in Ohio in 1825, but not for Black children until six years later. He said  academic expectation goals for white students is a score of 86.3% while the expectation for Black students is 63.4%. 

From the outset, he continued, racism was built into the system and it will continue to work whether the district is under local control or oversight of a state Academic Distress Commission.

“They’re all just doing the same thing – carrying out what’s been put in place,” he said. 

Former Toledo NAACP President WilliAnn Moore, who has served with McWilson on an education task force for the state, agrees that Black and disadvantaged children throughout the nation are not being educated because of systemic racism. 

“Implicit and explicit biases truly exist in this society and if we stay focused and we need to deal with laws if we want to get things done for our children and not get sidetracked by noise,” she said. “If we’re not educating our children, they can’t go to college.”

Kevin Tarpley, founder of the Youngstown Lifeguard Academy, said a student taking part in an outside program self-reported that he didn’t know how to read. He explained the young man was a quarterback for a city high school football team.

Tarpley said he addressed the issue three times with the principal and nothing was done until Tarpley went to the NAACP and filed a federal complaint that the school was failing this student. 

“Immediately, all of a sudden we got some results,” he said.

Two other educators on the call also say they have students who are unable to read, but are advancing in grades. Martha Brogdon has worked in the schools since 2003 and has watched it “deteriorate,” she said. 

“There’s no curriculum, no supplies, books. It’s consistently moving backward. Whatever is necessary, I’m on the team to help. We’re losing our youth. I was with Chaney’s graduating class and a student told me he could not read,” Brogdon said. “I have a problem with that. Why are you walking across stage and you can’t read?”

These are issues McWilson wants parents, community and political leaders to be outraged by and to work from a grass roots level to demand change. Anyone interested in working with the task force can send an email via

Pictured: Jimma McWilson, vice president of the NAACP Youngstown/Mahoning County Branch, hosted a web panel discussing the challenges Black students in Youngstown City Schools face.

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