Hallie Slamowitz is an academic dean and special services coordinator at AF Linden Elementary.
I want you to look at the two pictures in this post. Both were taken two days after January’s massive snowstorm. One is from the street in front of a school in East New York in Brooklyn. The other is near Gramercy Park in Manhattan.
Can you figure out which picture was taken in East New York and which one was taken in Gramercy Park? Unfortunately, it was obvious to me as I am sure it is to you—Gramercy Park is plowed, and East New York is not. These pictures serve as the perfect visual representation of the inequalities that exist in New York City between wealthier, predominantly white communities and low-income communities made up primarily of people of color. As a city and a nation, we have to acknowledge and address this inequity —that the color of your skin and the zip code where you live too often determine how you are treated. And we have to work together to do better for our children.
I have worked in public schools in New York City for the past seven years and currently work at AF Linden Elementary in Brooklyn. I grew up in New Jersey and had the luxury of what we commonly call white privilege. That’s not the case for my students—so many people make assumptions about their backgrounds, abilities and future because of where they’re from. As a city, we are reinforcing these assumptions by providing predominately white communities with better treatment. You can see it in the pictures of plowed streets during the snowstorm, and we see it every day in the quality of schools in low- income communities. After Winter Storm Jonas, our school team had to carry our students off the bus because the mounds of snow were too high for them to climb over. Our kids accept that this is what life is like because that is how they have been treated so far, and it is unacceptable. I have chosen to work in New York City public schools because I don’t want any child to grow up to think that they should be treated that way.
AF Linden has some of the smartest students in New York City. They are bright, caring and curious. Despite the challenges they face every day due to the inequity of services in our city, I know that our children will change the world. It’s our job as adults to help them do it, and that’s why I’m here in East New York.