Transforming Education for Black and Brown Communities: A Conversation with Jay Artis-Wright

In February, FCCS Executive Director, Jay Artis-Wright, sat down with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to discuss how we can transform public education in our Black and Brown communities. You can read the full interview here, and it is also captured below. 

Jay Artis-Wright is a visionary leader serving as executive director of the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools (FCCS), which stands as a beacon for Black and Brown charter school leaders.

With Jay at the helm, FCCS tirelessly advocates for the improvement and establishment of high-quality educational choices for students from these communities. Jay has more than two decades of experience spanning public policy, education, advocacy, and community mobilization, and is dedicated to shaping a brighter future for Black and Brown students.

We connected with Jay to hear more about her motivations and the quest for educational freedom for Black History Month.

Who has inspired you to be a leader in the charter school movement and advocate for families of color? 

I am motivated by three things. My initial inspiration originated from the 6th-grade class of 2009 at KIPP AMP in Brooklyn. Volunteering on a trip to Utah became a transformative experience for me. I witnessed urban kids immerse themselves in the outdoors, bridging the gap between classroom education and real-world experiences, and it left an indelible mark on me. That encounter fueled my passion for advocating where students often lack opportunities to explore beyond the confines of traditional classrooms.

My second inspiration comes from the resilience and achievements of young students facing adversity. I hear stories everyday of students who are not only thriving in charter schools but excelling beyond expectations; demonstrating the transformative power of education.

The final and most important inspiration are my own children. In the short time my children have attended K-7 grade, we’ve experienced good public schools, poor public schools, culturally affirming charter schools and affluent schools; where they are one of few Black kids in their class. I am blessed to have experienced options and to witness the impact it has on my children. However, I don’t think my experiences are unique for many parents, and I am inspired to share my story with others so that they can have better options for their children. 

What do you want lawmakers to know about educational opportunities for families of color as they are considering and voting on legislation in states across the country this month?

There is compelling evidence that claims improved educational options for families of color not only enhance academic outcomes but also have positive effects for the entire family. Lawmakers need to address educational disparities with the same urgency and importance as they do when improving the economy, healthcare system, and housing market.

Education is not a standalone issue; it is the core element that influences better policies across all sectors. Lawmakers should prioritize and vote for policies that position education as a key driver, providing families access to a quality of life grounded in a robust educational foundation. Legislation supporting culturally affirming teaching and learning is imperative, countering attempts by some politicians to dismantle these crucial efforts.  

Votes should ensure that our most marginalized students receive a meaningful education, and accountability mechanisms should be in place for every type of public education system.

FCCS is a growing coalition dedicated to increasing access to quality Black and Brown-led public schools in communities across the country. What’s on the horizon for the coalition?

FCCS is committed to bringing an end to the era of political manipulation and the dominance of the traditional public school model. We are actively engaging in the education and empowerment of individuals dedicated to advocating for quality education, serving as role models that exemplify academic excellence in our communities.

This entails a persistent effort to challenge statewide and local policies and cultivate genuine leadership focused on dismantling the existing status quo. Expect to witness FCCS making breakthroughs with lawmakers who have traditionally overlooked support for charter schools as well as bringing new voices into the public school choice conversation.  

Look ahead to see more informed and empowered communities of color actively shaping and transforming their educational landscape. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders and what are the challenges they will face? 

The quest for educational freedom is perpetual. I’ve come to understand that there isn’t a destination where everything falls into place; instead, thriving and excelling demand persistence, resilience, and humility. Our strength lies in unity. The challenges ahead, though they may take different names, encompass the enduring tasks of dismantling racism, ensuring equity, and demanding change rather than merely asking for it. 

Dr. Howard Fuller, a figure I hold as dear as my own father, wisely asserts, “regardless of what it’s called, the fight to make the systems of education work for our poorest families must continue.” I agree with the eternal need to fight, and I would add that the key to not getting exhausted or burnt out is to find a balance between being selfless in your pursuit while also valuing your own self-preservation. 

What are you reflecting on during Black History Month? What do you want readers to reflect on during Black History Month?

Despite the adversity and challenges that I have facedI love being Black. There is such a paradoxical energy about the resilience Black people have faced, while also being triumphant in spite of the challenges. It makes me so proud of my culture. 

Black History Month is a reminder of the incredible joy and triumph woven into our identity. Concurrently, acknowledging that Black history is an integral part of American history propels me to challenge the educational landscape. It’s essential to emphasize that Black history is not exclusively for Black people; rather, it is a collective heritage that should be shared. We are aware of our accomplishments and the value we’ve contributed to building this country.  

The significance of Black history lies in educating everyone else; ensuring that they know the true stories of our impact extends beyond the narrative of servitude.