It shouldn’t be this difficult to help harassed and bullied students

Michael Wilson
Michael Wilson
Charity Jackson
Charity Jackson

Today’s guest columnists are Michael Wilson & Charity Jackson.

Charter school application denied.

Appeal to the state commission denied.

A new application, this time written directly to the state commission, denied again.

Appeal the denial, finally victorious.

What does it take for an organization to “comeback” from multiple denials?  It takes an extremely resilient spirit and the knowledge that your vision and mission are about providing a much-needed product that is a service to the community– in our case a schoolThe Magic City Acceptance Academy.

A comeback from multiple defeats in a comeback town is an incredible story when it comes to ours at the Magic City Acceptance Academy.  We were born out of the nonprofit Birmingham AIDS Outreach (BAO) who opened a youth center in 2014 called The Magic City Acceptance Center (MCAC).  Through MCAC the need for a brave, affirming learning space became very evident as the students self-reported daily harassment and bullying along with their feelings that they had few or no supportive adults in their learning spaces.

My (Dr. Wilson’s) interest in this project comes from several levels.  First of all, I am part of the LGBTQIA+ community, next I am an educator, and, lastly, I have had a dream for some time of creating a unique and innovative learning space that addresses the needs of students on a more individual basis.

Social justice and Civil Rights Initiatives have been in my heart since my teenage years.  I grew up in segregated Mississippi, I remember when James Meredith entered the University of Mississippi and never quite understood why it took federal troops to accomplish his dream to simply have equal access to a university education.

I lived on the sidelines as the fight for civil rights took place and cringed with disbelief at the violence and hate that a simple ask for human rights brought.  I remember vividly the reports on the news of churches burned, the fire hoses aimed at peaceful protesters and ultimately the death of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi who were working to register black voters.

At the same time I always knew I was different.  As I matured I slowly figured out that the difference was that I was gay.  With that realization I knew I had to hide who I really was, as I watched the violence towards other humans who simply wanted equal access and equal citizenship I knew that I could not be who I was where I was. Fast forward and I moved to Dallas, Texas to attend college.  It still took me a couple of years to actually “come out” but I found my community and I found people who took the fight for equality for LGBTQ people to heart and who fought the system.

One would have thought that with the passing of civil rights legislation and voter rights laws that our country would have changed.  Unfortunately we have still not faced the systemic racism that is embedded in our city, state, and our federal government.  This really became even more apparent to me as I watched the events of this past summer with the murders of George Floyd and others and watched the Black Lives Matter movement gain traction through the protests.

We subjected to bias and discrimination

At the same time I looked at our continued denials to exist as a school, with a school plan that is grounded in social and restorative justice, and our statement to be a brave and affirming space for our LGBTQ youth.  As the process continued I could think of nothing but that we too had been subjected to bias and discrimination. It is so disappointing that 60 years later that bias and hate continue to exist in this country and so much more work to be done.

My (Ms. Jackson’s) interest in this school came from different experiences as well. I am a member of the LGBTQIAP2S+ community, a Black woman, an educator and coach, and a fierce advocate for the acceptance of diversity as strength.

As a child growing up, I rarely saw teachers that mirrored my identity markers. I dealt with discrimination at the classroom level and at the school level. I dealt with micro-aggressions like “You’re so smart for a Black girl” or “You’re so talented, nice, or pleasant for a Black girl”. I dealt with macroaggressions like being blocked out of the National Honor Society due to attending a different public magnet High School for a year and being targeted at lunch and accused of things that I didn’t do due to the color of my skin.

After all of that and when it came time to decide where I would continue my education, I decided to attend Howard University, a Historically Black College and University. There I was empowered, liberated and nurtured as a Black educated woman. I was challenged and uplifted by my classmates, professors, and administration. Before graduation, I decided to shift paths from Medicine to Education as I had a dream to be and create an environment much like I had at Howard at the K-12 level.

After nine years serving in the classroom and as a coach, I saw that to create significant and sustainable change for my students, their families, and our community, it would take systems-level change. When Dr. Wilson’s and my networks connected us, I realized that the dream of creating a school community that placed students’ well-being and achievement at the center, that actively seeks community engagement, that provides wraparound services, that advocates for equity of students and community voice, and so much more was possible.

Today, here we are creating that brave, affirming learning space that empowers, supports, and educates the whole student — that we both dreamed about.  The ultimate comeback!

Magic City Acceptance Academy (MCAA), a tuition-free public charter school, will be located in Homewood, AL but students from across the state are eligible to attend. Lottery applications open until March 10th.

Charity Jackson is a Birmingham native and the Chief Academic Officer for Magic City Acceptance Academy. Charity has over 10 years of experience in public education. She graduated from Howard University with a B.A. in Spanish and graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a M.Ed. for English as a Second Language with a Dual Class A Certification in ESL and Spanish.

Dr. Michael Wilson – served 28 years with Birmingham City School, 20 of those years as a principal, before retiring and becoming the founding principal for Magic City Acceptance Academy.

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David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham.

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