Unequal Opportunities, Unfair Punishments, Unjust Outcomes

It may be the festive season, but injustice sure hasn’t taken a holiday. Another example of a young black male being penalized by a white authority figure has occurred at  American Heritage School in the town of Plantation, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale.

This injustice screamed out to my friends, basketball star Dwyane Wade and his wife, actress Gabrielle Union, who reached out to me to help their friend, Angela Cross. All three of them have kids who attend the school.

Ms. Cross, a black single mom, was working at the school to cover the tuition of her son Cyrus Nance, who was a high school senior. She worked hard to provide her son a quality education and basketball opportunities that he couldn’t get elsewhere.

But on November 13, Ms. Cross’ son — a young man of color, a promising basketball star and a student with ZERO behavioral issues at American Heritage School — was expelled WITHOUT due process.

This hasty action was taken one day after Cyrus had a run-in with the girls’ basketball coach, who is white. Cyrus and a couple of his friends were on the basketball court when they shouldn’t have been, shooting hoops during a lull in the girls’ team practice. The girls’ coach stormed over and yelled at these young men of color for being on the court. One day later Cyrus — and only Cyrus, the one youth in the group who wasn’t paying regular tuition — was expelled. Because this happened after the transfer deadline, Cyrus is now ineligible to play basketball at any other school.

Ms. Cross was never issued a formal, written notice explaining the reasoning behind her son’s expulsion.

This school has a student body where whites outnumber blacks 5-to-1, and every fact in this case points to discrimination. Discrimination against a vulnerable single mother who the school believed had no resources to fight this injustice — a wrong that could very well have a lasting negative effect on Cyrus.

Mr. Wade and Ms. Union saw this for what it is, and stood up for what is right. For justice. For their friend Ms. Cross. And for Cyrus.

American Heritage School’s actions reflect the much broader reality of the dangerous school-to-prison pipeline, something people of color are all too familiar with. The chains of slavery may no longer exist in America, but the ominous effects of that societal evil linger still.

Black children remain shackled under the weight of schools and other institutions, including our unfair legal and economic systems, that are racist at their very core. The result: Black kids are being kicked out of class and losing valuable time to succeed in school — and therefore in life.

In my work as a civil rights lawyer, I have traveled all over the country fighting against injustices like this. I know that the deck is stacked against black kids, and the punishments are far worse for them, no matter where they go.

Minorities in America are sick and tired of seeing case after case where this is what passes for justice.

We believe Cyrus did nothing that warranted the school’s imposition of its ultimate penalty of expulsion. The school has already stolen four weeks of his education. The time has come for justice for Cyrus, to restore his hope for a bright and successful future.

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