Tawana Akins – Miami, Florida
2018 Social Justice Activist Nominee Profile
An author, educator and activist, Tawana Akins has dedicated her life to improving her Miami-Dade community. From her first leadership role as president of her high school student government where she organized for better meals for pregnant teenage girls and better course offerings for teenage moms to her activism today where she ensures racial justice in the gun violence debate, Tawana has been a force for change. We were able to catch up with her as she was organizing the children’s books she has authored, Miraculous, Meticulous, Milani Mattea and Milani’s First Day of School and Transformation, to send home with students so they can start building their own home library.
Tawana shared with us her thoughts on activism, social justice and the place that students have in this movement.
What spurred you to become an educator activist?
I realized my voice made a difference at the district level. I was the president of the Student Council and I dealt with many issues or concerns at the school, district and state level. When I started getting results, I felt that this is what I wanted to do for a lifetime.
Why should social justice activism matter to educators?
Social justice activism should matter to all educators because we must always continue the fight to save public education. Having a voice or just standing in solidarity with colleagues and the community is how change happens and voices are heard. We all can make a difference.
What role do students play in movement building, especially in light of the new political environment?
Students are an integral part of this equation and the student voice cannot be left out. Over the years, we have neglected to hear and allow our students freedom of expression. The time is now to shift the movement to the voices that will change our future, the students. It is their future at stake, so why not being them in as part of the process for a greater end product.
What is the role personal stories play in Social Justice activism?
Personal stories of success, pain, agony or recidivism should be told so that one can be a living testimony of change and upward mobility. Many people are touched by other people’s stories and to see how they solved issues in their lives benefit others to press on and not give up.
What is the biggest issue facing public education today?
The biggest issue facing public education is funding. How can one take funding from public schools knowing that we have always been underfunded? Funding is the major concern to me facing public education. Other issues that stand out like a sore thumb are salary increases for teachers and school safety.
What song gets you fired up to do this work?
Yolanda Adams — “What About The Children?”
What message would you most want to tell educator activists just starting out?
It is service work and it’s very rewarding. Sometimes you put in hours and hours and you feel defeated, but you must press on. Social justice activism works but you have to be dedicated and focused to get the results you want to see. Results do not happen overnight; however, perseverance is key.
This is a quote that I live by: “Each day as far as I can see, I strive to become, A Better Me!”
Racial Justice is Education JusticeOur education system is intended to uphold equal opportunity, but too often it also entrenches racial disparities by its design. We are engaging educators, students and allies to foster real dialogue around issues of racial justice in education and to mobilize and take action for education justice.
Support Ethnic Studies ProgramsFrom campaigns to require schools to offer ethnic studies courses, to efforts to change the names of schools honoring Confederate leaders, students and educators are mobilizing to include voices of the diverse ethnicities that have contributed to the history and culture of the United States.
Ending the School-to-Prison PipelineZero tolerance and other exclusionary school discipline policies are pushing kids out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system at unprecedented rates. Learn how educators, students and families are building relationships and community to address and prevent conflict.
Families Belong TogetherImmigration issues are complicated. But some things are simple. We should not punish children for decisions they didn’t make. We should not separate families. And we should provide a trusted path to citizenship for immigrant Dreamers. Read how educators are taking action on these issues.
Protecting Our Students' Civil RightsIn the face of federal civil rights rollbacks and threats, educators, parents and students are organizing to adopt school board policies that strengthen student protections. Find model policies and strategies that will empower you to ensure all students’ right to a safe and affirming school.
Educational Equity for Women and GirlsAll students deserve equal access to educational opportunities. However, girls and women often face structural barriers that threaten their success in school and beyond. Girls of color are more likely than white girls to face unfair discipline. And sexual harassment and violence in school are problems that confront most all girls. Learn how educators, students and allies are mobilizing to support the needs of all students — regardless of gender.
Facing Hate and Bias at SchoolAll students have a right to a public education in a safe learning environment. But right now, many of our students are scared, anxious, and feeling threatened. Students and educators around the country are reporting hostile and hateful environments in their schools and communities. When students feel that they are not welcome, their ability to learn and thrive is diminished.