Brittany Packnett to tackle educational inequity nationwide, starting with lessons from St. Louis | St. Louis Public Radio

Brittany Packnett to tackle educational inequity nationwide, starting with lessons from St. Louis

Aug 17, 2016

Earlier this summer, Brittany Packnett announced she would be leaving her role as the Executive Director of Teach for America-St. Louis and would become TFA’s new vice president of National Community Alliances. That role starts October 1.

Before she starts the new position, Packnett joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to look back on her work with TFA in St. Louis, her participation on the Ferguson Commission and President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21th Century Policing and her social activism. 

“I see it less as climbing the ladder and more as continuing to do work that I feel incredibly fortunate to do,” Packnett said. “The last two years have taught me so much about how we listen and learn from people, how we truly adapt to meet the needs of students, families and communities with their vision at the forefront. That’s what this role is really about. I’m excited to take what we’ve been doing in St. Louis and spread it across the country.”

The new role will have two parts. First, Packnett will travel the country, hearing from parents, students and educators and, then, will then use that feedback to help set the civil rights agenda for TFA. Secondly, she will directly oversee five TFA initiatives directly dedicated to communities of color.

“It’s impossible to understand the roots of educational inequity and why we’re in the situation we’re in without talking about issues of race, class, privilege and oppression,” Packnett said. “We’ve ignored that for far too long in too many of our education organizations. TFA has been very serious about correcting course on that front.”

While on the program, Packnett also addressed an interaction she witnessed part of yesterday on Washington Avenue between a man being arrested and a St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officer.

While Packnett did not witness the arrest of the man, who claimed he was slapped by a white man in a green shirt after he was stopped for walking in the street, she witnessed the aftermath of the interaction and took several videos (you can see the first of those here). Those videos include interviews with two witnesses who said the man in the green shirt was an off-duty police officer.

St. Louis on the Air producers reached out to SLMPD for comment on the matter, and their response was that the department had started an internal affairs investigation immediately following the incident. Leah Freeman, with the Public Information Division, said that the videos posted on Twitter do not depict the actual encounter and the department is looking for witnesses of the incident.

Their description of the interaction: 

Packnett said she would file a formal complaint with the police department and cooperate with any ongoing investigation, but that she thought it odd that two witnesses spoke up about improper police behavior and the officer was not questioned himself.

“In these moments, people often accuse us of jumping to conclusions but the fact of the matter is that if we don’t demand accountability and transparency on the front end, we never get it,” Packnett said.

"Shining a light on inequity is not the same as creating inequity. We have to recognize that the longer we ignore where divisions already exist, the longer it will take for us to heal them, the longer it will take for people to see true equity, the longer it will take for people to see the liberation they deserve."

Packnett also reflected on the past two years, saying that she remained “hopeful and urgent” about change after the police shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. She said the issues that led to the eruption of protests in Ferguson are centuries in the making. While full change will take a long time, she said she sees urgency in the community that makes her believe it will come sooner rather than later.

“The proverbial magnifying glass we have up to our country right now might be a bit more new, a bit more nuanced, more visible to more people, but that the issues, the oppression that our community have dealt with for decades in St. Louis are not new,” Packnett said. “Shining a light on inequity is not the same as creating inequity. We have to recognize that the longer we ignore where divisions already exist, the longer it will take for us to heal them, the longer it will take for people to see true equity, the longer it will take for people to see the liberation they deserve.”

While Packnett is not sure exactly where her new position will be based, she is sure to be traveling outside of St. Louis for much of the job.

“St. Louis has been so incredible to me, and I hope I have given at least a little something back,” Packnett said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.