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  • Writer's pictureShaElla Askew

How Can We Collaborate with HBCUs to Drain the School to Prison Pipeline System?

As a parent, I recently enrolled my daughter in a charter school. Like many other parents, I was concerned about her future and education. I knew that her path would have been different if we had not changed schools. She was not getting the same access to education and extracurricular activities as her peers. When we made the switch, I saw an improvement in her behavior, confidence, and mindset. Her eyes are now open to more possibilities for a career choice.

I am beyond grateful that my daughter and I both felt welcomed and comfortable with joining an Alabama Public Charter School. My goal as a parent is to spread the news to other parents who believe they have no other options for their child's education. So, when I attended the New Schools for Alabama 2022 Conference, where I learned about all the exciting developments happening in our state's education system, it opened my eyes even further to what's possible for our children's futures!

Many headlines in the news bring our attention to various stories that place a spotlight on the school-to-prison pipeline in America. As administrators, educators and parents, we are often overwhelmed and unaware of what actions to take to address this issue. How can Alabama Charter Schools collaborate with HBCUs to drain the school-to-prison pipeline system? How do we take an active role? While charter schools are not the lone answer to this systemic issue, the building of high-quality charter schools with HBC can help dismantle the pipeline! Thankfully, the conversation was ignited at the NSFA 2022 Conference and here are a few highlights that stood out to me:

One topic that resonated with me came from the speech Dr. Michael Lomax from UNCF (United Negro College Fund) presented about the collaboration of HBCUs and charter schools. Dr. Lomax shared his dream of HBCUs and Alabama charter schools working together to improve the public education system in Alabama, and to hopefully spark a movement in the country. “I hope and pray that we change the way HBCUs, and K-12 charter schools engage black students, their families, and their communities. This meeting has been a long time coming…one that I have worked for over two decades at UNCF to achieve, he said.” Imagine a world where young kids are introduced to the concept of college as a realistic goal at an early age and where they can begin to build skills that will help them become the next leaders of this country.

The next discussion shortly after was the HBCU panel featuring HBCU leaders discussing how we can make Dr. Lomax’s dream possible. What stood out to me was how the University of West Alabama has already created a PreK-12 school to university pipeline. Theschool-to-prison pipeline, is a disturbing national trend wherein youth are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal legal systems. Many of these youth are Black or Brown, have disabilities, or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and would benefit from additional supports and resources.” 1(School-to-prison pipeline 2022)

I came home and researched to learn more about University Charter School and its mission. The school was founded in 2018 on the campus of UWA, and many of its students are African American families located in what is known as the Black Belt in Alabama. Their goal is to bridge the gap in education opportunities for students in the Black Belt. “For the first time, black students and white students are learning side-by-side in integrated public school classrooms. More than half of the school's 300-plus students are black, while just under half are white.” 2(University Charter School can stay put, judge rules 2019)

The success of these efforts is evident: after 60 years, many of these students have gained access to a proper education. Opening University Charter School is not only a victory for those students but for the entire country. It shows we can stand for what's right and make positive societal changes.

I urge HBCUs and Alabama Public Charters to come together and share ideas. Networking with each other is a great start. We need to build in order to sustain. It was so nice seeing Alabama A&M University, Stillman College, and more all in the same place collaboratively working towards the same goal of helping our future leaders thrive. Let's bring more HBCUs into this pathway of success, so we can help bridge the gap in community prosperity with economic, social and cultural development. As Dr. Lomax stated,” This collaboration, I believe, can usher in a new era of education, innovation, and address education inequity, and disparity, and to give the black children of our region once and for all time equal, and universal opportunity. To get the education they and their families want, which they deserve, and the education that we as a region and as a nation need them to have, so that they can be full participants in this great democracy.”

Imagine if every underprivileged student in Alabama had access to an education that taught them to be their best and helped them reach their full potential. This is no longer a pipe dream. In fact, it's happening across the country, and especially in Alabama.

The best way to support this mission is by supporting us! We need your help to make sure that every single student in Alabama has access to the best education possible.

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  1. School-to-prison pipeline (2022) American Civil Liberties Union. Available at: (Accessed: January 6, 2023).

  2., T.P.C.| (2019) University Charter School can stay put, judge rules, al. Available at: (Accessed: January 6, 2023).

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