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Planting Roots of Righteousness

Dexter Moore Jr., Ed.L.D. '22, returned to his hometown of Oakland, California to lead the school district's pioneering Reparations for Black Student Resolution — a culmination of community organizing.
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When Dexter Moore Jr., Ed.L.D.’22, returned home to Oakland, California, during the height of the pandemic, he found that not only had the city changed, but so had he. With familiar businesses shuttered and rallying cries for racial justice sounding, he found it difficult to discuss change as a theoretical idea in his classes when so much was happening in the world around him.

“I grappled with the link between the theory I was reading and the real-life implications of what folks in my community and around the world seemed to need,” he says.

During his third-year residency in HGSE’s Ed.L.D. Program, however, he would start to find that link, working for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Superintendent’s Office to lead the Reparations for Black Student Resolution — the country’s first policy of its kind in a K–12 public school setting.

The culmination of many years of community organizing, primarily done by Black mothers in Oakland — many of whom were OUSD students themselves — the resolution aims to acknowledge and address the longstanding, systemic harm directed toward Black students, families, and educators in the district and then help schools develop comprehensive solutions specifically for Black students. School sites would then identify and implement specific teaching and leadership actions for Black students, families, and educators, like designating time and resources for mental health check-ins or literacy interventions, in their planning.

“Oakland is a city rich with righteousness,” says Moore, who worked as a director of strategic initiatives in Detroit Public Schools before enrolling in the Ed.L.D. program. “Justice, community, and love are really the seeds in the soil. It’s really a community of organizing and our school system has inherently a lot of those same features.”

Drawing on that history of activism and organizing, OUSD has pioneered many educational innovations designed to tackle inequities, like full-service community schools and an Office of African American Male Achievement. So, while the term “reparations” might seem provocative, says Moore, ultimately, it’s continuing and deepening the journey towards an equitable school system started by previous generations of activists, young people, and families in Oakland.

Tasked with implementing the first phase of the resolution, Moore partnered with community leaders, who were the organizing force of the adoption of the resolution, to launch a citywide listening campaign and co-lead a 25-member task force of district and community leaders, eventually developing a series of indicators measuring academic success, access to rich and diverse learning experiences, and the degree to which students feel safe, empowered, loved, and affirmed, to show how Black students and families are faring in the school system. The indicator framework was presented to the school board in January and is currently in use. Data gathered during this period will then inform and identify areas of support for future systems improvement work for Black students and their families.

“Oakland is a city rich with righteousness. Justice, community, and love are really the seeds in the soil. It’s really a community of organizing and our school system has inherently a lot of those same features.”

Recognizing that the resolution is not just another district initiative but part of a social justice movement, Moore also collaborated with Spearitwurx, an Oakland-based community organization to co-design an open call for artists of all ages to submit representations of their experiences and their visions of what success for the district would look like. These visions were scheduled to be shared at a MLK Day convening at the Oakland Museum of California to help spread awareness and engage the broader community in restoring, reflecting on, and reimagining the work of schools in the city but the event unfortunately was cancelled because of the Omicron virus.

While the work around reparations is promising, change doesn’t happen overnight, and compromise is necessary along the way, Moore says. While he felt conflicted about being, as he puts it, “the Black man from Harvard doing the Black work in Oakland” in a fragile, politicized context that included navigating school closures, this was also a profound opportunity for change — and one that, according to his Ed.L.D. classmate, he’s uniquely qualified to lead because of his respect for and understanding of grassroots community organizing.

“Dexter’s work begins with the assumption that communities have the capacity to solve their own problems,” says Adonius Lewis, Ed.L.D.’22. “He channels his privilege to improve the life outcomes of his fellow Oaklanders — perpetually amplifying the voices of those most proximal to the injustices and inequities that he is so dedicated to eradicating.”

As a homegrown leader, Moore bridges the gap between community politics and power. His career has even spanned the education ecosystem and he’s worked in classrooms, community organizations, nonprofit boardrooms, and district offices. But it’s been his time at Harvard that has allowed him the space to think about what kind of leader he wants to be and the kind of change he’d like to lead. “[The Ed.L.D. Program] pushes you to be a highly reflective leader,” says Moore. “I’ve appreciated the opportunity to explore what point of impact I want to have.”

According to his advisers, adjunct lecturer Drew Echelson and psychologist and lecturer Candice Crawford Zakian, the work was demanding, but Moore welcomed and embraced the challenges, growing as a leader in the process. “This is risky work to do in real time, yet Dexter managed to keep himself anchored by his unique strengths, clarity of purpose, and a well-utilized support system in a manner that was daring, strategic, and full of heart all at the same time,” says Crawford-Zakian.

Echelson echoes that sentiment, noting that Moore entered his residency as a “reluctant superintendent candidate” but leaves eager to step up to the plate and his work with OUSD serves as an inspiration for other districts. “I have no doubt that senior level leaders from around the country will leverage his learning to drive improvement efforts in their own districts,” says Echelson.

Moore plans to return to Oakland after Commencement and is interested in seeing the shape the reparations work continues to take as it grows. “I always like to leave a place better than when I entered it,” says Moore, adding that changing a system takes time. As a leader, though, he’s committed to seeing the potential of the resolution realized. “This opportunity was too valuable to the work I want to do for the rest of my life to walk away from. Oakland is home for me. It’s where my heart and community are, and I am committed to doing what I can to ensure I am part of the long-term success of our district.”

Dexter Moore served as the Ed.L.D. class marshal at Commencement 2022.


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