28-year-old Alexis Hawkins posted her message on LinkedIn, just after she graduated from the Howard University School of Law:
“This accomplishment represents so many things but most importantly it is proof that ANY thing is possible. This one is for those individuals and communities that are often overlooked and forgotten about by society. To everyone who believed in me, thank you!”
The words are inspiring. They're full of hope. It's hard to keep from getting emotional when Hawkins thanks those who “believed” in her.
Not everyone did, though.
A Difficult Path to Redemption
Hawkins grew up in foster care. Despite this fact, she became an A student at her high school, Ballou High School in southeast Washington, D.C. At least she was an A student, until at age 15, the school expelled her for fighting. Her story isn't uncommon. Many schools across the country endorse what's known as “exclusionary discipline,” or removing “problem” students from the normal classroom environment through suspension or expulsion.
Exclusionary discipline has been closely associated with the “school to prison pipeline,” or the tendency of elementary and high school students who have received harsh discipline to eventually wind up in trouble with the law. Hawkins was on that path.
Out of school for six months, Hawkins drifted with little direction until she got involved with an anti-violence group called the Peaceaholics. On a trip with the Peaceaholics, she met Annie Cooper, a Southern activist. Cooper shared stories with Hawkins about the Civil Rights movement, about standing in line to vote, and about punching a policeman who wouldn't stop prodding her with a billy club. That story helped to change the direction of Hawkins's life. As Hawkins describes it,
“That touched me because I'm a fighter. I have a warrior spirit too. Annie Cooper made me realize that I was fighting the wrong people. I was fighting people who looked like me, Black girls who came from the same community, who had gone through the same hardships.”
Back on the right path, Hawkins would eventually get her GED and receive a B.A. in criminal justice from Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, before enrolling at Howard Law.
One of the Lucky Ones
Hawkins's story is an inspiring one. It's also a frustrating one. Hawkins was lucky. Studies show, for instance, that a student who is suspended from school just once is twice as likely to wind up involved with the criminal justice system as a student who received a lighter punishment. Schools know this, and yet they go on using exclusionary discipline on the principle that leaving a problematic student in class harms other students.
Here's the thing, though: Annie Cooper got through to Alexis Hawkins. Rather than punish Hawkins for her behaviors, Cooper met her on her own ground and taught her how to use her attitudes for positive ends. Do we really face a choice, then, between harming one child or harming many? Or have we simply failed to find more creative solutions than exclusionary discipline?
If your child has been suspended, expelled, or subjected to another form of exclusionary discipline, you can fight back. Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.