Everyone is talking about how schools should care about equity for their students, but that can’t be the whole conversation. Equity has to mean more than just policies or decisions made for students—it also has to mean the process of fighting for fairness along with students.
That’s the message that Afi Tagnedji, a senior at Louisville’s Iroquois High School, has been spreading far and wide.
An immigrant from Togo, Afi serves on Jefferson County’s school equity council. She has organized a youth forum with local political candidates, spoke on a panel about equity and school climate with Parkland student activists and even got a public shout-out from President Obama’s former Education Secretary John King.
The more accolades she receives, the louder Afi’s message rings out. We can’t fight injustice unless student voice is a part of the process.
“Lots of educators and policymakers are trying to promote equity in schools,” Afi says, “but not all students are aware of the work being done. Teachers and organizations have to ensure that students are involved in that process as well.”
Even as a high schooler, Afi is doing her part by speaking out on her district’s school equity council. She has advocated for more culturally relevant curriculum and instruction in schools, and is passionate about recruiting more teachers of color in public schools.
“My high school is made up of predominantly Black and refugee students, but most of the teachers are White,” Afi points out. “Teaching is not seen as a profession for people of color here. We have to change that.”
Part of that involves creating more incentives to attract diverse candidates to the job, Afi says. She has praised initiatives like Kentucky’s new loan forgiveness program that would benefit minority college students considering education as a career choice. But even more than that, Afi realizes that all teachers, regardless of race, have to be grounded in their school communities and appreciative of their students’ cultural backgrounds.
“Students need teachers who look like them and who live in the communities where they teach,” she argues. As a student herself, Afi’s perspectives prove that equity and inclusion aren’t just buzzwords to be thrown around—they really matter to the students that our public schools are trying to serve.
The biggest issue? Getting there will take a village.
“There are many things I would love to see change in our schools, but it goes beyond what any one teacher can do,” Afi adds. “Inequity is systemic and we have to tackle it together.”
With students like Afi Tagnedji taking a stand and speaking out, I have a feeling that we’re making progress. Keep fighting the good fight, Afi!