TRACY (student) – I was suspended for “willful defiance”.
MARTHA (James’ mother)- “Willful Defiance.” Isn’t that what you had last time?
JAMES — Uh huh.
MARTHA — What’s that mean?
JAMES — Everything.
TRACY — Anything.
— (ZERO, Act One, by Julie Marie Myatt)
Last August, Darryl White, president of the Black Parallel School Board walked onto the stage of Sacramento’s Guild Theater after Act One of ZERO, a play that’s part of the program, Talk It Out: A Community Conversation to Fix School Discipline.
Turning to the standing-room-only crowd, he asked: “How many people know someone who’s been suspended from school?”
Nearly every hand went up. Heads swiveled in surprise at how many people had been touched. But for those who’ve been grappling with issue, the damage caused by disproportionate and high suspension rates has been mounting and spreading like an underground toxic plume for years.
ZERO, an innovative play in which White threw questions out to the audience between acts, distills the real stories and the real emotions behind the numbers in Sacramento. It revealed the indiscriminate use of suspensions from the points of view of African-American student James, aka ZERO, his teacher, his counselor, his principal, his parent, his girlfriend, a bully, and his estranged father.
“People talk about this issue, but they never hear the young person’s and parents’ point of view about zero tolerance,” says Carl Pinkston, secretary of the Black Parallel School Board. “The play humanizes it.”
“As much as the students are struggling, the teachers struggle, too, because they don’t get a lot of help,”