They grew up in different worlds, walked different paths, and yet they met by chance and fell in love because they shared the same universally human values and principles. There is enormous power in this truth, far greater than any manmade racial construct, and we must hold onto that or else.
When I drove through the industrial streets of West Side Chicago and passed the city limits into the village of Oak Park, I was charmed by the lively downtown where Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright once strolled. I felt I had traveled back in time to old America where mom-and-pop shops and eateries dominated the streets instead of chain stores. I saw children and adults of various races playing and gossiping. These genuine moments seemed to hold hope for the future in an America still reeling from the aftermath of the George Floyd killing. I noticed these interactions with interest because I came here to interview an interracial family who felt that this hope was threatened by the introduction of critical race theory into the local schools.
Part of my interest in this family was personal. I descend from two generations of interracial marriages. And, whether Takyrica and Martin Kokoszka knew it or not, the symbolism of their interracial family placed them at the forefront of America’s latest cultural war around race.
Both Takyrica and Martin would be the first to protest that their skin color is of little importance and that their love matters above all and that is something I understand. When I entered their modest and warm home, I was greeted by their smiles and their three lovely children, including Takyrica’s handsome adult son from a high school relationship. Martin told me he grew up in a working class Connecticut town and that his love for basketball led to him discovering that he wanted to be a physical education teacher by the age of 14. For Takyrica, it was a professor at Malcolm X College that inspired her to pursue mathematics. She eventually took a $40,000 pay cut and left her corporate job to join Martin in the Chicago Public Schools as a math teacher.
This inspiring conversation would have continued without mention of race if I had not brought up the decision by the local educators to introduce America’s latest racial ideology, critical race theory (CRT), into the local schools. Both Takyrica and Martin head the Chicago chapter of FAIR, “a nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing civil rights and liberties for all Americans,” according to the website. (Disclosure – I have served as an advisory board member of FAIR).
The crisis that opened the door to CRT was a particularly shameful one. At the elementary school attended by the two younger Kokoszka kids, 55% of the Whites and 13% of the Blacks in grades three through five were on grade level for the ELA metric. For math, it was worse with 66% of the Whites on grade level while only 8% of the Blacks made the cut.
What made these statistics even more shameful was that they occurred in Oak Park, a village that prided itself, and deservedly so, for its integration efforts since the 1960s. Months after the Federal Fair Housing Act passed, Oak Park passed its own Fair Housing Ordinance to combat resegregation. These good residents put Oak Park on the path toward integration and many of them surely would not have predicted such racial achievement gaps decades later.
Martin provided me with a link to the recent virtual Parent University session for the parents of students in the Oak Park school district. The first slide was titled, “K-5 Social Justice Lessons: Building a Foundation for Inclusive & Anti-Racist Work in District 97.”
What followed was an uninspired presentation of materials learned by rote at various social justice conferences across America. The one memorable moment came when Maggie Cahill, the district’s Climate and Culture Coach, declared, “All schools are rooted in White supremacy” and that racism is “so systematic” that it is “in the air we breath” and “the water we drink.”