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New faces in BCCS: Equity leaders Asha Omar and Nuhu Sims

Thursday, October 1, 2020 - As we start to find normal patterns in the 2020-2021 school year, it’s important to recognize all of the work that’s happening to keep us aimed at equitable practices in the ways we think, teach, train and hire in Brooklyn Center. This summer, we hired two key staff members whose sole focus is to lead and inspire equity work in our district. Nuhu Sims was hired as a district-wide equity coordinator and Asha Omar was hired as an equity teacher at Brooklyn Center Elementary STEAM.

Sims, a doctoral candidate studying culture and teaching at the University of Minnesota, most recently worked at Osseo Area Schools, where he served for over six years as an equity teacher.

Omar, also a doctoral candidate studying curriculum and instruction at the University of Minnesota, taught first grade in Verona Area Schools (Wisconsin) before turning her eye toward graduate studies.

Take a moment to hear from Sims and Omar, in their own words: 


How did you find your way to equity work; how did it become part of your journey?

Omar: For me, it was witnessing the racialization of students and knowing I need to do more, and we can do more to amplify voices and reflect our students in curriculum. We need to make sure we’re having dialogue with students, families and community. 

Sims: I grew up in the deep south, in the part of Florida where the Klan still has presence. We ended up moving way up north to Minneapolis and self-integrated into Eden Prairie schools. [My mother] drove us every day. What happened though, was a fracture in my identity — how I saw myself and blackness was all negative. Good things, even sunshine, were associated with whiteness. This started to change as I gained understanding about how oppression works across the world through my study of anthropology.

I got to live through [the education system] down in Dade County at North Miami Beach Senior High  — I saw that the education system was rotten. Haitian students and Cuban students who couldn’t speak English were required to pass certain tests in English to graduate. Even worse, the scores worked on a sliding scale so students were passing with 60 percent grades. So, failure was passing. They didn’t learn enough, and they weren’t prepared.

For me, this work is personal.


What are you most excited about when it comes to your role in Brooklyn Center Community Schools? 

Omar: One of the things I’m really excited about is holding listening sessions. We’ll open up for an optional time where families can voice their needs and concerns and get a picture of why some might not feel like they have a home here. We want them to feel like they do. And then helping to look at our resources and see how we can provide concrete answers and solutions. 

Sims: What I’m most excited to do is help people learn how to be free. Learning how to understand that we are the institution and that we can make changes. If we look up, down, left, right and there’s nothing stopping us, we can move forward with confidence. There are certain things that need to stay the same — mandatory reporting, paying people on time — but there is so much that can change. It’s okay to change bell times. It’s okay to not ask a student to turn on their camera on a video call. 

Freedom is a heavy weight. Some people don’t know what to do when the system is challenged or taken apart all together. When the confinements evaporate. But I’m here to help with all of that.


What would you like to have students and families know about your approach to equity work? 

Omar: That equity work is collaborative. I have to hold space for student, teacher and community voice for this to work. This can’t be a space where voices are quieted. I think part of my role is also fostering ownership on the staff side — one thing I’ve done is worked with support specialists about how their role has traditionally functioned and then facilitated adjusting titles and some duties to better align with our values. We’re not interested in someone’s role being framed as behavior management or full of punitive engagements; we want staff to be motivated and affirmed. 

Sims: I am very critical — I’m very serious about what I’m talking about, and it’s okay. Our differences make us better and stronger, and if you feel like your opinion or who you are is valued, that you’ll be willing to engage in different kinds of conversation. This is the work of love and humanity, but critical love and critical humanity.

Please join us in welcoming Nuhu Sims and Asha Omar to BCCS — we are excited for the ways they’ll help lead change in the coming weeks, months and years.