It feels presumptuous to write about Courtney Everts Mykytyn. I never met her; and, unlike many of her other admirers, I never spoke with her by phone. But nothing seems more urgent and proper than calling attention to the work she did – and that her colleagues have vowed to continue.
Everts Mykytyn, 46, died last week when she was struck by a car while standing on the sidewalk across the street from her home in Los Angeles. It was a tragic loss for her family and friends and a setback for those who believe schools should be a force for social justice.
She was founder and director Integrated Schools, which describes itself as “growing a grassroots movement of, by and for parents who are intentionally, joyfully and humbly enrolling their children in integrating schools.” Started in 2015, it has chapters in 20 cities, a popular podcast and an online book club, and it serves as a support network encouraging parents who choose diverse schools.
Andrew Lefkowits, her Integrated Schools podcast co-host, said in a moving and heartfelt audio tribute that Everts Mykytyn was “simultaneously fiercely committed to her values, certain of the direction she was heading, while being constantly willing to listen, to grow, to understand differently, and to incorporate that understanding into her world view.”
At The White Pages blog, Garrett Bucks wrote: “She took an issue (white parents and the metric ton of problematic choices we make in choosing where our kids go to school) that has too often led only to navel gazing and instead just got to work.”
Everts Mykytyn got to work with humility and sharp intelligence. She wasn’t in the least Pollyannaish or naïve but understood the complexity and the pitfalls of privileged white folks embracing diverse schools, including the risk or gentrification and the “white savior” complex.
“Courtney was a true organizer, who believed that social change happens one conversation at a time,” her friend Peter Piazza wrote at School Diversity Notebook.
Readers of this blog should know that I feel strongly about school segregation. But until Mykytyn and Integrated Schools appeared on the scene, I had almost given up on integration as an ideal.
Research has shown that American schools have become more divided by race and social class in the past 25 years. Modest efforts to reduce segregation in public school districts have prompted bitter resistance from privileged white parents. Affluent suburbs are seceding from city school districts, leaving urban schools more racially isolated and underfunded.
At the same time, many policymakers have turned their backs on the concept of schools as a public good, embracing market-based reforms premised on the idea that families should choose what’s best for their children, never mind what’s good for anyone else.
The Integrated Schools movement is a timely reminder that despair and cynicism don’t accomplish anything. We may not be able to turn the battleship of policy with our words and actions, but we can live our values. And, as Everts Mykytyn insisted, we can live them intentionally, joyfully and humbly.
“She’s built something beautiful, something powerful and something enduring,” her podcast partner Lefkowits said, “a community of people engaged in the work of building a true multiracial democracy.”