Random Voices Are Not Enough – Why Educational Leaders Need to Talk about #BlackLivesMatter
If you have been following my blog, you know I have been deeply moved by the recent police shootings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice… (sadly, the list seems to continue without end.) Dr. King said: “”Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” With news reports and social media inundate us with images of police violence, protests and other events related to the #ICan’tBreathe, #HandsUpDon’tShoot and #BlackLivesMatter movement, there has, no doubt, been a lot to talk about.
I have been waiting…
That said, with all the recent attention on these topics in the news and social media, I have been saddened that, many educators I know have not been very vocal about these issues. In our very own district, one of the three key goals in our District Strategic Plan is Equity. For these reasons, it is notable that there has been relative silence from many top educational leaders on the topic of #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter since Michael Brown’s shooting and the subsequent protests this past August.
This is not to say that there is no conversation about race and equity among SFUSD staff. On the contrary, many site leaders and staff have been consistent champions of equity in our schools, and I am sure many of my colleagues are convening these important conversations in lunchrooms, classrooms and offices across our district. In fact, the Board of Education recently approved a plan to include a new Ethnic Studies course offered in all SFUSD high schools. (Thank you for your leadership Commissioner Fewer and others who helped make this a reality!)
In this regard, I am grateful for recent posts from Luis Valentino‘s personal blog. (Mr. Valentino serves as the Chief Academic Officer at SFUSD. You can read his posts here and here.) I am also thankful for posts from community leaders who often partner with our schools and families: Vincent Pan of Chinese for Affirmative Action wrote a personal response to the announcement that Darren Wilson would not be indicted and Neva Walker of Coleman Advocates also wrote a great piece, speaking from the heart about what all this means to her as a black mother.
I am also grateful for Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Antwan Wilson who stated:
That these unarmed men, children in some cases, were killed at the hands of those appointed to protect and serve is maddening. It’s a call to action for anyone who cares about equality or who believes that the ideals of this country must be demonstrated in actions as well as in words. It’s a source of anger across the country and profoundly felt by our black youth right here in Oakland. As educators, the challenge is to help our children direct this fear and anger in a way that helps them fight injustice—while remaining alive. We must give our students the knowledge, the support, and the tools to maximize their chance at that most basic of conditions, survival, so they can reform society to the point where these lessons are no longer necessary.
Read more about what other educators have to say in this post by Caroline Bermudez: Educators Grapple with the Lessons of the Brown and Garner Killings.
Random Voices Are Not Enough
It is imperative that educators throughout the country talk about issues of race and specifically anti-black racism going on right now in our communities.
Many folks are wary of talking about race in the present context. It is much easier to think of anti-black racism as an unfortunate episode from our past. In some cases, we may avoid the conversation because we are afraid to say the wrong thing, or we feel uncomfortable acknowledging the internalized biases we have within us all. Or we worry that we ourselves will become the targets of racist attacks.
It is much easier to think of anti-black racism as an unfortunate episode from our past.
Nonetheless, educators and especially educational leaders must be vocal about recent events because in doing so, they model the types of important conversations we desperately need to have. It is the only way to correct the societal ills that have led us down this path. Recent events show these issues have gone way beyond Ferguson, Missouri. Before we can “fix it” we need to “talk about it”. If we don’t, we will never truly address the #Ferguson that exists in our own backyard.
As Vincent Pan, of Chinese for Affirmative Action states in his post:
“…the dominant culture tells us that their [Michael Brown and others’] names, their families, their stories, and their lives do not matter. All of us have a responsibility to resist this horrible deception.”
For this reason, it is important for people in positions of authority publicly speak about #Ferguson, #ICan’tBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter because in doing so they create space for all of us: teachers, staff, families and students, to collectively share our grief, fear and outrage. Moreover, it validates what our experience as black Americans. Our suffering is real, and our perspectives are important. As a black person, a mother, and educator who cares deeply about the fate of black children in America… it is important for me to hear voices in power shouting out from Dr. King’s proverbial mountain top to say…
“Yes, the system is corrupt! Yes, the system needs to change… and YES, BLACK LIVES MATTER!”
Illana Horn, an educator on Twitter, warn us what will happen if we don’t:
When we remain silent in the face of these injustices, students notice. They may mistake it for complicity. Pay attention.