It is June 3, 2020. Days into protests across the nation and world, human beings are angry, confused, frustrated, and in pain.[i]
Today I sat down to pen a statement on behalf of CT Center for School Change, but I struggled.
During the last several days, I’ve used writing as a source of sense-making, a way of puzzling through my thoughts and feelings. Writing has proven useful, though difficult. My thoughts are jumbled. My feelings are in flux. So instead of a polished statement representative of all of the Center team, I offer my personal thinking—in all its jumble and fluctuation.
First, let’s get something out of the way. I am a white, middle-aged, middle-class male. I benefit from forms of privilege that many of my closest friends and colleagues do not. There is absolutely no way I can fully grasp the experience of African-Americans in our nation. I will not assume I can. But I can damn well commit my energy and intellect to trying. I am listening. I am watching. I am learning. I aspire to be a worthy ally.
Second, despite my inability to fully grasp the experience of African-Americans (or other people of color in America), some things strike me as true at this moment in time. I offer these humbly, recognizing that as I listen, watch and learn, my perspective may become more subtle . . . more nuanced . . . less raw.
- What we see in the streets is not simply about George Floyd. What we are experiencing is the eruption of frustration, anger, and pain that has built up over a long history of violence perpetuated on the black community—on the black body. Ahmaud Arber. Philando Castile. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Amadou Diallo. Stephon Clark. There are more. So, so many more.
- Systemic and institutional racism abounds in America. Despite white America’s desperate efforts to avoid talking about race, mostly out of our own discomfort, racism takes myriad forms and is baked into our laws and culture.
- White privilege exists. No, white America, it doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard. It also doesn’t mean that you haven’t faced injustice or pain in your life. It simply means that that there are certain negative experiences people of color regularly face in America that you haven’t. Let me provide some personal examples. I have never had to coach my teenage son about when it is safe to wear a hoodie so he doesn’t get harassed or murdered. I also have not had to coach him about where to place his hands so that he doesn’t get shot during a routine traffic stop. I haven’t had to worry about the fact that he is growing into a man’s body and will therefore appear somehow threatening to people. I’ve also never been followed around retail businesses as a potential criminal because of my skin color. These are but a few examples. There are many, many more.
- This is not a sudden eruption of racialized events in America. No, this has happened for years, decades, and centuries. What is remarkably different now is that all citizens (1) are in constant possession of digital devices that can capture high quality video and (2) have access to digital platforms that can disseminate the footage to millions within seconds.
- Black lives do matter. No, white America, no one ever suggested that black lives are the only lives that matter, but to borrow from others who have stronger analogies, you don’t spray water across all the houses in a neighborhood when one is on fire. And if that didn’t work for you, consider this other one I’ve also nabbed from Facebook–you do not attack people wearing pink ribbons in October because you assume they don’t care about other forms of cancer.
Despite my range of emotions, I remain hopeful. I cannot but think there is potential for a transcendent moment right now in our history—that what emerges on the other side of this turmoil will be an era of greater justice. But I am neither Pollyannaish nor naïve; it isn’t inevitable and it won’t be easy.
It will require leadership willing to engage us in a fearlessly honest reckoning with our past (and our present) while embodying a compelling hope for the future.
I suspect that there will be no single transformational leader to guide us through this moment and into a more just future. Therefore, it will require numerous leaders, and they will likely come from all walks of life and often lacking formal trappings of authority.
Perhaps you are a such a leader.
I hope that many of us will engage with that fearlessly honest reckoning—that we will wrangle with our personal contributions to this imperfect and unjust society. If you benefit from the current distribution of power in our society, and if you are not working to disrupt the status quo, you are contributing to its current injustice. It is that simple.
And we educators, we need to step up and lean in. We can create the space for the fearlessly honest reckoning within classrooms, schools and districts. We can identify and disrupt the inequities in our own institutions. We can diversify our educator corps so that students see themselves in our ranks. We can provide our students with the competencies and confidence to work across social boundaries toward a common good. We can empower future citizens with the capacity to empathize with the plight of others.
My greatest hope is that as the tear gas dissipates, the news channels turn their attention to new topics, and the numbers assembling at city halls shrink, we stay in the fight for equity and justice within and through those institutions of closest proximity to our day-to-day lives—our families, houses of worship, workplaces, and schools.
Richard W. Lemons, EdD
Executive Director, CT Center for School Change
The CT Center for School Change believes that Equity in schools is achieved when student outcomes are not predicated by gender, race, ethnicity, class, or special needs and where all students reach a level of efficacy and competence that supports a rewarding and productive life. This requires the elimination of the inequities that contribute to disproportionate learning and achievement by students of certain social groups while ensuring students are prepared for a productive and meaningful life.
The Center provides districts and their leaders the tools and competencies to identify and address the inequities that plague our public schools and communities.