Last week was incredibly difficult – for us as individuals, for our communities, and for our country. The videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s tragic deaths – two more cases of black men killed by police – were shocking, upsetting and distressingly familiar. Then the week ended with the terrible retaliatory violence against police in Dallas. Many of us went into the weekend feeling confusion, pain, fear, anger – and yet deep love for all those who are hurting and all those who are demanding a better way forward.
On Monday, we gathered together in our Network Support offices to process and reflect together. This is the second of two posts sharing just a few of our voices. Read Part I here.
Embracing and Empowering Our Communities
We gathered Monday because of the collective desire to candidly speak on our feelings towards racist and oppressive systems. It’s more important than ever that we continue to create these spaces both formally and informally to reflect on our realities and critically think about the world we live in.
We must remain aware of the fact that our AF family is filled with Black and Brown students and families who are most vulnerable to day to day forms of injustice that result from oppressive systems. Therefore, to stand against one form of injustice inherently means that we must stand for all forms of injustice. We must ensure that the way we operate is nothing less than transformative.
An old mentor explained to me that if you are to help a community, you must become of that community. To become of that community means relinquishing the idea that you know something they don’t.
For all of us – whether we come from the communities we serve, or we come from elsewhere- we should all look to these communities at this time. They have been having these conversations long before AF schools opened their doors. –Mesha Byrd, Team External Relations
Surmounting Institutional Racism
Recent events have brought to mind a disturbing parallel between police-citizen interactions and teacher-student interactions. So many incidents where police and vigilantes have murdered Black people are about power, escalation, and control. The officer stops someone—nominally over a minor offense—and proceeds to escalate the situation in order not to “lose” (the officer in the Sandra Bland video particularly comes to mind). How many times do teacher-student interactions look something like this?
I look back with nausea—no, something worse than that—on my early teaching career. I can think of more than one moment where my interaction with a child escalated from a minor correction into a major power struggle that removed the child from class. A perfectly human reaction that spiraled into a dean’s referral. An untucked shirt that led to an argument that turned into hours of detention for the child. How many times did my desire to maintain an authoritative presence in the classroom come before the actual needs of the children in that room? The need to conduct every interaction with children from a place of love rings louder than ever.
Institutional racism can feel insurmountable. Those of us in schools, however, are part of institutions. We can, however, act locally to make sure our own institutions do not suffer from the same sickness that so many other American ones do. We can make our schools spaces that lift our children up when so much else in our society does not. –Michael Russoniello, Team Greenfield