June 5, 2020
Dear CPS Community,
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was a sharecropper from Mississippi who became a powerful voting rights advocate. In talking about the fatigue that comes with managing the consistent indignity of being viewed as something less than human and being actively cut off from access to full citizenship as a black person in the U.S., she asserted on one occasion that, “All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
That’s the frustration on display in Center City here in Philly and in municipalities around our country and the world right now.
The fact that a school like CPS is even necessary speaks to the inequities and indignities woven into the fabric of our society. This latest boil-over represents a deep-seated, generational fatigue and trauma we seem to cycle through every few years, from decade to decade, generation to generation. In reality, it’s a manifestation of social stratification and inequity that’s so perpetual and normalized that many in our society find it hard to see and name, let alone fix. Truly, this is what happens when we fail to come to terms with our country’s history of racial injustice.
The George Floyd murder caught on video can serve as a metaphor for where we are in the U.S.:
- There are people and forces that, like Derek Chauvin, have their knee on the neck of the defenseless and marginalized.
- There are those who are devalued and regularly subjected to harsh, dismissive treatment like George Floyd.
- There are those like Chauvin’s colleagues and many in the crowd who are bystanders and respond with apathy or paralysis.
- There are those who recognize there is a problem and DO something (even if initially it seems as simple as activating the camera on their phone).
We should ask ourselves, which archetype best represents me right now and where will I choose to align myself moving forward?
If we commit to action in response to this crisis moment, we must start in our own spheres of accountability and influence, on the home front, at work, in our civic lives and, most importantly, with ourselves. U.S. intelligence officials say they’ve seen similar situations play out in other countries before a collapse. We are clearly at a point where responding with commitment and courage is necessary.
From our classrooms to our boardroom, CPS’ continued commitment to the critical work of equity, inclusion, and justice informs how we move forward, not just in our messaging but, more importantly, in our actions. As such, we will double down on initiatives like our story sharing partnership with officers from our local police precinct and our white accountability work for adults. We will redouble our efforts at executing our schoolwide race, equity, diversity, and inclusion goals and objectives. There is so much for all of us to do and learn. We will continue to facilitate life-giving and affirming learning opportunities, for students and adults, in our immediate school community and beyond. Frustration, confusion, and fatigue notwithstanding, we must soldier on if we are to truly form the “more perfect union” that serves as our collective north star. Won’t you join us?
Anne Wilmerding Eric Jones
Chair, Board of Trustees Head of School
Advice on what to do now in light of the latest example of disregard for black lives:
What Can White People Do?
Ali Michael, PhD does research-based work on racial competence. This is one of her recent pieces, but most of her work is relevant and useful.
A Sociologist Examines the “White Fragility” That Prevents White Americans from Confronting Racism
Reading the actual book is preferable, but reading this article is a starting point.
Historical context regarding how social stratification and inequity came to be in the U.S.:
The 1619 Project
The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative of the New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.
NPR’s Fresh Air featuring Henry Louis Gates Jr. — Points To Reconstruction As The Genesis Of White Supremacy
Again, reading the book (and/or watching the PBS documentary is preferable), but this article is a good start.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
In this work, Richard Rothstein details how segregation in America is the byproduct of explicit government policies at the local, state, and federal levels.
Also wonderful resources for those of us with children in our lives:
The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our Differences
Written by two mothers and educators — one black and one white — The ABCs of Diversity equips parents, teachers, and community leaders to address children of all ages on complicated topics of race, gender, class, religion, political affiliation, ability, nationality, and sexual orientation.
Talking to Young Kids about Race and Justice
Created by CPS Kindergarten teacher Ms. Guha-Roy, this is a compilation of interaction resources for families and suitable for children in Pre-K through 2nd Grade.
Talking to Kids about Racism and BLM
Created by CPS’ current Urban Teaching Fellows, this interactive slide show with a variety of resources for talking with children about racism, the current protests for racial justice, positive racial identity, and kid activism/empowerment.