Our equity work is necessary and meaningful

On Saturday, February 29, about 150 of my colleagues at SDoL gathered for the second day of training to improve equity, inclusion and excellence in our schools. I shared some comments at the beginning of that session, reflecting on why this work is important to me. I thought I would share them with our readers as well. (I edited slightly for space.)

On Friday, I participated in my group’s equity training. I sat with a group that filled me with pride. We bonded over our similarities, and we were open to learn about our unique challenges in meeting students’ needs. We engaged in real talk about which students we were reaching, and about those with whom we were not meeting the mark.

Others in the room shared their personal journeys and told us why this work was so important to them.  Feeling discriminated against, alienated, and alone in their journeys resembles the journey of many of our students. We talked about micro aggressions, and how they often come in the form of a compliment. “You are so articulate,” they may say to a person of color—as if that’s a surprise! People talk about the disengaged students as if it isn’t our job to engage them.

I am calling on you, counting on you to speak up. Teaching Tolerance, a magazine by the Southern Poverty Law Center, published an article titled, “Speak Up.” It lists six steps to speak up in responding to everyday bigotry.

First, be ready. Be the one to summon the courage to respond to a racist or bigoted statement. That might be as easy as asking, Why do you say that?

Second, identify the behavior. For example, ask, Are you classifying all the people from a certain ethnicity as lazy?

Appeal to principles. If someone you have a relationship with said something bigoted, call them out on principles: “I always thought you were fair-minded. It surprises me that you would say that.”

Set limits. Don’t accept the racist joke, or the gay joke, or the misogynistic joke. Let it be known you don’t want them said around you. Cut off that behavior. It is not acceptable.

Find an ally and be an ally. When you are frustrated, seek out people who are like minded—like people in this room. Be an ally to the oppressed. That will inspire others to do the same.

And finally, be vigilant. We know that this work is hard and change doesn’t happen quickly. But don’t surrender to bigotry; don’t let bias win.

This is our time to speak up!

For fair funding for our school district, for the governor’s proposal for charter school reform, for inclusion, equity and excellence for every child.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King responded to eight white, moderate clergymen in Alabama who opposed his non-violent resistance methods and suggested that black people should wait for the courts to settle the injustices against black people. Dr. King responded:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists (he refers to Chief Justice Earl Warren), that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I know that the work we are doing makes a necessary and meaningful difference to the lives of our students. We will not give up the fight.