Over the past couple of weeks, America has once again faced the ugly truth about racism, injustice and police brutality. It is no surprise to me that these acts of hatred have occurred because I am an African American man in America, and unfortunately have witnessed or have been subject to racism, discrimination, injustice and bigotry throughout my life.
The reality that many African Americans live each day is now being videotaped and exposed via social media for the world to finally see the raw truth. It is unfortunate that in 2020, we still have to protest, fight for black lives and march for social justice and anti-racism.
In America today, I still walk into stores aware that I am being watched as if I am going to steal; witness women clutch their purses when I enter an elevator; and sense the stares when walking in certain neighborhoods as if I do not live there.
The color of my skin makes some people uncomfortable, afraid and suspicious of me simply for being black. There is something wrong with this narrative – and I know that I am not the only one.
Through all of this mess, I believe that we can change the narrative of our future with this generation of young people leading the way. In order for this to come to fruition, we must accept that schools across our nation are a contributing factor to systemic racism and unfortunately perpetuate modern day segregation that leads to feelings of black and brown children being oppressed.
Across America, our public schools continue to have disciplinary infractions that are disproportionate between black and brown students and their white counterparts. Achievement and opportunity gaps continue to be pervasive, while educational resources continue to be scarce in our most vulnerable communities that consist of black and brown children.
In Alexandria City Public Schools, we have diverse hallways. However, when you enter our classrooms you will not witness the same diversity. In Alexandria, we have a rich history, but unfortunately some of the horrific portions of our history are left out of our history lessons in our schools.
We say we embrace diversity and are a welcoming community. However, we still have segregated neighborhoods throughout our city.
We must speak our truth and be bold in order to have a brighter future. In order to begin to heal, unapologetically do something about racism and become an anti-racist community we must:
- listen to our young people of color to hear their experiences;
- not be afraid to address someone demonstrating microaggressions in our presence;
- be willing to learn more about anti-racism and acknowledge white privilege in our world; and
- have the courage to face the wrongs of our country that started against black people more than 400 years ago.
In our schools, it is imperative that we provide anti-racism training for all employees and ensure that we establish an anti-racist culture within ACPS. Our textbooks and history lessons must provide accurate information about the founding principles of our country and share the ugly truth of the black struggle.
We must educate our students on all aspects of the lives of our “American heroes,” including their racist beliefs and inhumane actions. Knowing our history – including the good, the bad and the ugly – allows us to not repeat it.
It is like deja vu watching our televisions and social media. In the 1960s, we were fighting the same injustices, the same racism and the same police brutality that we are fighting today.
The fact that I can still play the song, “Wake Up Everybody,” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes released in 1975 and the lyrics still describe our country in 2020 is unbelievable. We have got to do so much better and it will only get worse if we do not take a stand for action now. Reading a book, posting on social media or saying “are you OK?” is not enough.
We need to form anti-racism collaboratives to establish action plans for our city and support our racial equity work in the next ACPS Strategic Plan 2020-2025. We need people of all nationalities and races to advocate for the next generation so we can strive for an anti-racist country in the future. We need to establish community circles where our community can come together to strategize on the future of Alexandria.
As I watch this situation unfold, I pledge to no longer remain quiet when I am a witness to microaggressions, racism and the belittling of our young people, especially those that are black and brown. I will continue to build my knowledge of anti-racism strategies, work to establish a culture of anti-racism and commit to engaging and listening to the perspectives of our young people with an open mind and heart.
In galvanizing our community in Alexandria, I am confident that our ACPS mission, vision, core values and goals in the new strategic plan will serve as a road map to remove barriers for our students in ACPS and shift this narrative in a positive direction.
We need to start somewhere, and we need to start today.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools