It’s 2017. It’s been half of a century since the passage of the Civil Rights Act; more than 70 years since Brown v. Board of Education; 150 years since the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.
Yet, in Charlottesville, VA, on Saturday, August 12, we found ourselves once again treading on all-too-familiar terrain. We’ve been here before, and by all accounts, we’ll be here again. It’s been 6 months since the death of Jocques Clemmons; barely a year since Philando Castile and Keith Scott; two years since the massacre at an AME Church in Charleston; just three years since Michael Brown.
RePublic’s work exists against the acrid backdrop of racism. Our mission remains indelibly linked with a history of prejudice that’s plagued us—the South in particular—since the genesis of our country. The education system we’ve inherited is one in which an achievement gap between racial groups has been tolerated for generations. Thus, as another act of horrific racial violence comes to the fore of the national stage, we must reflect, turn inward, and ask ourselves the tough questions this work requires: Are we doing enough? Are we complicit? How do we talk about this with kids? How do we talk about this among ourselves?
We believe in the power of education. We believe that the most powerful weapons in a student’s arsenal are his ability to read and write persuasively; his capacity to untangle even the most complicated math problem; his knowledge of the scientific process; his desire to learn from the mistakes and triumphs of history; his vision to program a better future; and his hunger to follow curiosity and to stick with it until its fruitful end.
But we know, no matter how well our students wield their education, that we—their educators—find ourselves consistently grasping for straws each time one of our boys asks: Is it even worth it for me to learn to drive? Will a police officer see past my skin color if I get pulled over? We don’t have a good answer for the student who asks who she will live with if her parents get deported or why someone yelled at her to “go home” when she’s lived here her whole life.
In these moments, we’re left with more questions than answers.
What happened this weekend in Charlottesville is nothing new. This group of small-minded people may feel newly emboldened as its members brazenly unmask their faces in the light of day, but we’ve always known what they’ve been hiding behind hoods, confederate flags, and Nazi paraphernalia. Hatred isn’t new. Prejudice isn’t new.
Our work as educators demands we confront this well-known foe. Our response each time we see injustice has to evolve to better meet the needs of our students and families. As much as we wish for a world in which our students’ only experience with discrimination is one confined to a history book, we know that isn’t our reality.
We don’t have all the answers. In our efforts to prepare scholars to be the leaders of tomorrow, we will most assuredly stumble and misstep. What we do know, though, remains steadfast.
RePublic rejects racism in all its forms. We reject xenophobia. We reject the co-opting of Nazi or fascist ideology operating under the guise of “real American” values. We reject the condemnation of “all sides” that discredits the courageous work of social justice advocates.
RePublic commits to continued efforts to ameliorate our nation’s most deeply entrenched injustice. We commit to calling out prejudice—in its many iterations—whenever we see it. We commit to listening, really listening, to the needs of families and students in our endless quest to serve them better. We commit to engaging in hard conversations about identity and privilege, particularly as we see how these operate within our own network.
Finally, we’d like to take a moment to speak directly to our scholars.
Know this: you are loved; you are safe in our buildings; you are our best hope to reimagine the future. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. We love you not in spite of your differences, but because of them. Anyone who tells you otherwise is sorely mistaken. In the face of these terrible events, our belief in you is unwavering. If you feel shaken by these events, that’s okay. If you feel sad or angry or frustrated that’s okay too. Know that your teachers and teammates have your back.
Before long, you will be the leaders of this country. You will have the power to change policies, hearts and minds. The threat of racism and xenophobia won’t be gone when you’re in these positions of power, but it is our hope that your education at RePublic and beyond will have prepared you to tackle these unresolved challenges. We believe in your potential to leave our world a better place than you found it.