The past few weeks have been heavy and painful for many in our country. In addition to having passed the milestone of 100,000 deaths from COVID19, with an inordinate percentage of these deaths within the African-American community, we are witnessing, yet again, horrific episodes of systemic racism culminating in violence on the part of law enforcement toward people of color. Peaceful protests, as well as violent actions, are erupting in response to the tragic deaths and maltreatment of Black people. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Christian Cooper. We doubt we have to recount the details for you -- as educators and as educators in Quaker education, we expect that you are aware. This time calls for action; we cannot stand by in silence.
One of our member schools, Friends School of Minnesota, is especially affected by the events in Minneapolis. In a blog post published this week, Shane Zack, Director of admission and financial aid, and Eileen Galvin, director of communications, write:
“We have students who live just a few blocks away from where this happened. Where violence, pain and brutality continue as I type. We are holding those students and families in the light and hope for their safety.”
The sorrow and rage many of us are experiencing is real. I don’t really have words for it.
All I can say is, at Friends School of Minnesota, Black lives matter. I think it is important as a school to say it explicitly. Silence enables the dehumanization of our community members.
George Floyd’s life mattered. As a school we stand insolidarity with our colleagues, students and parents of color, especially our Black community members. Their lives matter too.”
Well said, Friends School Minnesota. We are holding your school community in the light.
At another Friends School, Mary McDowell Friends School in New York -- head of school Debbie Zlotwitz, associate head of school Beth Schneider, and director of diversity, equity and inclusion Tatesha Clark -- released a message to their community on Friday. We encourage you to read their message in full. Here's an excerpt:
“... In the face of these outrageous acts of racism—and these are just the ones that have surfaced in the news—we must respond. We seek peace in terms of justice. We feel compelled to act with integrity. We call on the community to act on the testimony of service as we strive for equality.”
In their message, Mary McDowell Friends School’s leadership provides concrete suggestions for actions steps their community members could take: 1) calling for the arrest and charge of the officers involved with George Floyd’s murder; 2) participate in the #IRunWithMaud campaign for justice; 3) visit the NAACP’s #WeAreDoneDying campaign.
We lift up more words from Friends School Minnesota:
“Schools must teach our students to see and value our shared humanity. We must prepare students to see the systems that continually dehumanize Black lives. If there is hope for something different, it lives in children who can see injustice and have the will and skill to do something about it.”
As we move through the next days and weeks, we expect that Friends Council will hear about how other Friends schools and community members are affected by and are responding to recent events of racial violence in our country.
We recognize that peaceful public protest is an important part of pushing for societal change. While we do not condone the violence and destruction, we acknowledge the frustration and anger of those who are working for justice. In the words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - “And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
In the meantime, we hold persons of color in Friends school communities and across the nation, in the Light. Tom Gibian, Head of Sandy Spring Friends School, inspires us with these words:
“We are in the midst of two pandemics. Each of us needs to ask what changes we—as individuals and as institutions—are capable of making to bring about the world we want and our children deserve. We must reflect on our own biases, actions, and inactions. Then, we must set about making those changes. We must act with a sense of urgency. Our lives depend on it.”
Friends Council will continue to seek ways to engage all educators and Friends school communities to step up and take action for social justice.