I hope you are all well rested from spring break and enjoying a bit of warm weather as things are beginning to open up and more people have been vaccinated. There is much to look forward to.
I began writing this letter while waiting to hear the verdict in the trial that focused on the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin. Like bookends they stand – now the verdict and at the other end, the heinous act that led to the charges. That act, like a match, first lit a fire in the state of Minnesota, then the nation, and then the world. Aghast, as we all witnessed the unspeakable: a man lost his life, not at the hands, but under the knee of another man. And today the verdict of accountability was notarized by a diverse jury who “believed their eyes,” after days of testimony from an even more diverse group of witnesses.
We advise our students and our own children not to watch the video of the murder. The images and cries for help that have been shown and re-shown, viewed and reviewed, posted and reposted by millions hurt the soul. As painful as it is to watch, it “ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see” and made it possible for others to think about and possibly to begin to know some of the terror that black and brown people have endured for centuries. We were all witnesses.
Recently we’ve also seen videos of Asian American and Pacific Islander men and women going about their daily lives only to be hurled to the ground, stomped, stabbed and beaten. These images too have gone viral. And these images too are harmful to the psyche, yet they too serve as evidence to convince those who are not members of or are not connected to the AAPI community that, yes, these things really do happen and, yes, there truly is reason to fear simply walking down the street, riding the subway, going to and from school. We must listen to others, not just wait for the shocking cellphone videos to be posted.
On a webinar of over 500 diversity, equity and inclusion specialists from all over the country, today’s topic was school community polarization over DEI, in particular, how to respond to possible unrest, such as today’s trial verdict. This was discussed against the backdrop of a polarized community during which some heads of schools are being chastised for both not doing enough and being too radical about diversity, equity and inclusion (sometimes at the same school at the same time!). One recommendation was for school administrators to have two letters written and ready to send, depending on how things go. I considered doing that, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was not the way to go; ours is a community that strives to hold true to our principles and hold steadfast. Respect human rights and the basic dignity of all people. Challenge injustice. Do not be silent in the face of evil. Protest peacefully. Take care of each other. These are part of our school’s mission, and we can’t lose sight of that. This is not always easy.
This brings me to our DEI work here at UNIS. Much has transpired since we began on this journey of addressing diversity, equity and inclusion with intention, mostly spurred by the murder of George Floyd. We have had workshops and conversations on anti-bias/anti-racism training, diversifying the curriculum, microaggressions and more. Students have been actively engaged in the same, as has our Parents Association DEI committee. And what I think is probably the most telling and most promising, is that Black at UNIS, the impetus for much of our work and call to action, has established a scholarship fund! This is a reminder that we must listen to those voices who remind us of our imperfections because they can also be our biggest sources of inspiration.
While we are heartened by the measure of justice that today’s trial verdict offers, we know that this, like our first several months of DEI work, reflects a small step along a long path and we have miles to go before we sleep. Below are links to resources that may be helpful to you at this time. We look forward to more courageous conversations and collaborations with all of our community members.