This year, 2020, has been difficult in so many ways as we have worried about our health, our economic livelihoods and the proper education of our children through distance learning that is new to all of us. Now, of course, the nation is gripped by a crisis that is not at all new, even if it is more visible to much of America right now. The death of George Floyd is just the latest example of what happens when too many people just don’t think that black lives matter, but black lives do matter. As the leader of a school district of more 2,800 students, 80% or 2,240 of whom are Black, and as a mother to Black children, I want them to know that their lives matter, and it is our duty to work with them to make sure we live in a society that fully recognizes that simple fact. I want their future to be better.
Part of our mission at Confluence Academies is providing our students opportunities to discuss their thoughts and feelings about important issues, whether they be civic, social or scientific. What issue could be more important than protecting the lives of our students and their families? As educators, we are responsible as role models, allowing your student to listen, learn from others, and express themselves in community. These values are central to our mission at Confluence. Our role in educating students to participate in a democracy includes the necessity of adding their voices to the chorus demanding an end to social and racial injustice. Regardless of our race, we all have been harmed by racism, and we all must stand to oppose it. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We have expressed these sentiments before—Dr. King expressed them 50 years ago—and yet here we are again. We expressed them in the last several years when our region became a world-wide symbol of racism and police brutality after the death of Michael Brown, but expression is just the beginning.
Action is what we all demand, and all of us have a role to play in bringing that about.
This time feels different. The diversity of the chorus of Americans demanding change is broader than anything we have ever seen. The anger that we feel at the death of yet another Black man at the hands of those sworn to protect us all is being matched by a growing resolve that this moment will not pass without real change.
Our Board of Directors, teachers, staff and I have worked diligently over these last several years to expand academic opportunities for our students and to build connections with other institutions to create a richer environment for them to prosper, to be healthier and to see their role in creating a more just society. We’re providing more supports for our students’ social and emotional development and creating opportunities for post-secondary education and beyond. We still have a long way to
- Dismantling centuries-old systems and attitudes has proven very difficult. This work is not easy, but the lives of our students and their families are literally at stake.
Our students need to understand how change happens in a democracy. What are the levers of power and how do we wield them? Who makes policy decisions and who influences those people? What can they do when they see or experience social or racial injustice? How can they build and support groups of peers and others who will press for social and racial justice and not let this moment pass without legitimate change and progress? Education plays a vital role in helping students sort out all these questions and asking more of them.
Our Confluence Academies family is committed to providing every possible opportunity for our students, but we cannot fulfill that pledge until we have universal recognition of the basic premise that their lives matter. There can be no room for racism here. The demoralizing persistence of systemic racism in our society means that it is not enough to simply be non-racist. A passive lack of individual racism is just inadequate. Certainly, our words are important—Dr. King, Gandhi and many others have shown us that. “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” Dr. King said. But just as we take a stand through our words, today we also have to match them through our actions. Dr. King and other memorable leaders become who they are because they match their words with actions. Do not be silent. Do not fail to act. Act in community with all of us who want better for our children. It is in this moment that some of their most profound memories of who we are will be formed. By speaking out and by taking action, we can help them find their own voices and help them discover who they are, reaffirm that they matter and in so doing create a better future for us all.
Candice Carter-Oliver, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Confluence Academies