Making Sense of It All
The story I have continued to tell others is that race and socio-economic relations in this country have come a long way; that we are closer to fulfilling Dr. King’s dream. Maybe it’s a story I believed myself. After the events of this past week, I’m faced with a more stark reality: we are not.
I woke much earlier than usual last Friday morning. I needed to think through what I was seeing on the morning news – a non-violent protest of police brutality marred by violence itself. I’m still in shock. I’m angry, frustrated, and struggling—I am still making whatever sense there is to make making sense of not just of the events in Dallas, not just the instances of brutality against the African-American community that proceeded it, but by the near constant flow of similar incidents over the last few years.
Perhaps I had the TV up too loud. My 11-year old daughter had been listening from her bedroom. See joined me on the couch, visibly afraid.
Why, she asked, was this happening? Why are people shooting police? Why are police shooting Black people? Hadn’t Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others helped us to resolve these problems? Should she be worried?
I fought back anger and tears. How could I help my baby girl understand all that she’s been processing? It’s important that I help her make sense of these events, so that, as she begins her journey into adolescence, she has the necessary knowledge, tools, and courage to combat the ignorance that exists in this world. But how?
It’s not just her. I also want to communicate with the young people we serve in our schools, whose communities are impacted daily by senseless acts of violence. Our young brothers and sisters witness blatant disregard for their lives and those of everyone who looks like them. They, like my daughter, wonder how to navigate this world as they transition into adulthood.
What is my stance as a father, a citizen, an educator, and as a leader in an organization that at its core is about equity of opportunity and justice? I remain guided by Dr. King’s observation: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
To state the obvious: we are in those times.
Black and brown people are losing hope that the “system” will protect them and treat them fairly. In a letter to his son, author Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be Black.” Racially-biased media coverage describes acts of violence against the police officers as “vicious and despicable,” but the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile—because of reckless and racist policing—are considered “unfortunate and sad”.
The senseless targeting and homicide of police officers in Dallas is heartbreaking and tragic. Our collective hearts go out to their families and the greater law-enforcement community. The #BlackLivesMatter movement publicly condemned the mass shooting in Dallas. Still, I cannot bring myself to understand why the outrage at the senseless killing of the officers is so seemingly more intense than the equally senseless killing of innocent Black people? Have we become so habituated to the killing of Black people for minor or no offenses? Are Black people “being hunted,” as Philando Castile’s mother protested? Have the masks officially come off?
Do some lives matter more than others?
I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting an amazing young man, Lewiee Blaze, a senior at Minneapolis’ High School for Recording Arts, at the Deeper Learning conference in San Deigo this past spring. Lewiee, outstandingly as a young man of his age, most persuasively—for me—answers that question:
All lives matter
You matter I matter but black lives matter
When I say black lives matter it is not to disintegrate any other race, because skin tone is just a shade
Different colors but all a color,
Living different lives but we all have lives & they all matter,
But black lives matter
See black and brown people for some reason have been treated differently we can take it back to the 17th century when we were being shipped over seas,
See there was this man who spoke to me in my dream,
He told me to follow the dream create a scheme that'll prevent another dead teen Oh yeah and that's why black lives matter I mean would it matter to you if people you’re easily compared to keep dying around you and your similar thinking is you can die too
Tell me you won't try to take a stand, I'm not racist I’ll shake a hand & make a friend; I understand that we are both woman and man
But black lives matter
This simple statement contrasts so eloquently the standard progressive approach du jour of mixing color-conscious moral diatribe with color-blind public policy. People of color do not want to be lectured by those speaking from positions of power and privilege on how we should respond to oppression. Yes, all lives matter. But, Black Lives Matter!
In my home I value trust, love, agency, and mattering. But how do I protect my daughter when these same values appear to be declining in our society. Instead, I see hopelessness, anger, and fear. In such unstable conditions, even small issues become catalysts for outsized consequences. Sparks become blazes. Fear and hate… produce snipers.
In our school, for the young people we serve and for their families – our obligation is love, to make sure that they feel like—no—that they KNOW that they matter. Anyone who has accepted the mantle to work in schools or school systems has pledged to change lives. These are the times of challenge and controversy when our work is most needed. A true school community does not have to wait until classes begin again in August and September.
Former Ethiopian Regent and Emperor, Haile Selassie, said: “throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” As I learned from my former students during my days as a teacher and principal—and recently reminded by my daughter—young people are always watching our actions and more importantly, our inaction!
So, we must not be afraid to engage our students, our children, in a discussion of these issues. To ignore what many of them are hearing, if not experiencing, is to pretend it does not matter. We must help them make sense of themselves and this world. We must do our part to ensure that our young people feel they matter, are loved, and are supported to achieve their aspirations. Without fear, but with hope. That is what our young people deserve. That is our responsibility during these challenging times.
Nita Ambani reminds us that, “Education is not only a tool for development - individual, community and the nation. It is the foundation for our future. It is empowerment to make choices and emboldens the youth to chase their dreams.” Ambani’s insight is the goal that rouses me in times like these, motivates me to intensify our work on behalf of young people who matter and will make a difference for themselves and their world.
Perhaps you are, like me, still making sense of it all. Still formulating your own narrative about these issues. Please share it when it—and you—are ready.
Unity & Love.