Saying their Names

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. Mike Brown. Philando Castile. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner.

We say their names. Some for the first time only recently. Some, at this point, an innumerable number of times. And there are names not included -- those we've not listed as well as those we've never heard; all of whom leave behind children, partners, parents, loved ones and friends.  

We say their names in anger. We say their names in frustration. We say their names in fear.  

Endiya Griffin. Kevin Singh. Elise Reitzammer. Fiona Nelson. Kyle Rogers. Elizabeth Avrit. José Manuel Álvarez Guerrero. Jordan Patterson. Cynthia Blas.

We say their names as well. In celebration. With pride. With hope.

These are the names of some of the recent graduates of the Big Picture Learning network. These are the youth who have been unleashed upon a world that is burning. A world in which there is no college waiting. A world in which an employment market is drying up. A world that is fighting a new health pandemic during a centuries-long societal pandemic.

We have lost friends and loved ones to both. We refuse to recognize either pandemic as the opening salvo of a “new normal.”

We would love to be among those who believe we’re hearing the clarion call to come together. That now is the time to unite in the face of racism, brutality and inequity. But leaders we admire – Muhammad Ali; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Shirley Chisholm; Colin Kaepernick; Angela Davis; Greta Thunberg; Fannie Lou Hamer; Robert Kennedy; Arthur Ashe; Robert Moses; Malala Yousafzai; Toni Morrison; and more – have made similar appeals to national unity and uprising in the past and we can’t help but wonder: Where has it gotten us?

But this feeling of helplessness and hopelessness is but the first step. And it’s one we embrace. We believe there is humanity in vulnerability. Vulnerability allows us to grieve. To mourn. To empathize. To work through a collective feeling of shell-shocked-ness. We believe it leads to the path out of this. We feel vulnerable.

When the time is right – and it will be soon – we will call upon all of our allies, our accomplices, our graduates and our students to move beyond searching their hearts. Beyond thoughts and prayers. Beyond heartfelt social media posts.

We will move not to rebuild, but to reset. We will not accept a new normal. We will reject the comfort of the recent past. And we will not build upon any promises of the future that do not also include processes that dismantle the intentional, systemic and oppressive policies and practices which brought us to the precipice of the cliff we’re currently standing upon. 

It is our vision that all students – all humans – live lives of their own design, supported by a caring society and equitable opportunities to achieve their greatest potential. We move forward prepared to activate the power of our network for Justice. For Dignity. For Respect. For Good.  

Now, more than ever, we are activists.