In many ways, the election seems like a lifetime ago. I recall that the weather on the weekend before election day was gorgeous. I was lucky enough to attend the Educators for Excellence Declaration Convening in Brooklyn where the leaves were golden, the air was crisp, and the sun shone brightly.
I was happily working alongside a diverse team of educators from all across America to update our organization’s founding document, using both research and our experiences in the classroom to productively and civilly discuss what students and teachers need in order to elevate our profession and increase student achievement in our communities. I felt optimistic about so many things that weekend.
But by the the very early hours of November 9, my optimism, along with that of many Americans, was shattered. Although the outlook was bleak, I still held onto the slim possibility of a different outcome. It was when I showed up in my classroom at North High in Minneapolis that the truth settled. Fear had already sunk into the young hearts of my students and the disappointment on their faces was unmistakable. Not knowing what to say or do, initially I felt numb.
Confronting an Open Secret
In a city where Philando Castile lost his life because of his skin color, it is easy for a young, White, middle-class female like me to feel confused and sad and then ultimately be silent. I have lived in Minneapolis my whole life, a city where parks and lakes dictate how the roads are paved, where Tyrone Guthrie built the first American thrust stage and Bob Dylan found his voice.
For so long I have proudly said that I am from Minneapolis: a place where everyone has the opportunity to find affordable happiness. Even when the New York Times called my bluff in an article titled, “Minneapolis’ Less Visible and More Troubled Side,” I still believed my city was the best. Even when I learned that: “The unemployment rate for black residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul region is about four times the overall rate.” Even though I knew that many of the residents being referring to were the parents of my students, I did not change course.
I did not speak up or share the article over social media or keep a copy to show my family. I. Did Not. Say. Anything. I retreated to that place of privilege my students do not enjoy.
I am no longer numb. Each day that has passed since November 9—with every hate crime, with the ring of the school bell, with every hug from a student—determination within me awakens. I am ready to fight to protect those I love through the betterment of our public education system.
I have come to realize the danger of silence. I have seen that inequity in our current public educational system is linked to race, power and privilege, and we need to take action to address these inequities.
Driven by Principles
I think back to the declaration convening in Brooklyn, in a room full of gracious people from all walks of life, willing to share their thoughts and feelings and listen to my own. That weekend, I spoke up. I advocated for what I think is right and fair for teachers and our students. I think of the meaning of true collaboration and how we teachers came together to better serve our students, despite differing opinions on policy or education reform.
The Declaration Convening is a model for how to come together with differing perspectives and policy opinions, where we assume best intentions, ensure many voices are heard and stay solutions oriented. While we might not all agree, respectful conversations, in which we each are able to share our unique perspectives, are critical to collaboration.
While we may not yet have all the answers, we are dedicated to working together to advocate for changes that will better serve our students. True collaboration and seeking to understand each other is the best way to chart the path forward. This is what we must do, not only as teachers, but as a nation that must come back together to build a better future. And to do that, I can no longer stay silent.