It’s summer time here at The Park School.
Summer time brings about summer schedule. Summer schedule brings about summer environment. Summer environment brings about summer attitudes.
Relaxation. Comfort. Peace. Quiet.
Just two days ago, I woke up to the news that a father named Alton Sterling had been shot by individual police officers. I wept. I watched his widow make a statement to the press. I watched his son, now fatherless, weep next to his mother and be removed from the podium so he could grieve privately.
But, nothing about his grief was private. His crying and screams for his father were public.
Just as his father’s death, broadcasted on social media.
I woke the next morning to learn of the killing of Philando Castile, a man who worked in an elementary school, by an individual police officer.
I heard the voice of his partner recount what was happening. I heard her say all the right things, all the things I have said to fellow Black and Brown men in my life (all of which they had heard from their caring adults growing up). I heard the familiar sounds of a young child.
Friends, I have started and stopped this entry so many times, figuring, “When I stop crying, I’ll come back and write the rest.” And, each morning, I have woken up to a new need to write, to grieve, to scream, and to find a way to put words to any of this. Even now, as you read this, your eyes scanning a newly edited version. #Dallas happened.
The other day, I received an email from a parent asking what we can do as a school and as a community to support and encourage our families who are deeply impacted by the tragedies of these last two days.
And, you know what my response was to her?
I typed “It’s summer. I’m not sure how many people are paying attention.”
Because, you see, that’s what routine does to you. Routine makes you forget that out-of-the-ordinary things happen. Routine makes you forget that life goes on despite your own life slowing down. Routine makes you wonder if anyone else is thinking, feeling or angry about the same things.
During the school year, in times of tragedy, my office revolves with faculty and parents who simply need someone to talk to, to process with, and to check in. During the summer, there are only a handful of us here, and my conversations about these deep issues become distant. Silent. Quiet.
Writing this, I have mixed emotions. I feel something as an educator. I feel something as a parent. I feel something as a mother to a brown-skinned boy. I feel something as the wife of a man who lives in dark brown skin. I feel something as the daughter-in-law of a Pastor. I feel something as the cousin to Latino police officers. I feel something as the granddaughter of a police detective. I feel something as an Asian American woman. I feel something as a student affairs practitioner who held the hand of a young Black man who found out his friend was shot and killed while sitting in his car. I felt something as a director of a multicultural office who sat in the silence of young Black men as we read the names of their kin who had been killed. I feel something as a practitioner who works in an elementary school. I feel something as a sister-scholar to Black academics, professors, and researchers who have been using their agency to dismantle structures of oppression.
And, I’m asking that you do the same.
What do the events in this world have to do with your identities? What does this all mean for you as a parent? As a student? As a racialized person? As a teacher? As a neighbor, relative? As a person of faith or a practitioner of humanism? What does this mean for you as someone who lives in a town, city, community?
By now, you’ve probably seen your fair share of social media posts. And, in different ways, I imagine you are digesting them. Through my multiple social identities, I am providing a brief list of ways that you might want to consider to move forward. This list isn’t meant to be comprehensive. It’s meant to just get you started however you want or need it.
I’ll post the list below my sign-off. But I wanted to close with a request. A request to hold each other in the light of goodness. A request to hold each other’s humanity in the light of love. A request to hold each other in the act of care, in the act of good, and in the act of warmth. A request for you, individually, to reconcile both the hate you know and the hate you are unaware of in your own mind and in your own heart. I’m not naive to believe that “love heals everything.” I know that love is the stepping stone. And, I’m asking you to take those first steps.
Holding us all in the light of goodness.
Peace and Park,
- Listen. Listen without judgment. Listen to hear. Listen to heal. Listen to connect. In times of hurt, we often think of ourselves and of our own judgment. I’m asking you to listen.
- Read. Not just social media blogs, but read books and scholarship and critical information. Read why Ta-Nahisi Coates had to write his book Between the World and Me. And read that book. Read Blindspot by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald.
- Hold up that mirror. Figure out your hidden biases. Take Banaji and Greewald’s Harvard based Implicit Assumptions Test and better understand your own biases.
- Believe that it’s different. Many of us grew up getting different messages about what it means in our society to be a “boy or a girl.” I ask this question all the time in workshops and it’s one of the easier questions people can answer. So, I beg you to understand that we also grew up with different messages about what it means to be “Black and not-Black.” Why do I phrase it like that? Because people who are Black in this country have been given very explicit messages about what/who/and how they are valued — and not valued — in our society. Believe that these messages have been different, have been pervasive, and have been destructive. Believe that if you are not-Black, then you (we) have been given those same messages about the value — or not — of Black people in our society. That means something.
- Believe that talking about race matters. Here is a powerful StoryCorps (3 minutes) of a son and mother talking about race. It doesn’t help us to be color blind because the world isn’t color blind. For parents of older children, I believe this is a video that is helpful to start an honest dialogue.
- Ask questions. Find out what your community police department does related to anti-bias training. Ask/request that the officers have extensive training in anti-bias work. Write a letter or email. Many responsible and responsive police departments are already doing this and have role modeled its effectiveness. It is important to signal, as a member of the community, that this means something to you.
- Awareness in public. Be mindful that a community has memory. For example, though not all of us were in New York, many of us hold a community of memory around 9/11. For many Black and Brown people, the community of memory is filled with anxiety about violence; experiences with being targeted and questioned; and assumptions about goodness. Be aware that there are Black and Brown friends, colleagues and strangers who are experiencing a deep sense of anxiety at this time. Given the individually-acted killings in Dallas, there are police officers and families of police offers who are also experiencing a deep sense of anxiety at this time. Those can both exist. Act with compassion.
- Express love. Each night, I ask my son, “What are the three things I love about you?” And, depending on the day, he answers two of those differently. It might be “You love me because we had special time together and that we went to the movies today” or “You love me because I was kind to others today and that I tried my best today.” But, the third one, the third one is always the same. It’s always the same. “And, you love me because I am Brown.” As the mother of a son with brown skin, he needs to know that he is loved. He needs to hear, from his early age, affirmation that his brown skin has meaning. And, though the world may eventually tell him that his brown skin means something less, he’ll remember that, somewhere, at some time, someone told him that he is loved. How do you express this? How do you signal to the Black and Brown community that you believe in their lives?
- Take care of yourself. For people of color, for people who are Black, take care of yourselves. For years, months, and especially these past few days, you have woken up each morning to see someone who looks like your brother, your father, your sister, your auntie, your mother, your uncle on the news and on your social media feed. Half-awake, you may have even thought it was someone you knew. Maybe this human being was someone you did know. All of that is working it’s way through your own body, your own heart, your stress hormones, and your mind. Take care of how you need care. Ask for help. Give help to others if that’s what you need. Keep yourself in the light. For those of us who are not Black, we must participate in the care of communities in ways they need or want. I can’t tell you how each and every Black person needs or wants care — that will require you to listen, talk, share, and observe how others want you to show up. Remember when you called yourself an “ally” or put up that “ally sticker” on your door? Yeah. It’s time.
- Say their names. They are people. They are people. They are people. You are a person. You share a humanity. Do not distance yourself. When you are talking with your children, don’t just refer to Philando Castile as “the guy who was shot in Minnesota.” Be sure to talk about him as a partner, as a school employee, as a human being. Alton Sterling was a father and a husband.
- Seek resources. Finally, because so much is shifting beneath us, there has been an emergence of posts about how/when to talk to your children about these events. I found this resource to be helpful (and note that it’s still ongoing) about “How to talk to your kids about Dallas“
I am asking that you individually and collectively adopt these above items as a part of your routine.