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To: The Great Citizens of Evanston and Skokie
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the civil rights leader, in speaking out about the conflict in southeast Asia, eloquently said, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” We in Evanston/Skokie District 65 can not be quiet about what has transpired over the last couple weeks regarding racists acts of injustice. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and, just this week, George Floyd have all been victims of not just racists people but institutionalized racism. Our country that was built off the backs of African American slaves is on fire. There have been protests and riots throughout our history over inequality and racism. And yet, we continue to return to an environment that provides comfort for White Privileged citizens like Amy Cooper to intentionally lie about being harassed by an African American man to the very organization that’s supposed to serve and protect ALL people regardless of race.
The community of Evanston and Skokie has spoken and has begun to take bold action to support students that have been historically marginalized, muted, and mistreated, it is without equivocation that we must enhance our efforts to live by our anti-racist policy. To that point, I applaud this district and community for boldy taking steps towards addressing the historical vestiges of slavery, racism, and social constructs that have stunted the educational, social, and financial station of students and families of color. But we must all challenge ourselves as well as each other to not just look out of the window to address racism and privilege in our community but we must now, more than any other time, look at ourselves in the MIRROR. How are we checking our own selves when it comes to anti racists policies and acts? Are we silent because we benefit from these actions? Are we afraid of what others may think of us? It is our moral obligation to transcend equality and embrace equity. Author Ijeoma Oluo has stated it best, “There is no such thing as non-racism in a world of racism.”
As an educator, I understand first-hand the elephantine responsibility we have in molding the minds of our students as well as our adults. I consider this trek to be nothing less than mission work. We have to all see past the words written in every vision statement in every school district, that all children can learn. That is not even debatable. What we must investigate and address is are we placing all students in a position to learn? The District 65 community knows that it’s more than what’s in the curriculum. We must work with our students so that they can see the bright future that awaits them regardless of their race. We have to teach our students that silence is not okay when they experience racism as a victim or bystander. We must teach our students not to fear Black men just because they are wearing a hoodie. Rest assured that this will be a policy that we must lean on and leverage when it comes to improvement for students of color. Why? The data’s clear and has been clear for decades. The practices, policies, and programs that we as educators have put in place (nationally and locally) have fortified stunting the growth of students racialized as Black and Brown. Therefore, leading to low levels of access to education, income, adequate health care and disproportionate incarceration numbers for Black males.
Passing an anti-racist policy is not the same as producing different (adult) inputs that render promising and globally competitive outcomes for students of color. The preeminent purpose of the policy is to validate the voices of those that have been victims of institutionalized racism. This policy must be at the nucleus of all we do if we are to position our students of color to stand a chance at closing the gap in opportunity to achieve and grow to meet their fullest potential. Periphery practices and passive leadership is not what such a community should/could usher; instead, we will lead with passion, research based practices and be persistent in our mission to drive home equity. Deep focus on the way we teach, talk, think, lead, and support is required by all of us in order to disrupt the unhealthy culture of privilege, white supremacy and racism.
At the risk of oversimplifying, if we are opposed to anti-racism, would that not suggest that we are then pro-racism? We are at a powerful pivot in the history of this country. The fate of our tomorrow is determined today. Teacher, pastor, activist, and martyr, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, while in a cell advocating for an anti-racist America, that the barrier to that vision is, (the moderate) who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
I can promise you that while leading District 65, we will move with calculated haste to improve the inputs of students, educators, staff, parents and community members and the outputs for the marginalized. As I see it, an anti-racist policy is not so much of admission of the existence of racist people. It is, however, an admission to no longer having the appetite to repeatedly masticate on stale and sometimes rotten practices that we all want to change and have yielded the results we have now. This district is admitting that racism is eradicated by an emancipated curriculum, a 22nd century focus, and educators that see differences as dynamic.
In closing I challenge us all to look in the mirror and work on either staying or becoming Anti-Racists!
Dr. Devon Horton
Incoming Superintendent, Evanston/Skokie School District 65