Before the official opening of the school year, we at Grace Lutheran Church in South Evanston were outraged to find ourselves confronted with racism and bigotry leveled at our school board members of color by racists.

While the instigators appear to be from outside our community, the events and commentaries on District 65’s stand for equity remind us that our home does indeed have hate here.

After Fox News broke a story about the plans to reopen our District 65 Evanston/Skokie Schools, members of our School Board and, in particular, the new superintendent, Dr. Devon Horton, have been the subject of threatening, racist and highly offensive communication.

Dr. Horton, who is African American, was appointed to the position of Superintendent of District 65 effective July 1, 2020. He is an accomplished educator and spent four years as an assistant superintendent in East St. Louis before taking a job in Jefferson County, Ky.

District 65 acknowledged his work on implementing a districtwide racial equity policy, including prioritizing restorative practices and setting and monitoring equity-based goals to measure school improvement. Adding Dr. Horton’s values, experience, and vision in racial and educational equity to our district’s focus on teaching and learning in our classrooms ensures our schools are intellectually and socially safe for learning through restorative practices.

Racists responded to Fox’s reporting on the district’s policy of how to prioritize which students will have preference for in-person instruction under the Covid-imposed capacity restrictions requiring social distancing by filling the district’s social media pages with racially-charged threats and accusations, specifically targeting the district’s Black and Asian-American leadership.

The emails were racially coded and contained ominous threats and called the district’s leaders “black supremacists”, and did not serve any other purpose than to intimidate and harass the district’s Black and Asian leadership.

As our D65 Board of Education stated: “This type of letter is intended to terrorize and intimidate. We want to state unequivocally that our Board is not choosing a path of inaction, that we are actively supporting efforts to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. We need to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions to, at minimum, reduce the disproportionate harm this pandemic is causing and understand how the pandemic is exacerbating the generational impact of income inequality, racism and white supremacy that has embedded itself in our school system.” District 65 has been working to establish processes and procedures for equity; the policy at issue seeks to implement a procedure to prioritize: “in-person slots for students who have learning challenges, receive free or reduced lunch, are homeless or who face other unique issues that would especially benefit from in-person instruction. While race is not a determining factor, these attacks on our school board are clearly trying to portray it that way with the goal to sow division and to advance their racist and nationalist agenda,” according to the district. In Evanston, we believe in equity and inclusion.

When our immigrant community was threatened with deportation, Evanston, encouraged by its faith leaders, strengthened its “Welcoming City Ordinance” that is still in place today. In 2019, Evanston passed historic legislation to establish a reparations fund to address the discrimination of our Black community and begin to repair the wrongs of our past.

Racism, which is ubiquitous in our society, has no place in Evanston. Hate and bigotry have no place in Evanston. We have a diverse Board to reflect the fabric of our community, and we stand behind their decisions and the practice of using an equity lens to arrive at how to best serve the greater good. Institutionally, we either challenge our norms or we uphold the status quo of systems that have historically disadvantaged our Black and Brown community.

 Individually and together as a loving community in the Christian faith, we at Grace Lutheran Church Evanston, stand with our elected Boards of Education who work tirelessly to serve the population of our students, their families and the greater community; and we join them in stating that “Our path forward depends on all of us using our voice in every space we occupy to challenge the ways our current systems continue to produce disparate outcomes based on race.”

Carl Brownell, Grace Church Council Chair