The overwhelming tide of news of racism and violence against people of color over the last several weeks is devastating and should move all of us to reflection and action. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, at the hands of white vigilantes and police respectively, continue a litany of racial violence and terror that runs throughout our history and shamefully stains our present.
Abington Friends School is an intentionally diverse community and we are deeply affected by the tragedies that have mounted during this time of physical isolation from each other. People of color in our community are living with the cumulative trauma and fear from the racial violence and danger of our culture and history. Our entire community is joined together by the heartbreak and pain of the loss of innocent lives and the outrage of the lack of justice seen over and over again in these cases. In this moment, I encourage each of us to take time in reverent silence to hold grieving families, harmed communities and our country in the Light and not let this moment pass without note, grief and acknowledgement.
These tragedies also underline the urgency in our calling to actively work to dismantle racism and the systems that poison any collective hope we may have for justice, equity and peace for all. Times like these call for a healthy sense of outrage, but call even more meaningfully toward the sustained and necessary work to be done as members of this Friends school community.
For those wondering what we as adults can do to move beyond feelings of helplessness to become more actively engaged, and particularly for those of us who are white, I offer these points of reflection and calls to action.
We live in a society that is dangerously segregated. Distance always leads to dehumanization but true relationships always build understanding, care and mutual commitment. To know someone well inevitably speaks to the light within us and shows us the light within others, a foundation for building just communities together. So I encourage you to reflect on building intentional diversity into the core of the life of your family. Think about your neighborhood, your close friendships, your place of worship if you have one, your workplace, where you shop, playgrounds you visit, where you vacation- all of these are places to intentionally seek out diversity and the relationships that come from closeness and proximity. Where are voices and stories and experiences missing from the life of your family and how can you intentionally seek diversity?
Most of us as American adults have been poorly educated about the history and systems of privilege, power, racism and white supremacy that powerfully shape our present inequities and injustices. I know that it has been a long journey for me in my adult life to become better educated and overcome the miseducation of my schooling. Seek out books, articles, films, art, drama and oratory that can deepen your understanding and perspective about race and the experiences of people of color. Without this foundation, we can too easily be led to misunderstand and misconceive the dysfunctions of our society and where the work needs to be done to promote greater equity and justice. If you haven’t read Ta-Nehesi Coates’s The Case for Reparations, it is a vivid journalistic window into the role of systemic racism and a good article to prompt discussion among friends. Consider watching 13th, Ava Duvernay’s incisive film on mass incarceration. As parents, consider reading Beverly Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria for insight into racial identity development and the dynamics of friendship between children.
Take action. This era of diversity, equity and inclusion work has taught us the powerful lesson that changing consciousness and understanding alone does nothing to change the structures that sustain inequity, suffering and violence. We live with deep inequity across a wide spectrum: housing, food insecurity, education, health care, incarceration, and employment and income. As a family, consider choosing one of these essential areas to learn more about, find local entities that are engaged in the issue and make a commitment to sustained involvement. There is a saying that it is far more effective to do your way into a new way of thinking rather than think your way into a new way of doing. Active engagement leads to experiential learning, the most indelible and lasting way to learn. The absolute key to engagement is humility and an assumption at the start that we have much to learn and will find blindspots in our thinking along the way.
Vote and consider engagement with local politics. Many of the inequities we live with are enmeshed in legislation, local ordinances and policing. Voting gives the opportunity to increase representation of people of color in our legislature and local councils. Making your voice heard by politicians is key to advancing the issues and causes that can promote greater justice. We learned at our MLK Day Symposium that while many people consider themselves politically engaged because of interest in national politics, few are engaged in local meetings, hearings and elections where we can truly have influence.
Be an ally. Because we are members of an intentionally diverse community, we are friends and colleagues with many groups that experience oppression and harm from inequity, misunderstanding and discrimination. Show up to events that highlight the experiences of others in the community, such as Black Excellence Night and join in the work of the All Voices Family Alliance, which promotes intergroup experience and dialogue in the AFS community. Standing with those who are carrying burdens or who are feeling the painful vulnerability that so many are experiencing with the news of this month is an important way of building solidarity and making visible the commitments we have to each other.
Finally, I want to acknowledge that being a diverse community brings with it inherent discomfort and challenge in navigating varying perspectives and experiences. It takes courage and a long-view sense of hope to lean into the difficult terrain of building better shared understanding across difference. But we are so enriched as individuals and as a community by this kind of growth and our children leave AFS with a well-developed, sophisticated ability to navigate complexity that is so needed in the world today. I deeply admire the community of AFS parents for intentionally seeking out this diverse community for their families.
I share these thoughts with humility. These are all areas into which I have much further to grow. But our only true response to the atrocities that continue to break our hearts and spirits has to be our sustained, reflective and active work toward greater equity, inclusion, justice and peace. I do believe that when we do so, we are joining the work of the spirit, alive and purposeful, that lives within us and around us and leads to the work that each of us, in our own individual roles and gifts, is called to do. As always, I am grateful to be in this community with all of you.
All the best,
Rich Nourie, Head of School