Update on Equity, Justice, and Community Work
At last Monday’s community-wide demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter, Lower School principal Adele Paynter overheard one of her students say, “I don’t understand the other side of the argument. How can anyone disagree?” Another incident of racist violence has answered this innocent optimism with brutality. On Saturday, we learned that a white Atlanta police officer killed Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man. Video evidence reveals another excessively violent and unjust response.
For democracy to flourish, we must address the persistent and pernicious presence of racism in all aspects of American and school life. Racism affects many people in our community, but the deeply ingrained anti-black racism that exists in our country places undue weight on our black and African American colleagues and families. As Friends and as an institution, we will commit to alleviating this burden, supporting those who bear it, and working purposefully toward the creation of an anti-racist community.
We understand that achieving this goal may be difficult and time consuming. We are working with the Administrative Team, Board of Trustees, and our wider community to evolve the strategic plan and create a dedicated action plan for our Equity, Justice, and Community work in order to assure, in the language of our Diversity Statement, that diversity and inclusion are central to “all aspects of academic and campus life.” Moreover, we seek to address the statement’s central query: “How do we nurture a sense of belonging in our community and demonstrate our commitment to a just world?”
In order to address questions about the School’s actions, we wanted to let you know that current steps in progress include:
- the creation of an EJC strategic action plan that includes the use of surveys and focus groups designed to assess school climate and understand better the experiences of our students, families, and employees;
- the continued recruitment of a talented and diverse faculty that mirrors the diversity of our student population;
- mandatory professional development and evaluation procedures that support faculty in creating anti-racist classrooms and multicultural curricula;
- the establishment of an endowed faculty chair in African and African American Studies;
- the founding of a Center for Ethical Leadership, coupled with the formation of partnerships with local universities and advocacy groups, to engage students in advancing social justice, building an anti-racist community, and applying sound ethical principles to all aspects of their lives.
As we reframe this work, we have also been consulting with the Black Alumni Alliance and Parents of Black Students. Given that the empowerment of young voices is central to the national dialog, we are deeply committed to working more closely with our students to continue work and build awareness as we endeavor to work through the steps outlined above.
We are asking our entire community—faculty, staff, parents, Upper School students, and alumni—to read Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist for the fall (a children’s book is also available). More information about distribution of age-appropriate materials for students is forthcoming from the principals. Kendi’s central assertion—that the opposite of racist is anti-racist (not non-racist)—provides a powerful framework for moving from being an ally to being an active accomplice for reform. We are working to arrange for Kendi to address our entire community in September.
We hope you will join us in our efforts to create a vibrant anti-racist community. Should you have additional thoughts or ideas, we refer you to Natalie’s letter from May 31, which solicited input from the entire community. We look forward to our ongoing collaboration around these important matters. And we close with a quote from the Quaker civil rights leader Bayard Rustin: “If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence. If we desire a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society. If we desire a society that is democratic, then democracy must become a means as well as an end.”
In friendship and with gratitude,
Head of School
Natalie Randolph ’98
Director of Equity, Justice, and Community