The death of George Floyd is a tragic reminder that none of us should ever sit idly by and allow hate, discrimination, and violence to infect our society. As we have witnessed in the days since his death, people across our country are angry and frustrated.
The Jewish Heritage Museum in New York City shared the following, “In the words of Elie Wiesel: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
James Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, shared the words of Lancaster Hill, Peter Bess, Brister Slenser, Prince Hall, Jack Pierpont, Nero Funelo, Newport Sumner, and Job Look, African Americans appealing for equal rights during the Revolutionary War:
“…your Petitioners apprehend that they have, in common with all other Men, a natural and unalienable right to that freedom, which the great Parent of the Universe hath bestowed equally on all Mankind, & which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever—But they were unjustly dragged, by the cruel hand of Power, from their dearest friends, and some of them even torn from the embraces of their tender Parents—from a populous, pleasant and plentiful Country—& in Violation of the Laws of Nature & of Nation & in defiance of all the tender feelings of humanity, brought hither to be sold like Beasts of Burthen, & like them condemned to slavery for Life…In imitation of the laudable example of the good People of these States, your Petitioners have long & patiently waited the event of Petition after Petition by them presented to the Legislative Body of this State, & can not but with grief reflect that their success has been but too similar—They can not but express their astonishment, that it has never been considered, that every principle from which America has acted in the course of her unhappy difficulties with Great-Britain, pleads stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your Petitioners…whereby they may be restored to the enjoyment of that freedom which is the natural right of all Men—& their Children…”
That plea is from 1777. It brings attention to the historical context of racism throughout American History. Protest and civil rights started way before the 1960s. Our students need to understand that. Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You is a powerful book that examines the history of racism from the very first racist to the hate speech and racist stereotypes that permeates social media today. It will be the Global Read Aloud this upcoming October and is a book that every teacher must read. Stamped is one of many young adult books that be a catalyst for conversations about race, history, and hate. NCTE provides resources for your classroom in teaching Stamped including “Qualities of Anti Racist Curricula,” book lists, and a recording of the webinar with Kendi and Reynolds discussing their book with NCTE members.
Lucy Caulkins and the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project wrote in a statement about the current climate in our nation how to embark in conversations with students. She quoted Legendary basketball player, author, and activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who said, “Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands.” Caulkins continued to write, “Your conversations with students, the language and lenses you provide, let the sun in, illuminating injustices and making it possible to work toward better days ahead.”
Black lives matter now, and have always mattered. I am committed to anti-racism, respect, and love of ALL. I will continue to fight illiteracy and do my part to make the world a better place.