Owning the Work of Dismantling Racism

Dear Friends of Leading Educators:

Like you, I’ve been taking some time to process the heinous acts of white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville earlier this month. While news cycles plow forward, my thoughts are still with the people of that city and with everyone feeling the ongoing pain inflicted by persistent systems and acts of white supremacy. For many of you reading this, the events in Charlottesville were not at all surprising; for many others, they served as a wake-up call to delve more deeply into understanding white supremacy at the personal and systemic levels. No matter where each of us may be on our journeys toward understanding and ultimately disrupting the effects of systemic racism, it is important for us to individually and collectively continue to engage.  

It is with that in mind that I wrote to the Leading Educators’ staff shortly after the tragic events in Charlottesville and shared reflections from some of our teammates, each of us calling on each other to recognize the privilege and responsibility we all have to say and do something. We shared our thoughts on how the unabashed parade of hatred and bigotry we saw in Charlottesville is but a symptom of larger systemic oppression that has targeted people of color since this country’s founding. Following the example of counter-protesters who took action in the face of hate (including a great many educators), we are steadfast in our belief that we must be even more committed to owning our personal responsibility to dismantle white supremacy in our institutions - be they nonprofits like Leading Educators or the school districts from which our students and families rightfully expect excellent, bias-free education.

As CEO, I am thinking about how we as an organization move beyond simply talking about systemic racism internally and in our work with teachers, schools, and districts. First, we know we don’t have all the answers, so we are looking to our friends and colleagues for resources and reflections to spark the necessary and difficult conversations.  Here are a few from TNTP, Education First, and Facing History and Ourselves that we have found valuable. Thank you to you all.

Next, we are focusing our efforts on tangibly addressing our own institution’s systemic racism using readings like this. Informed by a cross-functional, diverse Equity Working Group, we are creating better systems to foster collaborative and inclusive approaches to our work. To ensure that we have the knowledge and skills needed to align all of our work to diversity, equity, and inclusion principles, we are engaging in cycles of professional learning about issues of equity in small groups and developing affinity groups. To be sure, we, like so many others in our sector have a long way to go as illustrated in this report from the New Schools Venture Fund and Promise 54.  

Our curriculum features teaching for social justice as a core component, and we will continue to collaborate with our partners around learning systems that maintain high expectations through a rigorous curriculum. All children can and deserve to grow without the shadow of bias limiting their opportunity to experience the joy of learning and to reach their fullest potential.

Additionally, we continue through partnership with experienced, diverse educators to adapt our programming to ensure that our work results in students learning in safe, equitable schools alongside teachers who acknowledge and control for their biases. This work by individual educators is hard but powerful, and it requires teachers to commit to walking a long, shared journey over time. In this video from our summer institute, several teachers speak to the emotional impact of this processing and the implications they see for their instructional practice moving forward. We are hopeful about the conditions we can collectively build for students to discover and harness their full potential. In order to do so, however, we must push for educators to see the necessity of their own personal growth - coupled with explicit conversations that bring about further awareness of identity and racial equity.

We know there is even more we can do, and we are inspired to take action with you.  Please take the time to share what you, your schools, and/or your organizations are doing to seek out opportunities to learn together.

With care and solidarity,

Jonas Chartock

CEO, Leading Educators

Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress/AP

Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress/AP