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Acknowledging Tragedies and Building Supportive Communities

The tragic murder of George Floyd in May reflects the painful reality that many black students and other students of color live in every day. Fear. Segregation. Injustices. Racism. Ignorance. Inequality. Silence. Understanding the meaning behind terms and statements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘white privilege’ and recognizing tragedies when they happen is vital to connecting with ALL of your students. The same is true for all employers in connecting with Black employees (regardless of the industry).

Purposeful, empathetic messaging and language are crucial in showing your support as a school community and for building lasting, authentic relationships. When racial tragedy strikes anywhere in our nation, silence is not an option; engaging and listening with healing intent is essential. When schools avoid discussions surrounding racism and traumatizing events, it communicates ignorance of the systematic issues at hand. Students within marginalized communities may feel disconnected, angered, frustrated and ignored.In order to create an environment that welcomes all students, schools must acknowledge every student, their assets and their struggles. Right now, schools have the opportunity to create that space online or in-person.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Acknowledge

Acknowledge tragedies that have occurred. Children, teachers and community members are hurting. Students who need to be seen right now may take their school’s silence as a disregard for their struggles and pain.

  • Send out messages and updates with empathy. These can be challenging messages to write in an authentic and meaningful way. (Call us if you need help.)
  • Design the experiences and environments within your community with intention and purpose; It’s time for change.
  • Understand that not every student shares the same experience at school or in the world.

Create

We need to create a space for open discussions and spaces where the underrepresented voices in our communities can be heard; both within our student body and faculty.

  • Bring empathy, emotion and unity.
  • Ask the difficult, uncomfortable questions.
  • Guide the conversations with flexibility.
  • Develop an action plan that improves diversity and inclusion at your school.
  • Create easily accessible in-person resources.

Encourage

Encourage staff, students, families and community members to have conversations and seek help when they need it.

  • Encourage staff and teachers to make themselves available for conversations, even if they are uncomfortable.
  • Make it easy to find school resources in-person and online.
  • Build confidence and trust in vulnerability.
  • Allow student voices to be a resource that can transform adult mindsets.

Educate Yourself

We must all listen. Silence is not the answer and taking the time to step into someone else’s shoes and diversify your perspectives is one of the best ways to strengthen relationships with students of color. But we can’t place the burden on students alone to educate adults. We need to read, listen and grow without preconceived judgment.

  • Be as open-minded as possible; students may share some of the most vulnerable, difficult areas of their lives.
  • Listen with the intent to do better; avoid dismissive or defensive responses; acknowledge that perception is reality.
  • Read. People of color are not responsible for educating you; you are responsible for educating yourself; there are plenty of excellent books and evidence-based articles to read.
  • Examine systemic issues, policies or practices that contribute to inequities or injustice.
  • Share what you have learned with others.

It’s Time to Act

We must ask ourselves, now more than ever, how can we support students and employees of color. Are we listening carefully enough? Are we offering equitable opportunities? What voices need to be heard? What are our own harmful presumptions? What needs to be done to make people from all backgrounds feel seen? What do solidarity and unity really look like?

Right now, we have the opportunity to join a national discussion and use our voices for change. We must educate ourselves on the terms and ideas circulating right now. Black Lives Matter is not a statement that says other people’s lives don’t matter, but more importantly that black lives matter too – black lives are human lives and need to be protected and cherished just as much as others. Think of Black Lives as a subset of all lives; until Black Lives Matter, all lives don’t. Other marginalized groups experience similar traumas, and this statement does not take away from any of their struggles. White privilege does not signify that white people do not experience hardship, loss or tragedy, but that the color of their skin isn’t one of their struggles.

Great change doesn’t happen overnight, and undoing 400 years of racism in our society will take intentionality, but reflecting on these questions and walking into the new school year with the understanding that there is always room to grow—as individuals and as a community—is a way to inspire change.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

Published on: August 3, 2020

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