Yesterday I woke up to the news of Alton Sterling. I woke up to the news that another black man was shot, in cold blood, in America… in 2016. My day followed a familiar dance. I watched the video and I was heartbroken, but not shocked, by what I had seen. Déjà vu. I scrolled and saw others trying to make sense of another hashtag. I scrolled and saw photos of families, vacations, motivational posts, and workouts- nothing about the day’s tragedy. Déjà vu. I scrolled and I read my co-worker’s conversation with her 9-year-old son about Alton. This is America. This is the conversation she needs to have with her black son. I taught this young man in 1st grade and I fear for his body, his safety, and his life. At the same time, I sit in a world of white privilege. A world where I had to explain why I had just posted a picture with a bunch of names on it and whom those people were. Déjà vu. I sit in a world of white privilege and I know I don’t have to worry about getting killed for not signaling properly or for wearing a hoodie; but my students do and the weight of that is being felt now more than ever.
I’m opening a school in less than 6 weeks. My school will be filled with brilliant and beautiful black boys and girls whom I have promised a proper education to. I’ve sat in living rooms, kitchens, on porches, and in dining rooms and I’ve made promises. I’ve promised families an education that will open doors, an education that will provide a college degree, and an education that will allow their children to, as my mission statement says, “…become empowered leaders who choose their own futures while leaving the world better than they found it.” Well, now more than ever, we need a better world. And I want more for my students than just a world where black men (who were once 5 year old black boys) don’t get murdered for selling CDs, wearing a hoodie, or legally carrying a gun. I know that in my classrooms I will have future educators, future scientists, and future change-makers. Yes, I need to teach them the PA Core Standards, but that alone is not going to keep them safe in our world today. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… that is suppose to be the floor… not the ceiling.
As I woke up today, oh yes, today… Not even 24 hours later… Philando Castile.
To the Class of 2029, I promise you that I will fight every single day to fulfill the mission statement of our school. You are standing on the shoulders of giants and I have hope for our future because of you.
School Leader- KIPP West Philadelphia Elementary Academy