To our leaders of color, we see you and we hear you. We march right alongside you.
To our white leaders, we need you now more than ever. There is a lot of work to do.
We have all witnessed the demonstrations and protests happening across our nation due to the killing of George Floyd. It didn’t start with George. Sean Bell. Eric Garner. Alton Sterling. Michael Brown. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. These names represent just a small number of the of black men and women who lost their lives through unjust acts of violence. Their deaths represent a larger system of deep structural racism people of color face in our country.
Some might say we’ve come a long way as educational organizations, stakeholder groups, schools, districts, and higher education spent the last few years talking about and addressing systems of inequity. That progress is only the tip of the iceberg. We will never be able to rest on this pursuit until access, opportunities, expectations, and outcomes can no longer be predicted by the color of one’s skin. We can’t rest until we’ve equipped new generations and addressed the biases of older generations so there is never another horrific example like George Floyd.
His death was tragic and uncalled for. There is no other description. If you try to rationalize it, you are part of the problem. Mr. Floyd’s death, unfortunately, serves as yet another example of the deeply rooted and perpetuated racist systems in our society. This is where reading becomes uncomfortable, not because we are blaming anyone, but rather because we are acknowledging the fact racist and historically inequitable systems are still alive and well in our society. His final and forever words, “I can’t breathe” are really symbolic of an entire life of fighting to breathe in a system designed to make breathing a constant and often impossible battle.
We must recognize we can’t truly understand what it is like to live, work, and lead as a person of color in our society. We must recognize we cannot make excuses for not entering into tough, uncomfortable conversations about race and privilege. We must recognize the entire P-16 educational system was built on a foundation of inequity and that we, not you, must take the lead in its reconstruction. We must recognize to simply sit in silence as a show of support is no support at all.
That’s where we come in. Let’s not let yet another death be in vain. Let’s not have it just be added to an already long list of black lives lost. Let’s turn pain and anger into action. It will take the collective and collaborative efforts of leaders across all sectors to continue to identify and dismantle these inequitable systems, while simultaneously coming together to rebuild our preferred, united, and equitable future. It requires the educators within these systems to examine our own biases and understand there is no destination in this journey, no point in which learning should stop.
That learning starts right here with us at AWSP. We are learning right alongside you as society tackles these tough questions and issues. And frankly, our learning curve was much needed and long overdue. Several years ago, the Association of Washington School Principals went through a transformation thanks to an extensive strategic planning and reflective process. In addition to the discovery of our complicit nature in perpetuating historically inequitable systems, both internally and externally, we were awakened to a clear purpose of our existence. We moved away from disjointed and unaligned goals to two very succinct goal statements, 100% focused on leading equity in our state.
Goal 1: Identify and dismantle historically inequitable and deeply entrenched systems in our state by equipping school leaders with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to lead equity in their respective contexts.
Goal 2: Support the sustainability and effectiveness of school leaders in order to reduce the negative consequences related to constant turnover, specifically in the schools where leadership is needed most.
The goals, although simply stated, serve as the foundation of all of our work at AWSP. That means, as a primarily white organization, serving a population of school leaders who still don’t match the color of their students, we must stop at nothing in the pursuit of our mission, vision, and goals. We must start with ourselves. We must see ourselves as part of the problem and part of the solution. We must learn how to have tough ongoing conversations about our own backgrounds and experiences that define those of us who work at AWSP. We must examine, dismantle, and rebuild our own internal systems and structures in order to better match our actions to our goals. And, we must recognize and acknowledge it is messy, ongoing, and urgent work without end.
As we continue to learn and grow internally as your principal’s association, we will also be relentless in our push on external systems and structures. We will continue to lead and engage our partners in reimagining our P-16 educational system. This isn’t up to our leaders of color because they understand. This is up to white leaders sitting in positions of power. AWSP is an organization with power, privilege, and access. It’s our paramount duty to use this power to make a difference, not only in the education space, but in society as a whole. We must take a stand, fight for justice, fight for our future, and truly build a system where hope exists for all kids, not just for those who come from a system designed by and for them.
Once more to our leaders of color, we thank you for your leadership. We thank you for your example. We thank you for your sacrifice, persistence, and perseverance. We see you and your leadership. We are with you in this all-important call to action.