Confronting Systemic Racism
by Preston Smith, Co-Founder and CEO, Rocketship Public Schools
This week is the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre – one of the worst acts of racial violence in our nation’s history.
99 years. Not enough has changed. Not even close.
George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor join the tragically long list of victims of racial violence. We are angered by their loss and the lives of so many others who came before them – named and unnamed.
Explicit and systemic racism continues to infect our nation.
All of us are bearing witness to persecution in communities across our country. As a white male, I cannot begin to truly understand the experience of my Black and brown friends and colleagues. But we all must do our part to fight for racial justice and “white silence” is tantamount to tolerance of the unjust status quo. We must demand better. As Frederick Douglass wrote, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
There is nothing normal about the world we all live in right now. But while so many of us are eager to get back to normal – to get back in school, go back to the office, eat a meal with friends – we also can’t forget about all the problems with normal America. President Obama put it well when he said “for millions of Americans being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly normal in America.”
We are fighting to create a new normal.
Racial violence in this country has deep roots. There is no simple fix to dismantle systems that reinforce and perpetuate racist policies and ideologies. We all must play a role in condemning racial violence and ending the systematic oppression of people of color in our country. And I believe that we are harnessing the most powerful tool to transform our society and eradicate deeply ingrained cultural biases – education. Instilling in our Rocketeers the importance of social and racial justice is paramount to changing their future and our culture for the better.
In our current struggle to transform underserved communities across the country, we have seen entrenched powers resist change and we have seen the power of a tenacious community persistently agitate for the opportunities all children deserve. We should be wary of those who avoid agitation. To quote Frederick Douglass again, “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, want crops without plowing up the ground.”
Our ground needs more plowing.
As an organization grounded in social justice, we must continue to advance our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work on multiple fronts so that we can continue to become a more inclusive and equitable organization. A majority of our team members are people of color: 24% identify as Black, 34% as Hispanic or Latino. Our colleagues of color are hurting deeply. And we will not stand by silently as our community is suffering.
And at our schools, our leaders and educators are discussing these issues in an age-appropriate way with our Rocketeers this week. Racism is a reality for our Rocketeers. We must help our students understand its roots and realize their power to work against and overcome racism in our society. Teaching is a tool of activism.
As educators and catalysts of change, we must not stay silent. Our fight to create educational equity will never be won as long as racial violence and injustice persist. We must provide safe spaces to support each other through trauma and lean into uncomfortable conversations about privilege and systemic racism.
It is our mission and our responsibility at Rocketship to fight for justice and demand equity.
Stay safe. Speak up. Seek change.
Published on June 3, 2020