Finding Hope After a Historically Dark Day
by Preston Smith, Co-Founder and CEO, Rocketship Public Schools
As an educator, as a father, as a white male, and as a leader of a public school network, I have been struggling to find the words to help ease the pain of what is one of the darkest days in American history. We witnessed a violent insurrection of white supremacists attacking the cradle of our democracy. A simple condemnation of violence feels woefully insufficient. My mind is a jumbled mix of anger, confusion, shock, anxiety, outrage, sadness…and a quiet undercurrent of hope. But I’ll be honest, it’s hard to grab onto that undercurrent of hope right now.
It’s not just the images of a violent mob of domestic terrorists storming the U.S. Capitol that keeps running through my mind. It’s that the vast majority of these mostly white perpetrators walked away uncuffed.
Contrast that with the scene this summer of peaceful protesters for Black Lives Matter who were violently assaulted outside the White House with police in full riot gear clearing a path for a photo opp for President Trump.
The juxtaposition of these moments vividly and disturbingly highlights the deep-rooted problems in our nation.
Make no mistake, what we witnessed Wednesday was an act of sedition. The rhetoric of our President and complicity of his allies incited the violence. The outpouring of condemnation for this assault on our democracy from leaders across our nation and the world is mildly reassuring. So is the fact that soon President Trump will no longer have the bully pulpit of the presidency to deepen the hate, division, and falsehoods that infect our nation. But the problems in our nation run so much deeper.
The double standard in our nation that applies one set of rules to white people and another set of rules to people of color existed long before Trump’s presidency and will not fade away simply because he leaves office. Indeed, just a day prior to the siege of the U.S. Capitol, the District Attorney in Kenosha, Wisconsin declined to bring charges against the white police officer who shot a Black father in the back seven times in front of his children. Jacob Blake is paralyzed, unlikely to ever walk again. The man who shot him walks free with impunity.
It seems that for every action we celebrate that “bends the arc of the moral universe more towards justice” we grieve another action that tries to buckle the arc back.
Yet there is hope for a new beginning. The balance of racial power in our nation is changing. On the same day that racists stormed the halls of the U.S. Capitol building waving the Confederate flag, Georgia elected its first Black leader to the U.S. Senate. In his victory speech, Rev. Raphael Warnock poignantly captured the arc of change in our nation when he said “the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator.”
The abhorrent riot this week made visible the systemic racism that underpins our society. These actions are pulling back the curtain for bystanders across white America. In doing so, more and more of America is now coming to terms with the systemic changes we so badly need.
Change is messy. Change is hard. Change isn’t a steady march forward. There are moments that can lift your spirits one day and break your heart the next. But change is happening.
I see it at our schools every day.
Change is happening when we transform the narrative for our communities and our Black and brown kids prove they can succeed regardless of their zip code. Change is happening when our parents exercise their power at the ballot box and hold our leaders accountable. And change is happening as our children grow up as anti-racist citizens who strive to create a better, more just, and more equitable world. That is what gives me hope.
Our Rocketship community gives me hope.
As our educators were processing the U.S. Capitol siege in real-time, they began preparing community meetings and social-emotional learning circles to guide our students through this scary, troubling moment in our nation. Our schools made space for our Rocketeers to ask questions about what happened, what it means, and reinforced that everyone deserves the right to feel safe and be heard, and that violence is never the answer. As one parent on Facebook posted later that day “thank you for the conversation this morning…it means a lot that my child goes to a school that helps our students understand that what happened yesterday was not okay.”
Our network and school leaders also quickly changed schedules to allow teachers time and space to process before they began the work of helping students do the same. 72% of our educators identify as people of color. Once again, the burdens of our past and present weigh heaviest on people of color. In our work to become an anti-racist organization, we must stay ever mindful of the unfair burden placed on our BIPOC team members just as we work to help our Rocketeers overcome the double standards and inequities apparent across our society today.
I am tremendously humbled and proud to serve alongside each and every person at Rocketship. Together, we are relentlessly working to create change in our communities and in our country. We are the change agents our students are watching. We are modeling values of equity, justice, courage, tenacity, peace, truth, respect, and empathy.
We are the change we want to see in the world.
Stay safe. Speak up. Seek change.
Published on January 8, 2021