We know how this ends. It’s time to share the pen and rewrite the story.
This week has been hard. It seems like we are in 1920, not 2020. We continue to see things we cannot unsee. Still, there are people who don’t know what to do or how to respond, especially if we are not proximate to the experience of those who suffer the most.
Why the familial language? We are being asked to expand the boundaries of who we consider as our people and our family to include those who don't look like us, talk like us, live like us, or work like us. Our family includes the most marginalized and excluded. Until our family circle is universally inclusive, we need to not only stand in solidarity, we need to work courageously. We are each other's people.
Making change requires that we cede power to the most marginalized and the most impacted, especially in our schools. In my newest blog post below, I discuss this in greater detail: how we can we cede power not only in reopening our country and our schools, but also in our daily lives. As you read, I ask that you remember the importance of this concept of family. We would not deprive our family member of their voice any more than we would kneel on their neck until their body went limp. When we open our circle to include the “other,” we create the conditions for ceding power, and ceding power creates the conditions for change.
Now is the time, and we are the people. It's time to take action.
How do we restart and reopen our communities in the middle of two pandemics — the acute one that infests our physical body and the chronic one that has ravaged our spiritual and physical body for generations?
As school closes this week in many states and as our cities burn, I’m sure that question keeps school leaders up at night. Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery joined the long list of martyred tributes in 2020 who remind us that while many may be able to socially distance and work from home via Zoom, others are literally suffocating under the oppression of white supremacy and anti-Blackness. We are reminded that our letters from the most elite institutions and our assimilated, “non-threatening” habits don’t protect us from all of the threats. And our country’s children are watching and learning. They are watching us. They have questions.
So when we reopen our schools, what will children see? What will we teach them, and how will we teach it equitably? In this unprecedented moment, the past should inform our response, but if we are to create a genuinely new future, its influence must stop there. Dusting off the playbooks and curricula from the past will set us up to recreate it. And if we’ve learned nothing else from the events of the last week, surely we can at least say with one voice: “We cannot do this again. Too much blood has been shed. We are better than that. We are smarter than that. We need to follow the road less travelled.”
In times like these, we have to have the courage to look to the margins — the Black, the brown, the female, the queer and trans, the poor — for new ways to solve old problems. And we have to have the courage to ask new and different questions to create the conditions for a new and different experience. In the spirit of new questions, we offer these design challenges that should inspire how we restart and come together in ways that build new muscle, create new knowledge, and change our country’s path forward.
How do we cede power? We give the pen and rewrite the story.
In times of crisis, it’s easy to hoard power. But the more concentrated power is, the less proximity those in power have to those who suffer the most. Without proximity, marginalization continues, those with the most privilege continue to define problems, and the suffering of the marginalized is tolerated or dismissed. This rerun is tired and played. We know how this version of the story ends. Ceding power is the way we can draft the next American story.
- How might we change our behavior and create the space for those who suffer the most to co-create reopening and restart plans that heal our schools and communities?
- How might we make visible the existing capacities of Black and brown families and their children to co-create plans for reopenings so they are biased to the needs of those who suffer the most?
- How might the reopening and restart processes be designed to enable the historically powerful and powerless to work together, flattening the traditional hierarchies of race and class?
We can design to cede power even if we are not school leaders. We can cede power to redesign our experience as Americans. The first step in ceding power is seeing the other, those who are most different from us, as a part of us — as our family. We wouldn’t kneel on the neck of our sister or brother. We would not advocate for reopening if it would kill our mother or father. Ceding power makes white supremacy and its iterations and mutations obsolete.
What we choose to design and how we choose to open not just our schools but ourselves will determine if we really believe that Black Lives Matter. For those whose deaths remind us of the remaining work, may our actions posthumously acknowledge that they did not live or die in vain.