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On Ferguson: Mourning Mike Brown Anew, Supporting Students in St Louis and Beyond
Like many of our Teach For America colleagues, we were watching television and following social media as St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown.
The entire situation in Ferguson that led up to Michael Brown’s untimely death and the face-offs between protesters and police in recent months have been tragic, and watching the reactions to the announcement last night brought that into stark relief. It also shined a powerful spotlight on the ways in which we are deeply divided as a nation.
At Teach For America, we work alongside our many partners to grow and strengthen the movement to end educational inequity, and we believe deeply in the power of people coming together from all walks of life to contribute to building the society that we hope for. We know the power that people who share the racial and economic background of our students can bring to this effort, as role models for students and as leaders in the effort leveraging the perspectives and credibility that grow out of their life experiences. We also know that people who have benefited from racial and economic privilege are critical to the effort. Because we need everyone, we have to be a community where people can work effectively with each other despite differences in background and perspective.
Though it was clear last night how far America is from that aspiration, we see in our community the possibility for finding common ground even against the backdrop of something as complex as this situation. Across our community, we're mourning the too-early death of a young man with his whole life in front of him, a young man who lived in a community where our corps members teach, and we think that this is something that all of America should be able to stand behind.
We should all be protesting the racial narrative that shapes how we make sense of events in America, and that played such a significant role in the life and death of Michael Brown. We should all be lamenting the fact that black Americans represent 12% of all drug users in this country, but make up 32% of persons arrested for drug possession, and are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.
We should all be challenging the reality that half of the children growing up in America’s low-income communities do not graduate from high school, and barely one in twenty graduates from college, and that the expectations we hold for our students in school and in life have everything to do with the color of their skin and their families’ economic status.
We should all work to ensure that all young people in our communities grow up knowing that their lives matter, that our society will give them the space to make mistakes and learn from them, that as a society we will go to great lengths to protect them, just as we go to great lengths to protect other young people in more affluent communities. Even if they do something wrong. Especially if they do something wrong.
At Teach For America we’re trying to build a community that reflects what we think is possible for our country as a whole—a diverse community that isn’t afraid to lift its voice against injustice, that challenges the damaging realities facing so many students, and recognizes the role we all play in shaping our future together.
As we do, we move through situations that remind us how far we and our country have to go, and in the midst of our sadness, we’re staying focused on our students, their needs and aspirations, and what we can all do as educators and citizens to work toward the day when they get the opportunities they deserve to live the full lives that we all want for all children.