Here we spotlight Teach For America - Mississippi's ED, Barbara Logan Smith, as she reacts to the recent acts of hate and violence in Charlottesville, and offers words of encouragement about how we can move forward as educators and as a region.
August 17, 2017
I shared with my staff earlier this week that I have written and rewritten five letters to share my condemnation of the hatred, violence, and evil that was front and center in Charlottesville. I wrote of my outrage and yet lack of surprise that an event like this could happen in modern day America because truly this was just a nationally publicized expression of the institutionalized and structured racism we work against and an open display of the kind of insolent racism, bigotry, and intolerance many in our communities face daily. I wrote of my heartbreak and the reality that Chris and my responses to my bonus daughter, Chey's question, "Why do people really believe that light skin or dark skin makes someone better when people are just people?" were insufficient. I wrote that the use of Mississippi's flag as a symbol of hatred by the alt right was a symbol that resonated the magnitude of what we face in this landscape because the world was watching and so were our kids.
I wrote of my belief that even in the face of evil, that love is stronger than hate. I wrote that this was not about political partisanship but instead that it was an opportunity to consider what is required to be the nation we wrote about on paper. I wrote of the eerie familiarity of Charlottesville's mob violence and the stories of my own family's experiences of the KKK and other such hate filled groups in groups. I wrote of the need for us to create spaces for our students to process this, even if we were not sure what to say because they needed to be heard. But each time I felt like I had captured the spirit of what you might need to hear from me, another news cycle would bring yet another point of agony and aggression against people who simply seek the opportunity to attain life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. People who seek such should be free to seek such with out such vicious reactions of hate, hubris, and homicide!
I wrote of my belief that America's true greatness has yet to be, and cannot be, fully actualized when we are marginalizing, terrorizing, and debilitating our own people or when we are pretending that we are not marginalizing, terrorizing, and debilitating our own people. I wrote that we must do better and be better because our children are watching and unequipped to make meaning of all this confusion and terrorism on American soil.
So ultimately, I decided that the letter I needed to write was simply one of love and support to offer three reminders in the midst of this madness.
1. I remind you that you are loved and seen, by me and by many. I love each and every one of you for who you are and who you aspire to be in the world. I know that none of us is perfect, but we are all perfectly positioned to make a difference in this moment. It is abundantly clear that is what we have joined this journey to do. And as you move through this journey, I am here when you need me, as are all your colleagues of Teach For America Mississippi.
2. I remind you of your brilliance and the capacity of our collective brilliance to shine in ways to bring light to the dark places in this world. Evil seeks to spread the kind of fog and darkness that makes it impossible to see each other and be stronger together, but the energy and power of our brilliance cannot be denied -- especially not when used to amplify the power and possibility of a people united as a force of good. You are a force for good and an exemplar of hope in a time when we need that more than ever.
3. I remind you that our mission of educational equity and excellence for the children is a powerful pathway for saving our nation from the hate that continues to seek to destroy it. I am grounding myself in, and offering you, a message from Ella Baker, a freedom fighter who sought to work WITH the youth and communities of Mississippi to create enduring change:
"What are the things taking place in our community which we should like to see changed? Take that one thing—getting a new school building; registering people to vote; getting bus transportation—take that one thing and work on it and get it done."
Racism and bigotry will not dissipate overnight and neither will the systems they have constructed, such as educational inequity. We, the leaders of Teach For America, have agreed to go after educational equity and excellence. We will "work on it and get it done" together.
Let's be bold enough to love in the face of hate. Let's look our babies in their beautiful faces and tell them that they are loved and deserve the kinds of educational experiences and communities that recognize their brilliance. Let's work with them and others in the community until these young people are positioned to have real access to the freedoms that have been systematically denied to them and their ancestors for far too long. Let's be stronger together and illuminate the brilliance that has always existed in the children from a place called Mississippi.
Yours in the mission,
Dr. Barbara Logan Smith