A Reflection on Current Events
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Dear Seven Hills Community,
Over the past week, like many Americans, I found myself wrestling with shame, anger, and sadness over the senseless killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer.
In my time as an English teacher, I was sure to include Langston Hughes’s poem, “Harlem ”, in my classes every year. You might know this poem by the mistaken title, “A Dream Deferred”. Those who choose to discuss the poem with the alternate title are either missing, or intentionally obscuring, the point.
In the poem, Hughes indirectly refers to a very specific dream of the people of Harlem in the early 1950s. He considers a range of possibilities in reply to the question of what happens to such a dream deferred, put off or on hold, again and again until some unknown future time. At the time of his writing, 88 years had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation, but the nation with liberty and justice for all described in our Pledge (adopted in 1942) was yet to be found. He considers whether the dream dries up like a raisin in the sun, festers like a sore, stinks like rotten meat, or just crusts over. His closing lines of questioning take on a more concerning tone, “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load? / Or does it explode?”
Here we are, nearly 70 years later, responding to the continued deferral of the same dream. “Harlem ” could have been titled and retitled again and again to mark the latest American site of catastrophic racial injustice being brought to light for the wider world to see – Birmingham (1963), Memphis (1968), Miami (1980), Los Angeles (1992), Ferguson (2014), and Minneapolis (2020).
These circumstances bring us to uncomfortable truths, but it is only in watching closely, listening to the voices of those directly affected, and acknowledging and addressing these historic, present, and systemic injustices, that we can all move forward together.
I want to be clear about where Seven Hills School stands.
We stand with those who identify as Black, African American, or of the diaspora. We stand with those who are observing their First Amendment right to peaceful assembly. We stand with those who are lifting up the voices of the oppressed and calling for justice. We stand with those who are unlearning hate and learning how to actively be anti-racist. We stand with the community of Seven Hills and our fellow Richmonders.
When our school virtually visited Washington, DC just a few weeks ago, we studied the inscriptions on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Doctor King’s words ring just as true now as they ever have before. He understood that the long, difficult road to peace would be fraught with challenges in confronting unpleasant realities and overcoming injustice: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Further, he spoke to how we are all bound together in facing this societal ill:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Many of those who are currently protesting are doing so with these thoughts in mind. They are speaking out to protect future generations from the fate that has met countless Black Americans like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. They are organizing to prevent their children or our children from becoming the next headline. In this great struggle all of our fates are inexorably linked together.
I urge you to start a conversation in your own household about these current events. Your son is likely seeing countless headlines, photos, and videos on the internet and is trying to make sense of it all and form his own opinions. He may even be trying to find his own way to engage civically. I, along with the rest of the Seven Hills faculty and staff, have compiled several resources below to help you start and continue these conversations in your home. Please reach out if you have additional resources to share.
It is our priority to educate our boys to be knowledgeable citizens of the world and to use that knowledge to stand up to injustice and inspire change. It is also our priority to teach our students to understand the struggles of all people of color and other marginalized groups who have fought and are fighting for equal protection under the law. We will continue to instill these values in our students through conversations in our classrooms and beyond. I hope that I and the Seven Hills community can be of support to your family during this difficult time. We are all in this together; may we pursue justice in order to find true peace.
Head of School
Talking With Your Children
Death of George Floyd Sets Off Massive Protests PBS NewsHour (guiding questions)
Resources for Talking About Race, Racism and Racialized Violence With Kids Center for Racial Justice in Education
States Mobilize National Guard Amid Protests PBS NewsHour (guiding questions)
Talking About Race National Museum of African American History and Culture
What Is Your Reaction to the Days of Protest That Have Followed the Death of George Floyd? New York Times Learning Network (guiding questions)
Books and Media for Middle Schoolers
10 Young Adult Books That Tackle Racism Paste Magazine
Black History Movies That Tackle Racism Common Sense Media
Books About Racism and Social Justice Common Sense Media
Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners Common Sense Media
Students on Strike by John A. Stokes (a previous 7HS winter read)
Resources and Media for Adults
The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic
The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Pod Save the People Podcast Crooked Media
Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran
Who Gets to Be Afraid in America? by Ibram X. Kendi, The Atlantic