The following is adapted from a letter Dr. Ayindé Rudolph, superintendent of Mountain View Whisman School District, sent to his school community in Mountain View, Calif.
Dear educators, students and families:
With all that is taking place during this time, I feel called to speak, to start a much-needed conversation with myself, with you and with our children. In a year in which we have had to deal with issues around immigration, shootings at schools and community gatherings, the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of our economy, we are pulled into a long-overdue conversation about race, equality and justice.
Almost a quarter-of-a-millennium ago, our forefathers shared these words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
As the iron gall ink dries almost 244 years later, we as a nation, and as a community, have struggled with this idea: that everyone is created equal. To be honest, our founders clearly struggled with the true meaning of these words, as they debated to whom to extend these freedoms, which is evident in the simple omission of the word “women” from this prophetic proclamation. And lately I have wondered if a segment of our population believes that those rights extend to only those who are “legal” citizens.
It is easy to believe that the protests, the anger and frustration that we are seeing on TV is happening in other communities, that what we are reading and seeing is unique to the Midwest, or the South, and not “here.” But I can tell you that even since taking the job of superintendent, I have experienced incidents that have given me pause.
I do not expect anyone to understand the pain that exists when you are told to sit down and wait until spoken to by a duly elected official in our community. Or to understand the frustration that you feel when you are attending a meeting at a corporate sponsor’s campus and an employee calls security on you, despite wearing a suit and providing proof that you belong there. Nor do I expect you to understand what it is like to see the Klan’s cross placed in downtown Cincinnati under the guise of the First Amendment.
Watch: Dr. Rudolph shares his message with the community in a video
I am not speaking today to assuage anyone’s guilt. Nor do I want my words to help you turn away from the truth that racism, whether intentional or not, exists within our community. It is buried deep in the psyche of our country. I am also not here to explain what it is like to be a black man in America.
What I do know is that my experience as an American has led me to understand that, as long as we don’t acknowledge racism, we give it power. When we turn a blind eye to the injustices that are present, we empower it. In our tendency to forgive and forget these sins, we all become culpable. If we believe that this is “not my fight,” or “I am just one person,” or “my voice doesn't matter,” we embolden and feed this horrific beast.
As a black man, a man of faith, a father and an educator, I am called to act. My conscience will not allow me to sit idly by while injustice occurs. My heart cannot endure inaction. Thus, I am committed to doing my part to control those things within my control to help eliminate the spread of this malignancy in our great country. I will use the platforms provided to me, just as we all should.
So, what can we do?
First, we need to realize that we cannot look to others to solve our issue. If we are going to enact change, then we need to start with ourselves. We need to engage in conversations, regardless of how difficult they are. We must recognize the value of every person, not only through our actions but also in the selection of instructional materials. We can no longer ignore the acerbic taste that hate leaves in our mouths.
More importantly, we should vehemently speak out against those who are perpetuating hate or bigotry.
And finally, to form a more perfect union for our children, we need to meet our neighbors. We need to expose ourselves to various cultures, to help us suspend judgment of those who are different. And we do this until we understand that fundamentally every parent wants the same thing for their child: for their child to become his/her best self, and come home safely every night.
In my role as superintendent at Mountain View Whisman, we will do more to honor the rich diversity that exists within our community. We will expand our conversation around equity into daily habits. Unlike our forefathers, we will not intentionally discount a disenfranchised group, and we will be unapologetic about becoming more inclusive of all voices. Together, I believe that we will continue to work to create a school system that welcomes all students and reminds everyone that inaction, in any form, fuels the fires of oppression.
There are no panaceas, no curriculums or computer programs that will yield us a better outcome. Instead, the work that we must do requires that we come together. It requires that we help each other create the world that we want to see.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” But I know that with intentional focus, and with your help, we can create a more perfect school system, community and country.
This is just the beginning of a much-needed conversation within our community—one that I won’t allow to go away. Since I do not have the solutions, I close with this final thought: The Declaration of Independence also states that when something is unjust, we are obligated to take action. But I also pray that through our collective frustration we do everything we can to make sure that no one will be hurt, that I will not have to witness another death, that we will find a way forward as a community. Because that is what our community—and our children—deserve.