Black Lives Matter: Letter to the CAPS Community

The letter that follows was sent out to the CAPS community on June 12, 2020.

Dear College Achieve Families, Scholars, Faculty and Staff,

These are extraordinary times – we have been enduring a pandemic that has taken the lives of over 100,000 Americans and due to systemic racism has impacted Black Americans the most.  Our losses at College Achieve have been heavy.  Across all of our schools in Paterson, Plainfield, and Asbury Park, five of our students’ family members, one of our teachers (Mr. Simon Press in Asbury Park), and numerous family members of our teachers and staff have passed away due to the Coronavirus. Now we have come to the crossroads of America’s future and face the brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.

My journey to the realization of how deep racism runs in our country began with the police beating of Rodney King caught on film in 1992 that sparked nationwide civil unrest when the police officers were found not guilty of horrific assaults on Mr. King by multiple officers.  I am continually discovering almost 28 years later how much I still don’t understand about how insidious institutionalized racism is in our society. Perhaps no time in our history has been so important as this.  For those who say they believe in justice for all, we need to say, Black Lives Matter. We cannot live in a country that routinely murders Black men and women with little or no consequences, and provides little in the way of opportunity and fairness to Black and Brown families and their children. It is important to acknowledge that our Black families, scholars, teachers, staff members, and leaders are affected by the constant torrent of racism. Here is an article that might give you some insight: Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay — Chances Are They’re Not.

Mobilizing for Change

As communities did then, they do now—protest to make their voices known. We support the peaceful protests, and the protests and marches have been incredibly powerful in shaping public opinion which we now hope will lead to sweeping changes in Congress, Minneapolis and cities and towns across America. In addition to marching, to sustain real change we must vote in all elections – federal, state, and local.  Much of the quality of our lives – and the dismantling of racist policies such as redlining, police accountability, increasing school funding and choice – is determined in local and state elections.  We cannot root out the racism embedded in policy, regulations, and law without electing people to office who are willing to change the system. There are other factors to be sure (campaign finance laws for one) but the system works best if three things are true:

  1. All adults 18 and over can vote with no voter suppression (see Atlanta, GA, Supreme Court, and Lebron James.)
  2. Voters are informed about the issues and do their research so as not to be misled by powerful special interests.
  3. Everyone shows up to the polls and votes. Justice happens when everyone understands what justice truly is and works and votes to make it happen.

Our Next Steps

We are called to action to not only say racism is wrong but to be agents to set things right. The hope that we have for this time is that it will be the turning point to end systemic racism in our society and institutions; our path is clear:

  1. We will continue to look inward and review our policies and practices.
  2. We will explicitly teach our students about anti-racism.
  3. We will expose our scholars to the voice and advocacy of freedom fighters past and present so that they can use their voice to advocate for themselves and others.

I have been talking with our school leaders – Dr. Gemar Mills, Ms. Nadia Bennett, and Mrs. Jodi McInerney as well as many of our teachers and staff members about how we can embed a deeper understanding of Black history into our curriculum in every grade level and where appropriate in every subject. Equally important, our students must know their history and that they are empowered to shape the outcomes of their future. This work starts now. Whether discussing environmental issues that impact Black and brown communities or the financial acumen that catapults them to become entrepreneurs and philanthropists, our students must know that they have the pen to write their own narrative.

In the coming weeks, we will announce a series of initiatives about taking a stand and becoming an anti-racist network of schools.  I have asked Dr. Mills, our Chief Academic Officer, to lead this work for all of CAPS with leaders from each charter who are approved by the Executive Directors.  I expect all of our leaders have much to add to how this work will manifest itself.

To better communicate our new programs and our solidarity with Black Lives Matter, we have launched new websites for each of our schools and for the CAPS network to better address how we can provide a better learning experience via our Virtual Learning Academy and keep you informed about our progress in becoming an anti-racist network of public charter schools.

This generation’s work is just beginning, and together, we will see that they are well prepared.