Dear New Roads Family,
It is unbelievable how we held our young people and community in the Big Embrace during these unprecedented times. Amidst the Pandemic and our soul-searching national reckoning with institutional and structural racism, somehow we still managed to support our young people in experiencing joy and delighting in learning within a connected, compassionate, and collaborative learning community.
Reality of Institutional and Structural Racism
On May 31st, I shared some of my familial and personal history regarding the impact of institutional and structural racism. When I related aspects of my story in a Town Hall to our Upper School students, a faculty member commented that I “cracked open” in front of our community. Her comment stayed with me as I realized how painful, raw, and vulnerable it felt to recount this part of my life to all of you. However, I felt compelled to let you know that even as an African-American man who has achieved many of the traditional markers of success in American society, I am still subject to the potentially deadly and dehumanizing institutional and structural racism--built into our society--when I exit the gates of New Roads. My mother still calls me, especially now, to make sure that I am okay. Her fear for my life is omnipresent as she knows that in America I am, to many, just another big, “potentially dangerous,” black man, not the Head of New Roads School who loves hugging people.
New Roads’ Big Embrace
What soothed me as I offered my story was the Big Embrace I received from our students, faculty, staff, and families. As I knew in my heart, you all lovingly held space for me and let me know that my pain was your pain; my struggle was your struggle; my life matters to you. Although we as a community still have our own ongoing work to do as we move towards becoming an anti-racist institution, we have gone further down that road than any school or community I have experienced in my decades long career. It is in our founding DNA to strive to fulfill the promise of America--a community founded on the inherent dignity and worth of each individual as well as the embrace of the full spectrum of human diversity.
In this setting, African-Americans and other people of color can thrive, not just survive, and can liberate their full human potential. I was reminded of this by the speech of one of our African-American seniors. He wrote about his experience at three previous schools before arriving at New Roads. Of these environments, he wrote,
I was supposed to play a sport and do just enough in academics to not fail. This made me and my friends feel like the best we could do was live down to those standards….I wanted to excel and satisfy my hunger to learn, but the problem was I didn’t feel like it was my place to do so….
He, however, learned another lesson at New Roads:
I was encouraged to be a Leader and not just a gear in the machine... I learned a lot about my place in this world. I have come to realize that I belong anywhere I wish to belong...Seeing People of color who learned out loud, and were praised by the community for it changed my perspective on what I could do and be…. I know now that there are no limitations preset on any of us.
He again reminded me why I am so proud to be a Jag.
New Roads Beacon of Hope
I believe New Roads can serve as a beacon for what the “Great American Social Experiment” can be. But heeding this call will necessitate our going further consciously and intentionally along this road towards becoming an anti-racist insitution. Our Board, Administration, Faculty and Staff have in one voice agreed to advance our commitment in word and deed as individuals and as an institution to acknowledge, challenge, disrupt, and dismantle the beliefs, behaviors, cultural representations, and institutional practices that perpetuate institutional and structural racism. I am now asking our families to join this effort that many of our students have already undertaken.
Strategic Focus for Road Ahead
Our journey on this road will be difficult and, at times, painful yet transformative. But I know this community has the heart, head, and courage to meet this moment.
Our strategic approach to this personal and institutional work will focus on three areas, starting with our own examination of ourselves and New Roads:
We will look at how our American socialization process embeds beliefs, attitudes, biases, and racial stereotypes that unconsciously, to a great degree, perpetuate institutional and structural racism;
We will deepen our understanding of how institutional and structural racism function;
We will plan how we can as an institution and individuals strategically do our part to move forward the Legacy of Dr. King by acknowledging, challenging, disrupting, and dismantling institutional and structural racism. To this end, we will form an Anti-Racism Steering Committee, Chaired by Mario Johonson, Director of Student Life, Equity, Access, and Inclusion; and Christen Hebrard, Board Member.
To begin our work on #1, our Board, Faculty, Staff, and Administration are all reading White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo over the summer. We will also be offering a parent book group to discuss White Fragility, led by Mario Johonson, Christen Hebrard, Candice Rosales, Director of Development; and me over the summer. More information will be forthcoming.
As we embark on this journey together, we will have to hold fast to our core values--love, respect, empathy, and compassion--and remember that we must honor people for showing up and doing the work, which is an ongoing process, not an event.
I have unwavering faith that we have the courage to walk this path together, my New Roads family.
With love and hope,