By Angela Lawler, Hillside Education Association President
Like many communities throughout the nation, upon hearing of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of corrupt police officers, the need to stand up to racism was felt and heard in Hillside, New Jersey.
As Black Lives Matter protests grew, and protesters demanded justice, the Hillside Education Association (HEA) members looked to their students, a rich diversity in each face, smiling back from the computer screen. The educators knew that their student population would need to understand what was going on in the world, in a context that they would learn about and understand. With remote learning already distancing teachers and paraprofessionals from their students, it was imperative that the educators bridge the gap even more to make sure students were supported during such an emotionally fraught time in their lives.
“My members love their students and treat them like family, and when a family member hurts, we all hurt,” said Angela Lawler, President of the Hillside Education Association. “We teach our students every day that if they want to change the world, then as Gandhi said, ‘we must be the change’ and when our community is threatened by systemic and institutional racism, we have to do something.”
Earlier this month, Lawler was joined by members, students, parents and their community at a Black Lives Matter rally, where Lawler addressed the crowd and gave the community the HEA’s support and commitment to fight for the community.
“After leaving the rally, I was overcome by a range of emotions that I think we’re all experiencing, but I needed a place to channel it,” said Lawler. “My husband and daughter are both artists, so the idea came naturally. After gaining permission, we painted Black Lives Matter, in much the same way Washington D.C. and Seattle had painted their statement, in our Hillside High School parking lot. Then Dewanna Johnson, our vice-president, and the HEA leadership team spent the evening painting in the letters. It felt good to acknowledge what was going on around us and affirm our commitment to our students and the community we serve.”
Hillside Education Association affirms its commitment to recognizing, addressing, and eradicating all forms of racism and ethnic oppression. We focus on engaging and collaborating in teaching and service to our community that challenges oppressive and unjust forces. We work to reduce racial injustices both within our schools, membership and the broader community. The Hillside Education Association is united in the pursuit to end racial and ethnic bias and to empower our students towards this collective goal.