“Like so many Americans, we have experienced waves of emotion this week following the brutal murder of yet another African-American man, George Floyd. It is impossible to see the video of him being strangled under the knee of a police officer in broad daylight on a public street and not be disgusted, horrified, angry, sad, and determined to work even harder to oppose and overcome racial injustice in our society.
“And the greatest scandal is not just how brutal and horrific that murder was, but how commonplace and unsurprising racist violence like that is in America. This nation was founded on a white supremacist ideology that used genocide and slavery to oppress indigenous people and loot their land. It was built by kidnapping and enslaving African people to work that stolen land under the most inhumane and cruel conditions imaginable. And it is not in the past. That history traces through five centuries of atrocities to today. George Floyd’s murder is despicable, but it is tragically unexceptional. That cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged.
“As educators, we bear a great responsibility for shaping society. We have the unique privilege of working with children and young people as they are forming their values and world view. We also have the great responsibility of responding with compassion, courage and conviction as they witness history in real time, as they have been this past week. And more importantly yet, we have a duty and responsibility to work for a better, fairer and more just world for our students to inherit from us.
“NJEA has long taken that duty very seriously and we have consciously made it a core part of our mission to advocate for members, students and public schools. In recent years, we have pushed hard for the full implementation of the Amistad Curriculum in our schools so that the horror of the trans-Atlantic slave trade is never forgotten, glossed over or disregarded. We have worked to create a new program called the Amistad Journey to help educators experience some of the important historical sites related to slavery and gain a deeper appreciation for the ways that evil institution shaped and still shapes our society. And we have committed to providing anti-racist training to NJEA staff and leaders to help infuse anti-racism as a fundamental value throughout all the work our union does.
“But we know that much, much more is needed. This week, NJEA will be announcing creation of a member-centered initiative explicitly devoted to doing anti-racist work in our classrooms, our communities and our union. All members wishing to engage in that work will be welcomed and encouraged to join. It is not enough to express our disgust and point to our past efforts. We must take assertive action to identify, acknowledge and break down oppressive racist systems that harm our members, stifle our students and corrode our communities.
“We must let our decisive, unapologetic action speak more loudly than any statement can.”