A Personal Statement from Open School Executive Director, Terry Johnson
What happened in Minneapolis and New York’s Central Park was unnecessary, sad, and disheartening. Another black man dead at the hands of racist and heartless white police officers. Another white woman was “threatened and concerned for her safety” when a black man comes into her space. Every time these insidious, senseless, and inhumane acts occur we somehow continue to muster up hope that it will be the last time a human being is treated this way because of skin color.
George Floyd could have easily been myself, my son, one of our staff members, or one of our students. I’m sure every black man we know was putting himself in Mr. Floyd’s situation and thinking about all the times they had a scary brush with law enforcement and reflected on how that moment could have easily turned fatal. What saddens me is this has been our lived experience from the foundation of this country’s founding. Black men have always been hunted and made to walk carefully through life in an effort to simply stay alive, avoid the criminal justice system, and attempt to carve out some path toward the things that are standard in White America (a living wage job, home ownership, college savings, etc.). Some have tasted a piece of the American dream, but most have found themselves trapped in the margins with no realistic path to that “dream”.
We have arrived at yet another critical and pivotal moment in our history, but this one feels different. Mr. Floyd’s words at the point of his death are symbolic of the pain constantly felt in the Black American experience. WE CAN’T BREATHE!!! We are suffocating from the oppression of White America. Privatized prisons are smothering us. Police brutality is squeezing the breath from our very existence. Voter suppression is choking us out. Gentrification is squeezing the life out of us. Food deserts are strangling us. Under-funded schools are obstructing our pathways.
It seems so simple that White America would come to grips with the systemic and multi-generational injustices that have been done toward people of color (especially black men) and start a national movement to put a terminal end to racism on all levels. But, the events from last weekend along with Ahmaud Arbery’s death serve as a constant reminder that this type of national anti-racist revolution has yet to occur. Hopefully it will now.
In Open School leadership camps we have a practice of saying to each other “Who’s got your back? I got your back.” Now is the time for all of us to live this out even more. We need ALL of us to have each other’s back during these challenging times. Our Black, White, Latinx, Native, and Asian community members ALL have to come together in this moment to take a stand against racism and specifically, anti-blackness, like never before. I’m afraid that if we miss this opportunity, we will never make progress.
I hope that all of those responsible for the murder of George Floyd will be prosecuted and convicted, and that his family will be cared for. I am hoping for justice to be carried out for all the victims of state-sponsored violence. I also hope that white people will no longer remain silent when these senseless acts happen. They must commit to expressing their discontent to their families, peers, and colleagues with urgency and conviction. To be silent is to affirm.
I hope Black people will commit to affirming each other’s value amongst each other and stop undermining and devaluing each other. We have been mentally conditioned to think this way about ourselves. This is the message that was sent to us when Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down and when Derek Chauvin had his knee in George Floyd’s neck. We have to start seeing the best in our black men and boys and stop assuming the worst. Rather, we must remind each other and our students that we matter, we are beautiful, and we add value.
Though I’m in shock and mourning for the life of George Floyd, I still believe. I believe in our resilience. I believe justice will prevail. I believe our White allies and accomplices will engage, disrupt, and make change. I hope you all can dig deep and find a reason to believe as well.
This madness has to stop. RIP Mr. George Floyd. We love you.