Angelina Idun, Director at SSAT, considers how events over the last 12 months have influenced race equality work in our schools, and how we continue to drive this crucial work forward.
If @Oprah Winfrey is reading this blog, I hope she will not mind me taking as my title the title of a conversation that she led following the tragic murder of George Floyd. The conversation featured Oprah’s discussions with high profile Black thought leaders, activists, and artists. Over several months this was amongst the programmes I watched, books and articles I read, and events I participated in that gave me hope that the change I am impatient for was coming.
It has been almost a year since I watched that programme and a year since, like others, I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone and added my voice to the protest by writing a Black Lives Matter blog. The year has continued to be one of immense change, challenge, and uncertainty. As Vladimir Ilyich Lenin said:
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
For me, a global moment of hope, giving the feeling that voices are being heard and that real change is possible, came as Kamala Harris made history becoming the first female, Black, and South Asian vice president of the United States of America. 22-year-old Amanda Gorman reciting her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of newly elected President Joe Biden in January spoke words that were also a source of hope. There are so many inspirational lines in her poem. A couple that stand out for me and are also relevant to the title of this piece and the work that still remains to be done are these:
“And so, we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.”
Closer to home, it has been encouraging in recent months to work with and talk to teachers, students, and leaders about how they have been motivated to take active steps to develop their anti-racist strategy. Schools across the network are working to achieve greater equity and do all they can from within their school communities to put an end to discrimination. Creating safe spaces for adults and children to continue to share experiences and finding the resources that allow all stakeholders to educate themselves and deepen understanding has been key to these efforts. As Harris says:
“We are striving to forge our union with purpose.”
In this week’s edition of SSAT’s Sunday Supplement, we are sharing with you examples of how George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement has given momentum to active change in two school communities, and we look forward to sharing more examples. These, like other schools, are on a journey to achieving the aims they strengthened their commitment to one year ago. This is a long haul.
Throughout the last year, the moments of hope and encouragement I acknowledge above, have too often been clouded by moments and events that could easily distract and derail us. These episodes discourage us from the important work we know needs to be done. Examples include the Sewell Report that denied the existence of institutional racism; the wave of abuse being directed at black players on social media; hateful commentary that follows Meghan Markle, the Windrush scandal victims who remain uncompensated.
Again, closer to home, recent conversations are a reminder of the distance still to go; one in which a teenage boy told me about being in the street when a passing car lowered its window and someone travelling in the vehicle called him a “monkey”. It was so poignant to see and hear this young man lower his head and his tone and admit this made him feel scared. In another conversation a mother told me of an incident in which she and her teenage daughter were called the “n..” word. Mum, though hurt and appalled was ready to let it go, daughter was ready to challenge and stand her ground. This, mum reflected was an indication of the way in which the work her child’s school is doing is empowering her daughter to call out racism. I have also talked to children of Asian descent targeted by an increase in racial slurs fuelled by Covid-19.
So, where do we go from here?
The anniversary of George Floyd’s murder is a milestone, giving us time to remember Floyd and his family and take stock. It is a time to revisit that moral purpose that Amanda Gorman refers to, reset, and continue to believe and push forward.
The morning the Sewell Report came out I felt fury stirring again. Doubt started to creep in leaving me unsure whether the efforts of so many in recent months were worthwhile. As often happens at times like this individuals and organisations quickly stepped up, spoke out and reassured. Amongst these was the Runnymede Trust. Listening to their webinar that evening helped me to see the report for what it was. Social Commentator, campaigner, and cultural historian Patrick Vernon OBE told participants not to spend too much time getting angry about it but instead to do the real work. He urged those taking part to work and strategize with other organisations who are serious about making lasting change happen. The importance of drawing on the energy and spirit of allyship was emphasised in this session as was staying focused on our purpose, the commitments we have made and continuing to demand change.
In the Black Lives Matter blog I wrote last year, I highlighted some things I strongly felt matter and that we can focus on as teachers and leaders to bring about change. One year on I believe these remain relevant points of focus.
- What has been your school’s race equality journey this year?
- What have you seen, read, or listened to that has influenced this agenda and activity?
- Which aspects of your school’s anti-racist strategy will be a focus in the coming months?
- Where does your school community go from here?
Sharing strategies, stories, and resources will fuel our purpose and sharpen our focus as we keep the spotlight on our race equality work. Please get in touch with us if you would like to share a response to the questions above or tell us about what is happening in your school community to effect meaningful change.
RACE Charter Mark
Race and Conscious Equality (RACE) Charter Mark is for schools wishing to demonstrate their commitment to action and improvement in relation to race equality in all aspects of their work, as educators, employers, and community leaders.
The RACE Charter Mark is delivered by Fig Tree International and awarded by SSAT.