Creating a Better Future

July 20, 2020

Dear St. Anne’s Community,

I hope this message finds you well and enjoying summer. 

I wanted to reach out to you because, perhaps like you, I have been thinking about my country and my role in it. As a son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew, husband, father, friend, Head of School, and citizen of my country, I have been thinking about my responsibilities to other people and asking myself hard questions about how I am doing. I want to share some of my thinking, even at the risk of vulnerability.

My favorite professor in college was a Civil Rights historian named Rob Weisbrot, a spectacular teacher, human being, and expert in his field. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Professor Weisbrot because he awakened in me an understanding of, and appreciation for, the arc of progress and change in America, even in the midst of continued injustice and violence. In his seminars, I read deeply and engaged in conversation about the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, and the Vietnam War, and in those intimate spaces, I began to truly appreciate the strengths and limitations of my country. In many ways, this is where and when I truly fell in love with learning. Professor Weisbrot had high expectations for all of his students because he was passionate about his subject and because he believed challenging us made us stronger. He was right. He helped me to learn how to think and write, and he inspired me to major in History and ultimately to teach.

Earlier this summer, I read an interview with Professor Weisbrot about the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement in light of racial injustices facing the United States today. I was comforted to hear the reassuring calm of a mentor who has devoted his life to studying human failure and progress.  When presented with the possibility that America may not have made progress since the Civil Rights movement, he offers the following:

I actually have to think about that. My first instinct was to disagree strongly, but there’s a sense in which what you say is profoundly true, that there was entrenched racism in the 60s, and there’s entrenched racism today. And so on that basis, we can say things haven’t changed much. But as a historian, I look for change over time. And to me, the changes over time have been vast. We don’t have to celebrate an end to racism because clearly that hasn’t occurred. We have to recognize that it remains with us. It’s embedded in the society. We still have to confront it as a nation.

He continues:

The advantage of studying history is that it enables us to see that these aren’t merely incidents; they’re part of a wider pattern. And it’s not just a pattern for 2020. It’s a pattern that is embedded in centuries of American history. And the details change, but the pattern, which is centered on white racism, endures. It doesn’t mean that nothing can change. It doesn’t mean that the nation can’t rouse itself and redress these issues. And it has, but much remains to be done.

All of us have inherited these wider patterns of racism. The burning questions for me right now, specifically about patterns of racism, are how might I be complicit and what can I do about what remains to be done? Like many people, I am heartened to see what feels like a shifting of public opinion right now, and I am heartened that many people, institutions, and businesses, including many white people, are actively standing in support of historically marginalized people and challenging these patterns.

St. Anne’s has a proud history. The Sisters of the Order of St. Anne who cared for ailing children were unconcerned about whom they served, but they certainly knew why they served them. Quite simply, they were following orders; they were doing God’s work.  We are fortunate to be able to celebrate their story, the proverbial maypole around which we dance, and help young children grow into good people, no matter who they are or where they are from. It is in our DNA. It is our why.

And yet, we clearly have work to do to forward the Sisters’ work. I wonder what Mother Irene would say about events today; I wonder what she would do. Would she be satisfied with our efforts?

I suspect she would have reminded the children she served that she loved them unconditionally, and she would have demonstrated her love by showing up every day and teaching them how to love themselves, how to love their neighbors, and how to persevere and be accountable. Perhaps she would have joined peaceful protesters in Denver; perhaps she would have prayed; or perhaps she would have written to her local legislators. Because she was a woman of strong convictions, I suspect business as usual would not have been an option.

Like the Sisters, we work hard every day to love our students unconditionally. We work to help them love themselves and their neighbors, and we continue to challenge them in healthy ways, so they learn how to persevere and take responsibility for themselves, so they learn to be good people and good people to others. These things are fundamental to St. Anne’s just as they are to any healthy community. But, given the inequity we still see in our country and in our own communities, including here at St. Anne’s, we need to do more. I need to do more. Now is not the time for business as usual.

One way forward, I think, is to take seriously the notion that it is no longer enough to think of racism as someone else’s problem. Racism impacts all our communities but especially communities of color who have been historically marginalized. As someone who has benefited from unearned privileges and as someone who has accepted responsibility for serving a school community, I understand that I am in a position of influence and that I have a responsibility to make sure privileges at school are evenly distributed. This requires action. I want to see racism end and with it the attitudes and patterns that perpetuate it because I work with and for people who feel its sting and because I know that the patterns that still exist weaken my country, community, and school. I am learning a great deal right now about why it is important to be anti-racist. Racism is antithetical to what we teach and value at St. Anne’s, and I am committed to making sure we do everything we can, I do everything I can, to help eradicate it. 

Along with the faculty and staff, I continue to listen and learn, and work to provide our students with developmentally appropriate ways to deepen their own consciousness. We cannot grow good people without helping them understand that being good means being good to others, no matter who they are, what they look like, or where they are from. We can’t grow good people without helping them know themselves and the world in which they live. Having conversations about privilege and injustice is uncomfortable, no matter what our age or color, but not having these conversations will perpetuate the destructive patterns that demoralize and even kill people.

This summer, our faculty and staff are reading Ibram X. Kendi's book, How to be an Anti-Racist, and our Board of Trustees is reading White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Many are reading both and are actively engaged in relevant professional development work this summer. While we know that reading books alone is not enough to move us forward, we will engage in this important work during our opening faculty and staff meetings with the helpful support of the Colorado Diversity Network. Our faculty and staff and Board of Trustees are energized, and we will continue this conversation moving forward as we begin the work of developing our next strategic plan, which will include a diversity, equity, and inclusion plan.

In the meantime, like so many people. I am saddened by the recent passing of Civil Rights Activist and Congressman John Lewis, who by his action and words inspired so many to remain hopeful in the fight against injustice. “Do not get lost in the sea of despair,” he writes. “Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year. It is the struggle of a lifetime.” I certainly do not have the courage that John Lewis did, but I remain inspired by his willingness to fight for what was and is right, even at such personal cost, and, in this important moment in our country’s history, I am thinking a great deal about what I can do to support the people for whom I have responsibilities and how I can take a more active role in helping to create a better future.

Thank you for listening, and thank you, as always, for your support.