Dear Spencer Community,
I have written so many statements in moments like these, where lives have been taken in acts of targeted anti-black racism. I wasn’t sure if I could write another one. I wrote my first statement when then 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed, and my son was a curious, wide-eyed, big-hearted 8-year-old; my son is now 15, broad-shouldered, tall, with a full moustache and the same huge heart. He will learn to drive this year, and I am gripped with fear at the thought of what could happen to him if a routine traffic stop goes bad. I see him when I watch the video of George Floyd being pinned to the ground under an officer’s knee, dying.
The list of unarmed Black lives lost is longer than I have the space to list here. Most recently, we witnessed the unjust and unjustified killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade. These are not isolated incidents, and Black people in this country share viscerally the experience of the knowledge that these could be our husbands, our wives, our friends, our sons, our aunties. We know from experience that these are extreme versions of what we experience in the world every day. And so in these moments, we are feeling not just the pain of the current loss, but the history of losses, and the likely future of losses, and the uncertainty of whether our loved ones will come home on any given night. And even in our pain, we face the tragedy of what we tell our children and young people, and how we steel ourselves to explain to them what is happening in the world. Our hearts break again and again and again.
People have taken to the streets in protest to register collective hurt and pain and disappointment. And the protests have gotten bigger and louder and longer. And they have spread; in every major city in the US, and many cities abroad, multi-racial and intergenerational crowds make it clear that inequality, injustice, and anti-black racism is a global phenomenon. Even in the midst of a health crisis more extreme than any of us has seen in our lifetime, and an economic crisis arguably worse than the Great Depression (both of which disproportionately affect Black, Latinx, Native and other marginalized communities), the people have made their voices heard.
Even as we mourn, we must take action. It has never been clearer that our work, each and every one of us, is squarely about making our systems, our nation, our world, more just. Inequality hurts all of us. In education, we know well that race, income, disability status, language and immigration status, gender, and sexual identity define the educational experiences of young people and constrain or open up the opportunities they will have access to. As a community of educational researchers, we have the responsibility to work to improve our educational system, and to create the systems we need to disrupt inequality and injustice, and to educate all children to reach their full potential, and we must do so with deep respect for their humanity, and a profound understanding that we can only get there together.
For me, this moment deepens my own commitment to working towards creating the conditions for equity in education and beyond, and to our work at Spencer being in the service of equity and justice. I invite my colleagues in education research and in philanthropy to deepen and make explicit their own commitments as well. Towards that end, I’d like to include comments below from Spencer Senior Vice President, Megan Bang, and Spencer Board Chair, Pam Grossman.
--Na'ilah Nasir, Spencer President
“Ending anti-blackness must be our priority. Doing so doesn’t mean we can’t also prioritize other forms of inequality. Justice and thriving don’t have to be scarce. I have been working to make sure my children understand what our responsibilities are if we are to live mino-bimaadaziwin – the heart of our cultural ways of being – the good life. They know that white supremacy, anti-blackness, and Indigenous erasure are core to the United States. As Native people we survive anti-Indigeneity and erasure every day. And we also recognize that we witness anti-blackness everyday – sometimes even in our own extended family and community – and have a responsibility to disallow its continuation. Making worlds beyond this country’s history of racial violence that can cultivate just, sustainable, and culturally thriving communities is fundamental to being a mom, educator, and scholar – and central to our work at Spencer.
--Megan Bang, Spencer Senior Vice President
"The grief and rage that have gripped our country reflect the long history of racial injustice in American from its very origins. I hope this moment catalyzes into concrete actions that each of us, individually and through our communities and institutions, can take to work towards racial and educational justice. With the strong and inspirational leadership of President Nasir, the Spencer Foundation commits to our part in this task."
--Pam Grossman, Spencer Board Chair