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Dear Young People who are my students

June 1, 2020 am30 1:43 am

Dear Young People who are my students,

Sometimes life imitates art.

Late last night the Public Theater canceled a virtual event for Monday. “In this time of national trauma” they wrote in their email, “when the Covid crisis has so disproportionately impacted the Black community, when the injustices of our way of life have been made so clear, it just feels wrong for us to sail ahead… This is a time for mourning and reflection”

I had started to write your calendar. I stopped.

I thought about the letter from the Student Government, which I read yesterday:

“It is not enough to “not be racist”. We must ACTIVELY be anti-racist and be responsible citizens who listen and take actions as we fight for justice and equality. 

“We, the HSAS community, stand in solidarity with the Black Community. We urge all of you to do everything that you can to help the Black Lives Matter cause. We urge you all to commit to anti-racist practice and dismantle the white supremacy that blatantly exists in our society, anti-blackness in America and the police brutality that is continuously occurring in our country. 

Earlier today I reposted on Facebook the message of an alum from 2011:

 “To me, teaching is a matter of life and death. In black and brown communities, schools can honestly make or break your future. I do not take my position lightly—especially considering I am an Afro-Puerto Rican woman who chose to teach in the very same community I grew up in. I have many experiences in my own education where had I not had the proper support, i would probably not be where I am today. I know firsthand that the education system in this country does not actually care about our black and brown babies. So please. If you are an educator…—stop being silent on the issues pervading our communities.

And just moments ago another alum, class of 2009, gave me permission to share his words:

The system is broken and our law enforcement system has failed us several times. I have been a victim of unnecessary police brutality SEVERAL times. From walking to the store to get some food. To being outside of my home working on my car. I was stripped of my rights, slammed to the floor, attacked, searched and demoralized. Not because I committed a crime. I was treated this way because I was a black man who happened to look “suspicious”. I’m tired of cringing every time I see a cop driving behind me… This is the sad reality, truth, guilt, and shame we must carry with us as a country. We need change! What do you stand for? I’ll stand with those who stand up for the true message of this tragedy. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”

He closes with these words of Dr. King:

“In the End we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends

The murder of George Floyd is one crime, but represents for many the seemingly never-ending string of murders, central to the history of the United States. The racism that has been with us since our foundation, if it is allowed to remain, will guarantee that each month, each year, more names of Black men and women will be added to this list. This cannot continue. The pain needs to end. Enough is really enough.

I would like to think of ways to stand in solidarity with the victims of racism, in solidarity with Black teachers, Black students, and the Black community. I want to consider the way racism infects the fabric of our everyday life, including our schools, including this school, and what can be done about it.

When faced with complex issues, I like to remember these words of John Reed: “There are only two sides. And whoever is not on one, is on the other.” I know I must act. The silence that Dr. King speaks of is not only silence. It is complicity.

I am suspending my classes for today, for Monday, June 1, to allow time to mourn, to reflect, to speak.

Office hours will continue, 8AM – 10AM as usual, but not as usual: for you to express yourselves, to share thoughts, fears, doubts. To ask questions. To consider a better future, and how we might get there. I will be there to listen, to support you.

I will print a regular calendar for Tuesday, with a short assignment for seniors and a shortened assignment for juniors. The notes from Chapter 7, which were due today, are pushed back to Tuesday. I will send out instructions for requesting a college recommendation in Tuesday’s calendar (short version, I always say yes).

I hope you join me for coffee, and if not, hope you engage in reflection and discussion on your own or with friends and family,

Jonathan Halabi

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