By Victor Vernick
Protests around the country, demands to defund law enforcement, police brutality in response to civil unrest.
An African-American man named George Floyd was the victim of police brutality last May when a police officer suffocated him by placing his knee on Floyd’s neck, eventually killing him.
This wasn’t the first and will likely not be the last incident involving police brutality toward an African American person to take place, especially until we can address systemic racism in this country and have police reform and accountability. However, this situation became national news, inspiring a plethora of ideas and causing many more people to take social action to combat institutional racism across America, including at Woodlynde.
On Instagram, people of all ages have been spreading awareness. Americans have been shouting the names of countless victims of police brutality, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Trayvon Martin, as a reminder of the social injustice occurring in America. The NFL team, formerly known as the Washington Redskins, changed their name to Washington Football Team because of the cultural insensitivity towards Native Americans. NBA players wore “Black Lives Matter” on their jerseys and the organization added the phrase on their courts, as well. In addition, statues of prominent historical leaders have been taken down because of their involvement in owning slaves.
These incidents derive from institutional racism, which has had a profound effect on political history, the criminal justice system, access to education and healthcare, and many other factors. History teachers Mr. Laughead and Mr. Robison believe institutional racism stems from historical laws, especially when slavery and segregation existed. It wasn’t so long ago that Blacks weren’t allowed to get loans from many Philadelphia area banks or live in certain neighborhoods.
BLACKS ARE IMPRISONED 5X THE RATE OF WHITES
Black Americans are imprisoned at five times the rate of white Americans, according to Mr. Richardson, Woodlynde’s Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) Co-chair.
He says this is because of racist laws and actions that target the Black community. Mr. Richardson also believes there are differences in the ways white and Black Americans are treated by police, arrested, processed in court, and sentenced.
Mr. Richardson is very civic-minded and has supported the Black Lives Matter movement since it began in 2014. Dictionary.com defines this movement as “a political and social movement originating among African Americans, emphasizing basic human rights and racial equality for Black people and campaigning against various forms of racism.”
Mr. Richardson has attended and participated in several protests and demonstrations.
Not too long ago, Mr. Richardson brought his son to a protest at the Lower Merion Police Station. “I took my son to the Ardmore event, because it is important for me to show him the importance of standing up for the equal rights of all Americans,” the Lower School Music teacher says.
Mr. Richardson also believes that Woodlynde should start a Black Student Union in order to encourage diversity, and make all students of color feel welcomed and heard.
He hears stories on Instagram from Black students who attend area private schools.
“There are hundreds of accounts of Black students experiencing some form of racism at school, and every one of them breaks my heart,” he says.
WOODLYNDE IS TAKING ACTION
Woodlynde students are also taking action in response to these social injustices.
Junior Takeyo Rockmore is making a documentary to show the impact institutional racism is having on our country today. Junior Ava LaVoe and senior Nic Park suggested that Woodlynde should place signs throughout the school that say, “Black Lives Matter.”
Mr. Laughead suggested that the Upper School host a viewing of a documentary called 13, which is about racial inequity in the United States, so students can have a fundamental understanding of racism.
According to Diversity Equity Inclusion co-chairs Mr. Richardson and Middle School Learning Specialist Ms. Zinkewich, the DEI Committee is a faculty group that meets to brainstorm ways to create a more inclusive environment at Woodlynde. Among other behind-the-scenes projects, like drafting the Woodlynde Diversity Statement, the DEI Committee was responsible for curating last year’s Black History Month assembly. Ms. Zinkewich also leads a DEI Club for Middle and Upper School students.
In 2018, Mr. Richardson and Ms. Zinkewich had the opportunity to travel to Nashville for the People of Color Conference with other educators from around the country, who Mr. Richardson said “are deeply invested in enriching the experiences of students of color.”
PARTNERING WITH DIVERSITY PROFESSIONALS
Woodlynde has also been taking action by partnering with diversity professionals during professional development days to help prevent all forms of discrimination and make our school as inclusive and equitable as it can be.
In addition, Head of School Mrs. Clemons had all Woodlynde colleagues read White Fragility by author Robin DiAngelo, over the summer. The Leadership Team also met with Shipley’s DEI (Diversity Equity Inclusion) director Brandon Jacobs so they could then help Woodlynde faculty improve their understanding of systemic racism.
This past August, Woodlynde hired a DEI consultant, Dr. Val Wise, who is planning to perform an equity audit with students, teachers, and parents, to further assess diversity, equity and inclusion at Woodlynde.
Although Woodlynde has taken great steps to combat these social injustices, there is still work to be done.
Mrs. Clemons supports the Black Lives Matter movement because she believes, “Until our country comes together in our understanding of systemic racism, we will not be working to create a world that is safe and just for all people.”