On Friday, May 8, 2020, I hit the empty, quarantined streets of my local Atlanta neighborhood and united in solidarity with people around the United States as we ran 2.23 miles in honor of Ahmaud Arbery.
It was on February 23 that the unarmed Arbery was shot and killed while jogging in Glynn County, Georgia by Gregory and Travis McMichael.
Although Arbery was killed in February, no arrest was made in the case until May. The arrest seems to be the response to a grassroots campaign demanding justice for what appears to be a senseless, racially motivated hate crime (although the state of Georgia lacks a hate crimes law).
Since the COVID quarantine, I’ve felt despondent. I miss the daily routines and interactions of our work. The tragic killing of Arbery only made me feel worse. I wanted to do something to make an impact and being able to simply run a few miles made me feel a lot better. I felt like that was a great way to honor this young man’s life.
It was Zack Sims, a former student and accomplished distance runner, who made me realize that I had a responsibility to do more than simply run 2.23 miles.
In a Facebook post, Zack made a passionate call to action for each of his followers. He stated that “we don’t need to wait for another hashtag before we decide to make a change and completely remove racist views that exist in the white community. As long as there’s even one racist person in the community, we got some work to do.”
As Zack’s former AP Language teacher (and yes, he ACED the exam), I felt proud of the man he had become and realized that our teachers play a larger role in combating racism and hate crimes than some may realize.The end of racism begins in our classrooms. Click To Tweet
Zack shared a quote from David Brooks’ book, The Second Mountain in his post. He stated that “The neighbor doesn’t wait for someone else to address the community’s problems. He is not just a spectator. Whatever the symptom – drugs, deteriorating houses, poor economy, displacement, violence – it is when citizens stop waiting for professionals or elected leadership to do something, and decide they can reclaim what they have delegated to others, that things really happen.”
Here’s what you can do right now to move forward:
We each enter into the classroom with our own biases. Some of us have more biases than others and we cannot turn away from the things that make us uncomfortable. We have to see those things for what they are- whether it’s racism, bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, or some other form of fear that limits our ability to connect with a child who is unlike us. We cannot embrace the other until we embrace the self. And we cannot embrace that which we do not know.
Hear your students.
Each of our students enter into our classrooms with their own voices which have been carefully shaped by their own experiences. We have to cultivate these voices and clearly hear them. In the article, “What is Social Justice Education Anyway?”, Crystal Belle (2019), espouses that “to practice social justice teaching and learning is to truly see students for who they are and where they come from.” This means we must honor their cultures, their heritages, and yes, their homes. Teachers have to not only hear them but also empower them to raise their voices.
Speak the truth.
Our national identity is complicated and flawed. The underpinnings of white supremacy, in many ways, is still deeply embedded within the American identity. As educators, we cannot ignore this. We have a responsibility to not only teach about the current events, like the Arbery case, that are impacting our student's lives but to teach them well. This means we speak about the facts, regardless of how difficult, and encourage our students to question even when the questions make us (and them) uncomfortable.
Zack ends his Facebook post by saying, “We too, have this act of power and we must reclaim what is delegated to us. So white folks in America, let’s not be spectators. Step up, be bold, and let’s make the changes we want to see in our communities because America will be a better place for it.”
Educators, we too, must be bold and make the changes we want to see in our world a reality. We, the educators, have an inherent responsibility to keep America the land of the free and the home of the brave. We, the educators, must shine a light on the inequities that exist not only in our classrooms but in our world, so that slowly and certainly, they cease to exist. The end of racism begins in our classrooms.
A graduate of Mississippi State University, Dr. Kirk has served learners as a teacher, instructional coach, professional learning specialist, literacy coordinator, and curriculum director. Zachary's passion is building teacher and leader capacity. His workshops have included creating standards-aligned assessments, classroom management strategies for standards-based instruction, and literacy in the content areas. The author of Not “So” Gifted Cody and the Really Big Problem, Zackory is a motivated writer, an active weight watcher, and a passionate activist. Currently, Dr. Kirk works to ensure our school systems are supported with high-quality resources as an account executive.