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Head's Corner, January 22, 2013
Greetings CMS Families,
I hope that you had a wonderful weekend and that you took a few moments yesterday to reflect upon the impact that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made not only in the United States but also in the entire world. At first, I was apprehensive about writing about Dr. King. I guess I didn’t want to be the African American Head of School that was reminding my school community of why we had a day off yesterday. I have stated repeatedly that I do not wish to be the Head whose only agenda is diversity and I mean that. As you know, I am driven to make CMS the best school ever. Period. No hidden agendas. That requires me to be honest and transparent about those things that we value.
A year ago we embarked upon a Strategic Planning Process that included feedback from the entire community. It was a democratic process that represented the voices of many and not just a few. We collectively identified diversity as one of those values that we would make a priority as we plan for our future. Diversity is such a broad term that often gets watered down when the real work begins. At CMS, we have narrowed our scope of diversity to include race, class, religion and sexual orientation. Instead of shying away from celebrating Dr. King for fear that you may place me in a diversity box, I boldly embrace my role to challenge us to be the best that we can possibly be by being present, authentic and transparent.
While I have no desire to be known as the Diversity Police, I do want us to engage in conversations that will help us embrace where we are and bring us closer to where we want to be. I hope that instead of scrolling down to another section that you will continue to read this because you want to and not because you feel as though you have no other choice. There’s always another choice in everything that you do.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of joining 35 Heads of Montessori Schools from all over the country for a Head of School Retreat. As we sat cramped like a can of sardines in an air conditioned room, with Latin music pounding outside in the hotel lobby, I did my best to focus on the question that Keynote Speaker and Executive Coach extraordinaire Kate Ebner asked all of us: “Who inspires you and why?” Kate was hired to help us become better leaders, better communicators and leaders with clear vision. My feet were pounding to the music as various images of family members and famous people appeared as dancing silhouettes in my brain. Focus, Ingrid. Focus, Ingrid. The obvious response would be my parents but the truth is that Dr. King has been an inspiration to me all of my life. I was reluctant to say that as one of a few people of color in the room. Was my Indian friend Munir going to say Ghandi? Was my African American friend Kimberly going to say Rosa Parks? Was my Latino friend Denise going to say Cesar Chavez? Unfortunately none of my Asian counterparts were present and I wondered if anyone would name Ang Lee?
I sat quietly and listened to my white counterparts openly share with the group who inspired them. Kate went first and said with passion that Maya Angelou inspired her. Edgar, an elderly gentlemen and founder of a Montessori school in Canada got very choked up as he said President Obama. He explained in a tearful tremor that the President inspired him because he represented hope and world peace. #@%* I thought. Why did I “punk out” (please take no offense- it’s how I describe a cowardly move, nothing more, nothing less) and not answer the darn question? I guess for the same reason that I was reluctant to use this Heads Corner to celebrate Dr. King; so that I can ease anyone’s fear of me having a black agenda and to keep the peace.
Then, I thought about how far we have come since Dr. King’s dream. Four decades later we have racially diverse schools, diverse communities, diverse places of worship, diverse families, diverse pop culture and diverse Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government led by the President of the United States, who happens to be African American. That gives us plenty of reasons to celebrate right? We are thrilled that our children have the advantage of being in diverse environments. However, as I visit classes and observe the way that we as a community interact, I am gently reminded that we still have more work to do to achieve Dr. King’s dream. I see people connecting with those that they are most comfortable. They are often from the same race, class, religion or sexual orientation. It’s human nature. Or is it an excuse to give us permission to settle for peaceful coexistence? At what point do we scratch beneath the surface and exit our comfort zones so that we can achieve authenticity across our diverse borders? When Oprah’s Gayle is Ellen? When Bush’s Cheney is Hillary? When Jay Z’s Beyoncé is Gwyneth Paltrow? When the New York Times cites Rolling Stone as a primary source of information? Just saying.
Recently a very sweet girl from the Red Room asked me if I wanted to go to the peace table. Apparently some things were troubling her. I immediately thought about the time I was her age and a girl who looked similar to her called me a name that I won’t dare repeat. She was angry because I told her that Suzie Bake Ovens were fake and that the cakes that you bake in them were “nasty”. I was used to eating homemade pound cakes so I had a discriminating pallet and no filter. My immediate reaction was to cold-clock (punch her lights out) her so that she could feel the pain that I felt at that moment. Then I looked around the room and realized that no one else looked like me and I might not end up the victor after all, despite thinking that I had every one of Muhammad Ali’s moves on lock (down to a science). The only thing I could think of was Dr. King. I reacted in a non-violent way because it was the right thing to do. I thought if he could have endured water hoses, dogs, Billy clubs and jail time while turning the other cheek, then I could do the same. Besides, I knew that my parents would not approve of such uncivilized behavior.
My parents kept us home from school on Dr. King’s birthday long before it was a national holiday. We celebrated his courage to dream of a different America. My love of physical sports only increased while my need to create peace would be my labor of love. My dream is that we as adults have the courage to implement Dr. King’s dream. Finally, I leave you with a quote that inspires me daily. “We who engage in non-violent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to surface the hidden tension that is already alive.” In other words, let’s embrace all of this “stuff”, complexities and all, boldly and peacefully. It doesn’t make us cowards. It gives us permission to create action based on our values. Period. We are living the dream but lets continue the legacy! Have an awesome week. Keep hope alive!