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Head's Corner, December 9, 2014
Greetings CMS Families,
I hope that you are well and dry on this rainy nor’easter. The beauty of rain is that sunshine follows. Last week I had the pleasure of attending the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (POCC) in Indianapolis with Passport Director Nicky DeCesare and Assistant Director of Admissions Nikki Toon. I was invited to present "Ted Talk" style on Thoughtful Leadership. I spoke about Leadership and Spirituality: When Swag means having the courage to lead by the spirit. The conference was phenomenal! It was also emotional for obvious reasons.
When the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson the day before our Thanksgiving Break, I was ANGRY, although not surprised. I immediately wanted to write the Head's Corner about the injustice. I had already made the decision to use a previous Head's Corner about Thanksgiving but felt compelled to express my concern. I spoke with Nicole O'Brien about my thoughts and she wisely counseled me to “stick with the Thanksgiving story” until my return from POCC. It would give me more time to reflect, take a deep breath and share my thoughts about the conference. Munir Shivji and I also spoke very candidly about Mike Brown and so many other African American males gunned down by police. The conference is over and like so many other schools and organizations across the country, we are faced with the question, “What are we going to do individually and collectively?” We are blessed to have such a diverse community at CMS. Many families and children at CMS either look like Mike Brown and Eric Garner or know someone that does. That would be all of us.
As I soaked up the rays of listening to powerful speakers such as Michael Eric Dyson and Jose Vargas and countless others, I was eager to pose the question to the CMS Leadership Team, “What are we going to do?” It is always a fine line that I walk as the Head of School who happens to be African American. I often think too much about how my actions will be perceived as my personal agenda or CMS’s agenda. When I shot off an email to the team early Saturday morning, I wanted them to feel what I was feeling. Fear, sadness and disappointment. The old adage that misery loves company was definitely true in this case. My words were like bullets, sharp, bold and piercing. “What are we going to do?”, I sharply asked my team? I felt powerless.
I feared for my sixteen year old son who stands 6’3, with facial hair and tons of swagger (vernacularly speaking-style, bravado). He has been protected his whole life. He lives in a middle class neighborhood and attends an independent school. This boy, who looks like a man, is a baby. He’s my baby. My heart was bleeding because I feared that this could happen to him, my husband, my nephews, my cousins, my brother, my friends. I was sad that despite the progress we have made in this country, these series of events were a setback.I was disappointed in the “system” that is supposed to protect us. I spent hours discussing this with my family and peers from other schools. We all wanted a solution.
My team, as always, was thoughtful, empathetic and forgiving of my “rant.” Ken Paynter, Director of Technology, reminded us that as a Montessori School, we have a framework through Peace education and Grace and Courtesy. Charles Terranova, Director of Curriculum, responded “either we are part of the problem or part of the solution. We are not innocent bystanders. We are citizens of the world who have a responsibility to act.” Cosmic Education is part of the Montessori philosophy. It is based on the knowledge that we live in an interdependent universe and there is no act that can be isolated from its impact on us all. The Leadership Team agreed that this was a “humanity agenda”. This not only affects my children but all children. It also affects adults.
I made a choice to practice what I preach and began to lead by the spirit. The word spirit is derived from the Latin word “spiritare," which means to breathe or life. At that moment, I began to breathe and realized that there is such life in the CMS community. I am part of a compassionate and caring community, some of whom participated in the protests last week and engaged in meaningful conversations with their friends and families. Some of whom admitted that they don’t know what to do but have extended their hearts, which is more than sufficient.
So, again I pose the question. What are we going to do? The answer is that we don’t know exactly. We are figuring it out. As parents and educators we want to do whatever it takes to protect our children. Sometimes that means engaging or refraining in difficult conversations. Each household is different. In my household, we talk about everything. One of the earliest lessons, besides the alphabet, that my children learned was to always respect authority. It could mean the difference between life and death. That is their reality.
Some CMS children are talking about it, because it directly impacts them. We cannot control that and nor is it our desire. However, we will do what is in the best interest of our children. We will love, nurture, protect, acknowledge, support, encourage and provide them with hope. We are mindful of what is developmentally appropriate and the power of language. Our goal is that CMS children know that they are loved and don’t feel responsible for the actions of others. We do not want to perpetuate stereotypes, cultural bias or judgment on anyone. Most importantly, we want our students to understand that they are all connected and collectively they reflect the hope and change that our larger community requires.
I have attached an article from Time Magazine. It provides tips for discussing the Ferguson and NYC with children. Yesterday, I couldn’t breathe. Today I am a ray of hope that looks forward to the sunshine. I wish you a sunny week!