Since the events of the past week unfolded, I, like many other Black Americans, received numerous emails from friends and professional colleagues checking in to see if I’m OK. I suspect for the first time they understood what we as Black Americans have known since the day we were born — our lives have less value in America. We are tired, angry, and confused. More importantly, we are experiencing excruciating emotional pain. Although we will navigate this space that is familiar to us because we have to, it’s important that you know I am NOT OK, we are NOT OK, and our children are NOT OK.
At my nonprofit (Technology Access Foundation), one of our most basic struggles is to create safe academic spaces, where Black students’ and teachers’ lived and inherited experiences are seen, valued, and heard. We know the only way for students to learn without limits is to break down systemic oppression while simultaneously arming them with the 21st-century skills needed to create the world they envision and empower community activism and leadership for change. This is our fight, manifested through our multicultural classrooms, culturally relevant project-based lessons, and teacher development. We work hard every single day to ensure our students leave TAF classrooms socially conscious and self-aware.
To be honest, some days that doesn’t seem like enough to prepare them for a country where every institution is held up by the load-bearing walls of racism.
During a class session last week, one of our Black 6th-grade students said, “People have no idea what it’s like being in my skin. Why do I have to be afraid to go for a run in my neighborhood with a hoodie on and why am I fearful when I see the police?”
We could teach him what we’ve been trained to do to survive — compartmentalize to get through the day to avoid suspension, or when he gets older, refrain from speaking up about mistreatment and double-standards to keep his job. We could tell him to always comply if he’s stopped by the authorities, although we know he could end up in harm’s way regardless. We could tell him there are only pockets of injustice, so all he needs to do is learn how to avoid them, but then we’d be lying.
This current outcry is the result of years of oppression, willful ignorance, hate, and racism. It is time for white America to recognize the work of removing racism is your and yours alone, because you created and shored up the racist structures that keep Black Americans from fully realizing their potential to succeed in this country.
As an educator, activist and advocate for children, my work is focused on redesigning our education system to work for all children. Today, the public education system works exactly as planned—to educate white, middle class+ children—so a new plan is long overdue.
The Vashon School District (VSD) is no different. Since we moved here in 2009, VSD went from 11% students of color to 24%, with 13% being Latinx students. If we are to be honest, Latinx students are not treated any better than Black students. If we are to ensure that our children don’t continue to uphold the racist structures of today, there is a lot of work to do.
I would encourage every single teacher and administrator in the Vashon School District to be on an expedited racial equity and anti-racism journey—a process with no conceivable end—and Vashon parents, particularly white parents, to work towards raising anti-racist children. This deeply personal journey is not easy, but necessary, and you must push through any discomfort you will feel if progress is to be made.
Education should be a place where everyone wins. America should be a place where everyone wins. This won’t happen without a consistent effort to build an anti-racist society and it won’t happen without you.
Trish Millines Dziko is a nonprofit professional, activist, educator and advocate for children. She is the co-founder and executive director of TAF (Technology Access Foundation) and has lived on Vashon since 2009.