Xena Goldman Photo, Mural by Xena Goldman, Greta McLain, and Cadex Herrera
Zeph Capo, Texas AFT President
As teachers and school employees, we strive to make our schools inclusive, safe places for learning. So it hurts us to see our nation, while still fighting a pandemic, now grieving over the injustice in the murder of George Floyd.
We know that our children are not shielded from the images of Floyd’s death and the resulting protests that have engulfed many of our cities in anger, and demands for justice, as well as the literal flames of fires burning through these communities. Many will understand that they also have faced injustice in life, and the uncertainty of the times will weigh heavily on them.
As a union, we stand together with the communities who are rightfully demanding justice and accountability for Mr. Floyd’s death and other victims of violence and oppression. We also will be determined to build a new path to heal the nation and build it again on the foundation of equality, respect, and systems to ensure that those ideals are sustained.
Our job as teachers will be to educate our children on what has happened, how it affects all of us, and what we can do together to ensure that all people are treated with dignity and compassion. We will make it known that racism will not find shelter in our schools and communities, and in fact, we will join in an active fight against it.
Our students, parents, school employees, and the communities they serve have witnessed an atrocity, one that tragically, many feel could happen to them at any time. Our prayer, and our dedication to realizing it, is to make sure that the pain and injustice from these events remain something to learn from in the past and not something to fear for the future.
For the present, now, we will teach our students how to fight to keep the doors of opportunity open. We will demonstrate that the turmoil bombarding them on television and social media should not be what guides them in their fights, but instead the perseverance to fulfill the promise of a just nation. We will show them that they do have a voice in fighting racism and oppression and that they have the power to make change and—like the giants of civil rights heroes who came before them—they can forge a peaceful path ahead.
Candis Houston, Aldine AFT President
The roar of unrest in our nation is loud as we hear the resonating value of George Packer’s words. The last few days have proved that “Inequality hardens society into a class system. Inequality divides us from one another…Inequality undermines democracy.”
The death of George Floyd became the finial of anger and frustration as African Americans intuitively knew the cycle of unaccountable consequences for those involved. Demonstrations are taking place to draw attention to inequities we are all encountering daily and are rooted in the purpose of igniting change. Now is the time to look at policies and procedures of the police departments in your community. Now is the time to register to vote, educate yourself, and participate in local elections. Now is the time for all stakeholders, including school leaders, teacher unions, and police departments to devise a plan to address this inequality for the next generation of students. Do not allow the death of Mr. Floyd be in vain. Change is now! It will take all races, genders, and creeds to make racism an anomaly and equality and respect the norm.
Wretha Thomas, Houston Educational Support Personnel President (HESP: Texas AFT’s “Blue-Collar Union)
The injustice of racism is a constant nightmare for African American families, and the horror of the latest injustice is now inflicting its pain on the George Floyd family. So many Black families have lost sons and daughters by the hand of racist cops. Our union families must stand together and be part of a new world of change. That starts with standing up against racism in the classroom, on the bus, in the schoolyard, the cafeterias, and all the places where our school team dedicates our hard work to educate our children and keep them safe.
Shonda Below, Northeast Houston AFT President
The tragic and senseless death of George Floyd has once again revealed why police officers must listen when a person regardless of their skin color cries out, “I can’t breathe.” If only Officer Derek Chauvin had listened. Now, let this incident be the fuel for brown-skinned people to show up and vote in November to elect leaders who will work with educators and our communities to put a stop to this injustice.
Wanda Longoria, Northside AFT President
These past few days have revealed that as a nation we have not traveled far beyond the days of the Civil Rights Era. Our black brothers and sisters are still dealing with deeply rooted systemic racism. The dark underbelly of what that term means has erupted in anger, pain, bitterness, violence, and destruction. While it is easy to pool peaceful protesters together with lawless actors, condemn the movement, and move on, we once again miss what is really happening. We are a nation that has been divided for years. That division today refuses to be hidden. That evil darkness has come into the light!
As educators we see it every day. The economic and social divide is real and obvious, yet instead of dealing with the real issues our nation “sweeps” these harsh realities under the rug until the next horrendous act of racism happens again. We paint the situation with a fresh coat of paint (empty words), we put new windows dressings on the problem (political change) until the next unspeakable act against our black community happens again, and then the cycle repeats.
We can no longer abide by this way of thinking. We must rise as a people and demand that the death of George Floyd, and all who have gone before him at the hands of blatant police abuse, will not be in vain. It is time we demand social justice and change for our black communities. It is time we demand to look at our nation and its structures through the eyes of equality to begin to make change happen.
Funding our schools equitably would be a start. Ensuring those communities have a say in how they want their public schools and curriculum to look is essential. Adequately preparing, training, mentoring, and paying black educators to go into those community schools to be positive role models, as defined by their communities, would help guide future generations. Giving them the adequate resources to do this would be fair and just. Having community discussions where our black communities are really listened to is crucial for change to happen. Making this a priority in our nation is what we must demand.
The time to validate our black brothers and sisters is now. The time to ask for forgiveness for generations of racism is now. The time to finally say, we hear you and we’re ready to change systemic racism through social reform is now!
The question is, “If you believe this is what must happen, then what will YOU do to effect this change?”
Jackie Anderson, Houston Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer
In the days that follow the murder of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis, my heart still aches. I think about my own black son and how while I taught him as a child to be respectful, it is highly likely no matter how respectful he is, he could die on the streets at the hands of the police. My heart aches because I remember my parents shielding me and my siblings from racism growing up in Houston. Fifty years later, I now shield by grandchildren. After four-hundred years, oppression and systemic racism still exists in America. The ugly reality of racism’s wide acceptance MUST STOP!
As I watch protestors take to the streets in solidarity, I wonder when the real reason for their actions will resonate with those in power? When will their pain be understood? As they use their collective voices to demand justice for countless people that have died at the hands of police violence, when will they be vindicated? When will elected officials finally not see just the looters and rioters, but instead the citizens simply demanding the right to live in their own country without fear of unlawful execution by those charged with guaranteeing their safety? The murder of George Floyd uncovered, yet again, the anger, hurt, injustices and racism that still encompass America today. We cannot allow George’s murder to be in vain. His murder must spur action that ushers in a new paradigm in America—one that brings all Americans together to draw a line in the sand and say “Basta Ya” to those who cheapen our public discourse by sowing the seeds of division. It is no longer enough to say, “I’m not a racist.” Racism in any form must be called out by every man and every woman. Those who proclaim that they are not racist, must stand up and rise against any form of this evil virus. Do not allow your silence to be deafening. The knee must be placed on the neck of racism. Racism must die.
My heart goes out to the Floyd Family and every victim of this horrible reality. I pray George Floyds’ tragic and senseless death ushers in a rebirth of rational thought and civil process in America and across the world. A civil mindset to proclaim that “We the People” are done with division and we are not going to take it anymore. Our union stands to fight against injustice. Our union stands to fight against racism. WE are the people. It is time for a change. WE must be that change.