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Jun 5, 2020 |

A Letter in Response to the George Floyd Murder

Dear Parents and Students and Teachers of Northwest Academy,

Today’s ice cream social and the wind-up of arts week have provided a sweetness to a strange and challenging year.

I wish that sweetness could be our final note.

But the nation is in pain, and our city is in pain, and the Northwest Academy community is in pain, and I am also pained to recognize where we are today.

This week we are forced yet again to confront the fact that there is something noxious in the American air, and there are those among us who cannot breathe. They have tried to tell this to the world so many times, in so many ways—in word and deed, in poetry and in song, on film and on stage. So many of us are complicit—for failing to listen, for failing to hear.

And so again this week, a young black man has used the last of his strength, the last of his life-force to warn us all: I can’t breathe.

The murder of George Floyd—by police officers charged with protecting all of us from harm—has proved duly unsettling because it is not unprecedented, because its horror is too familiar because it makes clear that this chapter in American history is not yet almost over. This chapter is not almost-over for the families of Eric Garner or Breonna Taylor or Alyana Stanley-Jones or Manuel Ellis, or for so many victims of institutionalized violence, or for Americans of color anywhere.

This chapter, in fact, has been written and re-written many times, and it is in need of further revision. In 1935, Langston Hughes wrote,

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

We have work to do.

For this letter to the community, I solicited help from the members of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team (Hau and Dan and Nia, Thu-Tam and Simone, David, Andrea, April, and Caitlin). What can I do? What can we do?

Here are some things to consider

Living the Northwest Academy life, and spending our days in downtown Portland, we very much enjoy the richness and the benefits of being a school of the city. This city’s hopes and strains and dreams and struggles are very much our own.

Our DEI team, under Hau’s leadership, has been collaborating with the faculty and staff to explore how we can better meet the needs of our students of color, how we can make our campus community more robustly inclusive, how we can develop and refine curriculum to reveal bias and racist tendencies and challenge ourselves to grow.

Here’s what we did this year:

  • Sent a student cohort of 6 to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in In Seattle
  • SDLC students presented their experience/workshops to staff, students, and the Board of Trustees
  • Identity Crisis 2020, a student-led day of stories and workshops about identity and inclusion
  • Month-long black history month programming for MS and HS
  • Participated and led Portland-wide students of color affinity group
  • Increased PR/outreach to more diverse audiences
And here’s what’s coming:
  • Affinity groups for students, teachers, parents
  • MS and HS student-led conferences on race and equity
  • Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with a full-time Director and a team of people
  • Develop departmental rubrics for multiculturalism in the curriculum

The nation will clear the air of the coronavirus—as virulent and deadly as it is—long before we clear the air of the impact of racist practices, of historical race bias, of ethnic suspicions and wariness, of religious persecution and intolerance. The experts in medicine and public health will save us yet from Covid-19, but it is on all of us to save ourselves from the ugly and the violent and the brutal in our culture and nestled into our nation’s laws and legal system. Americans of color have borne this burden for too long, and we must all shoulder it till we have carried it off.

Langston Hughes completes his poetic prayer for an America-yet-to come this way:

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Here are some additional resources that we will make use of and that you and your families may wish to use to prod your own thinking on how we collectively move toward a more inclusive and less racist future, to make America again—and for the first time:

We are all hurting right now and we wanted to offer a space for us to talk about what’s happening in the world. This event is for everyone! It is an open space to share what’s been on your mind, ask questions about what’s happening, or sit and listen.

Middle School Students:
holding space for #blacklivesmatter
Date: Thurs June 11th
Time: 3pm – 4pm
Join Zoom Meeting

High School Students: 
holding space for #blacklivesmatter
Date: Fri June 12th
Time: 1pm – 2pm
Join Zoom Meeting

Take care and stay healthy and safe,

Chris Schuck
Head of School

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    Northwest Academy commitment to small classes and access to faculty help students succeed at high levels.

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  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
    Students at the 2020 SDLC
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    Each Spring, students showcase their work in visual and performing arts. Dynamo! features middle school students while Esprit! celebrates the work of high school students.

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    Middle School students performing in Dynamo!