This timely letter went out Newton South students and faculty today.

Dear Newton South students,

I am writing to share that yesterday the faculty of Newton South High School met, and committed to addressing and discussing with you the events unfolding in our country over the past several weeks.

Of course it’s not just the past several weeks. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd are only the most recent Black Americans that we know of who were murdered, but their names are echoes of other names that we have heard over the years: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner… 

This is why we say, here and now, Black Lives Matter. It’s atrocious that we would need to, and yet vital that we do so.

This next paragraph is for those of you who do not understand why we are not saying “all lives matter.” I saw someone explain it this way – when a house is on fire, we don’t ask the fire department to pour water on every house on the block because all homes matter. We respond to the fire. We say “Black Lives Matter” because Black Americans are being killed and murdered in our country. It does not mean that White lives don’t matter. Being anti-racist is not the same thing as being anti-White.

Dr. Martin Luther King said: “a time comes when silence is betrayal.” In classes, we will be talking about not only what happened, but what we can do next. What you can do, and what we can do together. Dr. King also said “True peace is not merely absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Some of us may be tempted to want to move on if/when the images of violence and tension ebb from our media feeds. But Dr. King makes it clear that in order to have a community where all are free, we must actively pursue equity and justice for all of us.

We practice these concepts often in our school: whenever you put the team’s goals before your personal goals; whenever you consider the impact of your actions on others; whenever you stand up in support of what is right rather than remain silent and let it pass. Choosing Kindness, Listening First, Showing Respect, Taking Responsibility. We must now turn these skills into action: we must learn what it takes to build a fully anti-racist Newton South, so that you are ready to take these lessons to your communities after you graduate. It’s never been more clear: this is urgent. If not now, then when? If not us, then who?

So as you discuss and ponder what may be uncomfortable topics for you, remember that we all have a role to play, and that this work will never be over.  Being anti-racist is not a state of being, it is continually taking action.

Thank you, Newton South, for your energy, care, and attention. I know that you will rise to this occasion, as you have before.

As for me, I acknowledge that even these words are a product of who I am, and my experiences as a 51-year-old White male. My words here are not perfect, and they may never be, but I must not be silent – that much I know.

I am very proud to be principal of a school with such caring, thoughtful, and passionate students and adults.

Best regards,
Joel Stembridge, Principal

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