Next week we pause as a community and as a nation to remember and celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. This year, perhaps more than any other in the decades since Dr. King was assassinated, we must heed his message of racial equality, economic justice, and peace.
King balanced indictment against war, racism, and poverty toward the end of his life with a political optimism rooted in his faith that millions of Americans could mobilize a nonviolent army of the underserved, capable of transforming the political and economic status quo.
This past year, with the massive rise in involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle and across the country, we have seen more of that mobilization. There are signs of hope that real change is coming. Yet, we are equally witness to frequent flare points, the results of systemic racism, and of course last week’s attempted insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In the midst of that awful day, there was a spark of good news in the election of Raphael Warnock, the first Black senator from Georgia, who, for the past 15 years, has been the senior pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the same church once led by Dr. King.
As I wrote last week, our children are watching all of this play out and learning from our responses. As educators, it is our continued responsibility to hold open conversations, to lead by example with the way we use our voice, and to listen and respond respectfully to differing viewpoints. It is also our responsibility to tell the stories of those whose voices have not been heard.
We will of course always teach civics, and how our government and democracy work. Our school proudly participates in Black History Month, the annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of Blacks in U.S. history. As our Lower School Head Heather Moss tells our teachers, we will continue to participate in this until it is no longer necessary – in other words, until these achievements and voices are universally recognized.
Mary Kratz, our 6th grade humanities teacher, recently reached out to colleagues, following her successful collaboration last year in Black Lives Matter at School Week. This is a national coalition that started in Seattle and promotes racial justice in education. It offers lessons about structural racism, intersectional Black identities, Black history, and anti-racist movements for a nationally organized week in the first week of February annually.
The educator and civil rights activist Septima Clark stated: “I believe unconditionally in the ability of people to respond when they are told the truth. We need to be taught to study rather than believe, to inquire rather than to affirm.”
Our Westside mission is to teach children to think, to question, to create, to listen, to resolve conflict, and to connect their human spirit and imagination to learning. Through these, we hope to inspire them to envision and create Martin Luther King’s dream to change the world and to create a future that is more just for all.
Steve de Beer
Head of School