Dear Berkeley High Students, Parents/Guardians, and Staff:
The peaceful protest led by Berkeley High School’s Black Student Union on November 5th, supported by many allies, was a powerful and united response against the racially-motivated, hateful language found on the Berkeley High campus last week.
In a strong display of unity, BHS students came together to protest racism, and command attention to the real hurt, pain, and distress experienced by our African American community. As I witnessed the student-led walkout, I felt fortunate to be part of a community in which our young people are standing up against terror and racism. I respect the young leaders of our Black Student Union for their courageous efforts, and commend Principal Pasarow and the teachers and staff for coming together in support of our students. I also appreciated the chance to meet with the entire Berkeley High staff last Friday as we deepened our commitment to work together.
As we know all too well from the reports we hear daily in the news, this recent threat to the safety of African Americans in our community is not an isolated incident. It comes on the heels of violence against and threats to black lives across the nation. I am thankful that the national Black Lives Matter movement has renewed public attention to the continued inequities and unfair treatment Black Americans face every day in our country.
There are not many communities in America that can boast the degree of diversity of our schools and broader community, and I believe the diversity of our community is our greatest strength. We must work together across our differences and through our shared community to ensure our schools are inclusive and free from stereotypes, bias, and racism, so that all students can reach their full potential.
In spite of this dark moment in our community, I do see a silver lining. Education is the most powerful tool for change, and together we have the ability to address the inequities our students face every day. We must guarantee that each and every day our students of color have equitable access to the same opportunities to succeed in our schools as all our students. To that end, we will strengthen our efforts to:
- Provide social-emotional and academic support needed to uplift our students;
- Invest in positive school climate initiatives and in the cultural competency of all teachers and staff through professional development and opportunities for courageous conversations;
- Change discipline policies and practices to keep our students in school and engaged, recognizing that we disproportionately suspend African American students; and
- Recruit and retain teachers of color so that our faculty and staff reflect the diversity of our student body.
Moving forward will require ensuring that all of our students feel safe and supported to be successful at Berkeley High School. In keeping with Berkeley’s long tradition of championing equal rights, we must commit to this equity work with a renewed urgency, as a united community. We have an obligation on behalf of our students, and to future generations. I am grateful for your partnership in supporting and strengthening our community so that our African American students are seen, and see themselves, as undeniably deserving of the highest of expectations, opportunities, care and respect. They have spoken out courageously, and we can listen and act with equal courage.
Donald Evans, Ed.D.