One year ago, on June 19, 2019, Governor Sununu signed a bill declaring Juneteenth a state holiday in the State of New Hampshire, 154 years after the last group of enslaved Americans learned of their freedom outside Galveston, Texas, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. The date, June 19, 1865, was recognized as the actual independence of Black Americans. Freedom, delayed.
Over the last week we have collectively borne witness to the news of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis while in police custody, have seen the spread of angst and anger in communities, and seen images of protesters across the country. We have seen property damage. We have seen teargas shot into crowds and riot police knocking over protesters. We have seen police kneeling alongside protestors, peacefully. We have seen images of military helicopters intimidating crowds. We have seen journalists attacked and arrested. Amidst all of this (and the pandemic) it is hard for individuals and communities to find a framework for the turmoil that doesn’t make it feel overwhelming. We wonder where and when the healing will begin, when the requisite societal changes will take shape, and who will lead us through this valley.
What if we, as an imperfect society, sought justice for the oppressed with the same conviction that those in power seek to stay in power? What if we took time to honestly reconcile the racism and oppression on which America was built? What if we, as individuals, made the conscious decision to choose love in our daily decisions? Would we accelerate the slow bending arch of history toward justice that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. promised more than fifty years ago?
“Voice can take a long time to come all the way out, brother.” Bobby said. “Be patient.” These words jumped off the page of Tommy Orange’s There There as John Around Him discussed the book with Proctor’s American Literature students. This notion of voice, of who has the courage (and privilege) to share their voice, and who will listen when they finally do, cuts through an American Literature curriculum to the core of how we empower students to live lives that matter.
Since the early 1980s, Proctor has worked to be as diverse and inclusive a community as possible. The once rigid definition of "diversity" has evolved over time to better articulate a mission of equity and inclusion where we seek to welcome students, faculty, and staff into this community who enrich each others experiences.
I’m not going to get this right. The stories of intolerance are plentiful. An incident occurring at the Lincoln Memorial a couple of weeks ago - a teenager wearing a MAGA hat appearing to confront or taunt a Native American elder - still reverberates. How can we not honor our Native American elders? It revealed insensitivities. (It also revealed the dangers of an oversimplified narrative begat by a single photograph.) And here at Proctor, Assistant Head of School Karin Clough spoke to the school community yesterday about a troubling incident that occurred on our campus recently: the tearing down of an all-gender bathroom sign in the newly renovated field house. We are saddened and angered by events like these. Confused. How can a community like Proctor, committed to the work of inclusion, be a place where such anger and ignorance takes place? But I don’t write about just that.
While most public schools have the day off to observe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Proctor chooses to suspend regular classes in order to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King as a community through special programming. The production of Sweat by our drama department added a depth to the conversations on campus we have not experienced before. Enjoy this recap of the day.
Scott Allenby wrote a terrific blog this week about the importance of listening, of widening perspective, of hearing the other, and the emotions that students who are the minority feel when they navigate a community like Proctor. I want to pick up that theme and share some thoughts on affinity spaces, those places where those who share a common cultural or ethnic background can gather, rejuvenate, and simply be without being the “other.” These are important spaces.