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HB Family, We are in this Together

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Dear Hathaway Brown Family,

I start this letter with that greeting because you are my family. Some of you I have known for my entire HB life, and for others, we are connected by the spirit of innovation, excellence, and care for the school at 19600 North Park Blvd. I am writing as I close out my final year as a Middle School History teacher and advisor, roles I have enjoyed for ten years, and begin a new year in a new role, as HB’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Student Life — a role designed to safeguard and celebrate human interaction. 

For many of you right now, the world is not a happy, safe place. Coronavirus changed the way we interact with each other in a dramatic, radical way and we will never be quite the same.

Perhaps you have lost family over the past few months who you could not honor with proper funeral rites. Perhaps you have family, friends, or loved ones who are currently underemployed or unemployed. Perhaps you have had routines disrupted, became a caregiver for an older family member, or moved back home a college-aged child.

Perhaps you are mourning your life and your plans as they were before March. Before the world shifted.  

Then the world shifted again on May 25, 2020.

Coronavirus was new to us, a novel virus. Racism is not. It is a cornerstone in the foundation of the United States. Which makes it that much harder to write this letter to you. 

George Floyd is but one, unfortunately, in a list of names that we should know, say aloud, and recall when we need the strength to remind our loved ones, friends, and colleagues that Black Lives Matter. To me, this is not a political statement.  This is about human rights. It does not mean that all other lives don’t matter. Those three words are a balm, a recognition, a loving gesture for those of us who are Black, who inhabit a world where our lives don’t feel as valued at moments. It tells us that we are loved. That we are valued. That we do, indeed, matter. The point of recent gatherings, to quote another, is to “raise awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable. We should condemn the few who resort to violence — not the overwhelming majority who deserve our respect and support.”

Racism is systemic and institutional: This image is one that we have used in many of the professional development offerings from HB’s Center for Multicultural Affairs to try to explain systemic racism in a visual way. What happened between George Floyd and Derek Chauvin is the sickening result of a culture of systems, practices, and behaviors. Dismantling such a system will take thoughtful action, legislation, empathy, and proximity.

Maybe you are not able to engage in such thoughtful action right now. That’s OK. Process your emotions, but don’t let them overwhelm you to the point of despair. Maybe you need more context. Maybe the pandemic has slowed the world down for you enough to truly witness that George Floyd died at the hand of a system that has existed all around you, and you are feeling ashamed, confused, and overwhelmed. There is hope. As educators, we see hope in the students we teach.  As families, we see hope in our children. As a community, we see hope in each other. And I have resources for you as you work through your thoughts and feelings. 

Maybe you are ready to, as Michael Render said, “plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize.”  You have been an ally for years. You are angered at yet another egregious racial act. I  have provided resources below for you, too. Plan thoughtfully, interact with grace, and know that we support you. 

The public outpouring of love, concern, support, solidarity, and righteous anger from many of you over the weekend has kept me from collapsing in outright fear as I watch my 11-year-old son, with skin the color of a coffee bean, ride his bike down the street. We did not attend the protest downtown this weekend, although many of you, your family members, and many of our students did. I could not. I was not strong enough. The thought that my son could be the next Trayvon - Eric - Laquan - Freddie - Alton - Philado - Tamir… cripples me, at times. I chose, instead, to hug him. And he let me. And then I planted flowers in our front yard, sinking my fingers into warm, black earth. It grounded and stabilized me.   

HB family, we have been in this together. We celebrated the Cavs win. We support our Brownies (I even have love for you Steelers fans, but I might continue to socially distance a little longer with you). We made it through Zoom fatigue and pandemic teaching. We celebrated our students, our children, and captured the spirit of their milestones as best we could with the tools we had. Racism hurts everyone. And I know many of you are hurting. But we are in this together. 

While there are a lot of resources I can provide, I know I don’t have all the answers. I’m here to learn and grow right alongside you. I want to know about your experiences, to hear your perspectives, and to find ways to continue to refine and enhance this important work. I hope you will reach out to me if you need me at diversity@hb.edu. I’m so glad to have you on my team. 

Be strong when you are able. Cry when you can’t. My father has said a phrase to me since I was a little girl, and I share that with you: Be Strong and Happy. There is no place for fear in a heart that is strong and happy.

With all the support and love that I can muster in these challenging times,

Toni Cross (she/her)
Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion


Books to read

  • “Dying of Whiteness” by Johnathan Metzl

  • “Waking Up White” by Debbye Irving - understanding privilege as it is related to Whiteness may help develop a perspective that can move people beyond the immediate emotions of shock, grief, and shame.

  • “Between the World and Me” by TaNehisi Coates - written as a letter to his son, TaNehisi ponders what this world will bring, and the injustices that exist. Read the review here, which mentions that this book harkens back to James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.”

  • Or add this entire list to your Libby/Audible/Goodread queue. 

Steps to take

What to understand

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