Today is Monday, April 19, 2021. We are just about halfway through the 4th quarter; there are only 35 school days left in the entire year. I am sure you aren’t thinking about any of that. You aren’t studying or preparing for the upcoming EOC exam either. Most of you, like myself and the rest of the country, are sitting here trying to keep our minds occupied as we await the jury’s verdict in the Derek Chauvin case. I don’t know what the verdict will be, and I don’t know how I will feel if he is found guilty or not guilty. However, none of that matters to me at this point. Before the jury returns with a verdict, I wanted to take a second and say a couple of things to you. I hope you will read it, and I hope you take the words to heart because they come from my heart.
First, I think it is important to stress that nobody wins when the verdict is read. Even if he is found guilty, it will not bring George Floyd back to his family. Not only will George Floyd’s family grieve that he is gone, but Derek Chauvin’s family will also grieve that they will not be able to spend time with him either. That may not mean much to you, and that’s ok. Many of you have told me that you don’t care what happens to him because he is a bad person. I want you to know, that we cannot and we must not allow our hatred for him to cloud our judgment of humanity. We must show Derek Chauvin the decency and mercy that he wrongly and cruelly denied George Floyd; if we do not, then we are no better than he is.
Second, I know that you have been disappointed time and time again by our justice system. You have watched, disappointed, frustrated, and angry that people who could be your mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers are needless denied of their right to bird-watch. Or barbecue. Or jog. Or simply breath. I am not asking you to put that disappointment aside (it would be wrong of me to ask anything close to that). I am asking you to please not give up or lose hope before the verdict is even reached. Our justice system is far from perfect, but the minute that we discount the justice system before it has reached the end of the process is the minute that our nation is in a troubled spot. We must hope, pray, and keep faith in our justice system that it will do what we think is right. Then, if it does not, we must work hard to change it so that in the future it does.
Third, I want you to know that if the jury comes back with a verdict that you find to be the wrong verdict, I will grieve with you. I will listen to you, I will cry with you, and I will give you space (my classroom) to process the news in a safe environment. I will not tell you to not be angry. I will not tell you to get over it. I will not tell you to move on. The one thing I will tell you is if you do not like the verdict, then you need to work to reform our justice system. If you care that strongly, then be part of the movement that changes it. You don’t have to know how – there will be time to figure that out, but you can’t just sit and complain. You can and you must make sure that future people don’t have to feel the way you feel.
Fourth, is about the world, and your place in it. If the jury comes back with a not guilty verdict, many of you will continue to feel that the world does not value you or your right to life. I can’t argue with that, because every time I try and put myself in your shoes, I end up feeling the exact same way. With that said, if “Not Guilty” is the verdict that is announced I want to make one thing crystal clear to you: even if you feel this nation does not see, value, or celebrate you, there is one place where you will ALWAYS be seen, ALWAYS be valued, and ALWAYS be celebrated: Room 133. I know you probably ignore the poster on the wall right next to my door, that all of those words hold true
No matter how many times we pray for a guilty verdict, but don’t get it; no matter how many times we demand charges and accountability and it is kept from us; no matter how many times we yell Black Lives Matter and it is ignored that you matter. You are worth it. You deserve to be seen. You deserve to not have to live in fear. You deserve each and every chance at a happy and successful life as every privileged white person who has gotten away with something you never could.
I am down to one last thing students, and this one to me is the most important so please take it to heart. I know that it is going to be easy to discount and ignore what I say because of my race. If you do choose to ignore this, you have every right and I won’t blame you. I know I probably would if a teacher who doesn’t look like me and had never been through the experiences that I had. In my classroom, I have sat and listened to many of you talk about the things you have been through with the police and the justice system. Many times it has brought me to tears listening to your experiences. I have never had to do anything special when pulled over (it has never given me a sense of fear either). My parents never had to have “the talk with me.” When I told you how many tickets or violations that I was able to talk myself out of many of you giggled and made jokes about it, but I know that it hurt and angered you. It should hurt and anger you. Many of you will just think of me as just your white teacher. It is true. I am your white teacher. I can’t change the color of my skin just like you can’t change the color of yours. The one thing I can and I will do, continue to use my privilege to yell, march, protest, and advocate until the rest of the nation believes what I believe: That you are worthy and deserve a chance at a great life every bit as much as I do. That will never change- no matter how many times I catch you texting in class.
I tell y’all all the time if you don’t like something about the way our society is, then you need to change it. I am going to keep telling you that. If you don’t like the verdict when it comes in, then change the system so we don’t keep having to live with these disappointing verdicts. If you need help figuring out how to change and reform the system. I will be there each and every step of the way: you know where to find me.
Never forget how powerful you are or how loud your voice can be.
With great pride, in each and every one of you,
P.S. Stop texting in class. Y’all know that gets on my nervous.