Area Superintendents commit to listening more
Dear Adams and Broomfield County School Community,
Over the past two weeks school districts and superintendents throughout the country have released community letters following the horrific murder of George Floyd, and the messages include common themes of condemning racism, citing current and proposed school district policies in support of equity and inclusion, and offering a variety of links to resources that families can use to discuss race and racism. We're opting for a different approach -- one focused on less talking and more listening.
We share the same beliefs and values as those communicated by these other leaders and school systems, and we too yearn for and are committed to rapid transformation in how Blacks and individuals of color are treated across our nation. In our more than 50 years of collective service as school superintendents, however, we've found that our speeches, letters, and formal written policies have far less impact in building mutual respect, kindness, fairness, and equity within our school communities than do interactions in which we learn from one another's life experiences. We've witnessed, time and time again, lasting changes in people's hearts, beliefs and perspectives as they've listened to or read another's story about school, work, family, faith, and other aspects of their lives they hold most important. If our nation is to move past the pain, anger, and division that come with explicit and implicit biases, it will start with many of us talking less -- and listening more -- to the stories of our friends, neighbors, and community members who are Black or individuals of color. The end result will be deeper understanding of the challenges, indignities and injustices they have faced -- and a deeper commitment to "an America which is the same for all of us and for all of our children."
It is in this spirit that we share with you the essay written by Rico Munn, superintendent of the Aurora Public Schools. In it he shares his perspective, as a Black man, of his life in America as well as perspective about life for his father and his son. Rico acknowledges that his story is not special or unique, and he also recognizes that his essay does not represent the thoughts or feelings for all of Black America. We found it honest, heartbreaking, inspiring, and hopeful.
We hope that Rico's story moves hearts and minds of others in our Adams and Broomfield County school community as we reflect on the impact of race, and of racism, in our nation, our community, and our schools. We look forward to providing opportunities, as we commence the new school year, for more sharing of stories and perspectives about where we've been, where we're at, and the actions we're committed to in the future to eliminate systemic discrimination and meet the needs of all of our children.
Charlotte Ciancio, Superintendent, Mapleton Public Schools
Chris Fiedler, Superintendent, School District 27J
Chris Gdowski, Superintendent, Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Don Rangel, Superintendent, Adams County School District 14
Pam Swanson, Superintendent, Westminster Public Schools
MY AMERICA – D. Rico Munn
My father has a lead foot. On many family road trips across this country he would get pulled over and receive a well-deserved ticket. I have a vivid childhood memory of waking up during one such overnight trip as a state trooper pulled him over yet again. I watched as my father politely handed over his license and registration while simultaneously keeping his hand close to the loaded .38 he kept tucked next to his seat. My father is now 89. As a black illegal immigrant from the West Indies, he grew up in a very different America than I did. In his America, a traffic stop was a life and death encounter. In his America, there was no expectation that the police were there to help you or to be fair to you. In his America, even an Army veteran like him did not expect that his country would treat him like a man.
Injustice was the norm and he faced it down every day. He taught me how to live in America based on those experiences. He taught me I would always have to fight for what was mine. He taught me that the system, and its enforcers, would actively oppose me. He taught me to fight for my life every day. Thankfully, and most importantly, he taught me that my faith and my education would be my greatest weapons.
I am a man. I am a black man. I am a black man in America. I am a black man in America who holds a position of relative authority and privilege. All of these things are true and all of these things hold meaning for me, especially at this moment in time. I love this country. America has afforded me the opportunity to worship as I please; to get a college degree and a law degree. In America I have been able to earn a living, marry the girl of my dreams, raise two beautiful children and participate in the civic and cultural life of my community. But also in America, I have been spit on, called a nigger, harassed by the police, denied opportunities and watched black friends and loved ones systematically jailed, impoverished and dehumanized. My relationship with America is complicated; I am outraged by injustice but never surprised by it. I celebrate what is good about America but I never forget the lessons my father taught me.
My son is 12. He thinks he lives in a different America than the one experienced by his father and grandfather. In his America, school and church are multicultural experiences. In his America, he thinks he can trust the system; after all, the system (K12 education) in which he has spent the majority of his life was run by his father. In his America, he thinks things will be fair and just. Today, I must break his heart by teaching him the name and story of George Floyd. I have to teach my son the lessons my father taught me so that in the future he can be outraged at injustice but not surprised and paralyzed by it.
I share my American experience not because my story is special or unique but because as a leader I think those around me have some right to know the lens through which I see the world and make decisions. I am challenged by the recognition that every decision I make is about resolving the duality between living in the greatest country on earth and living in an America that cruelly and intentionally dehumanizes and discards people based upon the color of their skin.
I am moved by both Lee Greenwood and Gil Scott-Heron. I see no conflict in expressing gratitude for the military and in supporting Colin Kaepernick. At its core, the American Dream is about freedom and to paraphrase Nelson Mandela, true freedom cannot be experienced unless you “live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” To me, the movement we are seeing today and the work I am committed to is about true freedom and the desire we should all share to live in an America where there is no duality; an America which is the same for all of us and for all our children.
Rico Munn is the Superintendent of the Aurora Public Schools in Aurora, CO
- We have compiled a list of resources to help you talk with your children about race and issues such as racism and social justice in an age appropriate way: www.adams12.org/raceconversations