I’m no authority on race but I am a Black woman, the mother of Black children, married to a Black man. Our family lives in Maine, and I serve on my local school board. Here is my perspective on the events that are now all over the news.
George Floyd’s last word beside “I can’t breathe” was “ mama.”
Mama, that name that we have all called out at some point in our lives when we desperately needed help, needed comfort, were scared or were badly hurt. Mama, that mighty and powerful title some of us have the privilege, and extreme responsibility, of bearing.
Mama is the call that I was answering when I decided to run for school board last year. It’s what my son cried out when he desperately needed to be heard. He instinctively knew, when all else failed, Mama would find an answer.
As we look at our country today, some of us might wonder what we can do. We might say to ourselves that we are too small to make a difference, so why try. One of my favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa: “Do you want to change the world? Then go home and love your family.” Today, I say to you, if you want to change the world, go home and give love to your school.
Mamas of Maine, we have been summoned. We have been called to change the world, and I want us to start with our schools.
We love our schools by teaching our children to say something when they or others face injustice. We love our schools by believing a Black child when he or she tells us they were the victim of discrimination, when they say they are being treated differently by a teacher in a classroom. Dismissing them, after they have found the courage to speak out, perpetuates the narrative that they don’t matter. It says to their white peers, racism, however conscious or unconscious, is OK. We can love our schools by voting for policies that say discrimination will not be tolerated, we are antiracist, we demand equity, inclusion and diversity.
Let’s send our children the message that the cries of Black people will be answered because of the intrinsic value that they all possess. Let’s answer their call for help, the call echoing through the streets of Bangor, Portland, Belfast, Augusta, echoing from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, to London and New York. Let’s answer their call the way we would if it were the distressed cry of our own child. Mamas, the children of Maine need you to fight for them, and not tomorrow, not in September, but right now.
Last year, my school district, RSU 22 in Hampden, was the first district in our area to take several steps towards racial equity. The school board called in a consultant, they formed a diversity committee, and members of that committee attended a training hosted by the Racial Equity Institute.
The district organized diversity forums and initiated a program to bring a more diverse collection of books into district libraries. Our district took those steps quietly with no fanfare or publicity. We took those steps because it was the right thing to do.
I believe every district in Maine can and must do more. We mamas have to answer the call and ask our schools to:
Assess textbooks to ensure information is current, history has not been whitewashed, and reading materials feature a diverse range of experiences and viewpoints.
Ensure every single teacher and administrator attends trainings such as the Racial Equity Institute training. Budgets should allocate for this, as it builds stronger schools and more resilient children and communities. We cannot expect educators to adequately address issues or questions about racism without training.
Implement racial equity classes for middle school and high school students, to prepare them to be upstanders.
Review history curriculum, in particular, to ensure American studies contain our entire American history. Advocate for the use of textbooks like Black History 365. Let teachers and administrators know world history must include African history, such as the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali, Queen Nefertiti’s reign, and the Maasai Warriors.
Create a plan to update the entire K-12 curriculum to incorporate issues of equity, representation, bias, propaganda, race and culture. Inclusions isn’t a unit. Black history isn’t a unit. Equity, inclusion and diversity must be woven into the fabric of everything we teach.
This year has been a tough year for our country, it has been tough for our children, our families, and our communities. But I believe that through the ashes of our losses, we can and must build a better place for our children. Mamas, we have been called to change the world. Let’s answer that call.
Tania Jean-Jacques of Hampden is a member of the RSU 22 school board.