Oakland Unified School District’s new superintendent Antwan Wilson has released a statement urging educators to look at how their work will be affected by the “Black Lives Matter” movement that is sweeping the country.
“Every so often in life, you encounter defining moments; events that contain echoes of your past, underscore the urgency of the present, and clarify the future,” he wrote.
“Recent weeks have provided not just one, but a series of such moments,” which are a “testament to the disposable nature of Black life in this society,” he said.
He mentioned his own experiences with “the injustice of police harassment,” first as a teenager and then last year as an assistant superintendent for Denver Public Schools.
“My title did not protect me; the privilege of my position was insignificant next to the color of my skin,” said.
“Unlike Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner, however, my brush with discrimination did not cost me my life. I survived. This is what passes for consolation.”
That unarmed men and children have been “ killed at the hands of those appointed to protect and serve is maddening. It’s a call to action for anyone who cares about equality or who believes that the ideals of this country must be demonstrated in actions as well as in words.”
“As educators, the challenge is to help our children direct this fear and anger in a way that helps them fight injustice—while remaining alive,” Wilson wrote. “We must give our students the knowledge, the support, and the tools to maximize their chance at that most basic of conditions, survival, so they can reform society to the point where these lessons are no longer necessary.”
He added that there was a time when he was “deeply distrustful of all law enforcement.” But over the years he has met and worked with “many excellent police officers.”
“These are impressive public servants, men and women performing an incredibly difficult job with little acclaim,” he wrote. “Police officers deserve our respect. Those who abuse the public trust deserve our condemnation and must be held accountable.”
He recalled the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
Antwan Wilson is Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District.