This has been a difficult few weeks for many of us. At times it has felt so hard to know where to turn and what to do. Acknowledging my own power and privilege in this difficult time, I thought it was best to listen. And, when the time came, to humbly, respectfully, stand up in solidarity.
This Saturday, I chose to join my community in the Millions March. For the most part, it was New York City at its best. The leaders encouraged us to look around at each other, and to acknowledge that anyone who came out today would forever be our family. And as a 25,000-strong family, we marched together through our streets with strength and grace.
As I walked up Fifth Avenue, I saw something intriguing. A police officer quietly smiled as a little girl stood beside him. She was holding a sign that read something like: “Sooo… want to change the world with me?” I only caught a quick glance, but I could almost hear him thinking “I know, and I’m sorry.” As we continued to march, I couldn’t help but observe the police officers charged with keeping the march safe. So many of them seemed to say the same thing to me: “I know, and I’m sorry.” I looked back and smiled at each one, whispering the same thought in return.
The next day, I challenged myself to think from a police officer’s perspective. Not the ones who have committed crimes, or are responding to these tragedies with blatant disregard for human life. Instead, the quiet ones, who, like so many of us, see a complex problem and want to be a part of the solution. The ones who know, and are sorry.
I thought back to every time I turned on the news and saw a mug shot of a teacher who had put a child’s life in danger. I relived the pain of knowing someone had jeopardized the honor of the profession. I thought back to every time a politician publically denounced teachers as being lazy, uneducated, even greedy. I relived the pain of knowing the people we serve every day are blaming us, and only us, for failing a generation of children.
Then, I remembered the relief of a seeing a rare news story in which someone dared to ask teachers their own professional opinions about how to improve education. This question sparks dialogue about the real problems facing our educational system. Are there a small percentage of teachers who are not working in their calling, and shouldn’t be charged with caring for children? Sure. Will their removal play a critical role in improving education? No. Not really. Because there is so much more to fix. The quiet re-segregation of communities and schools. The slowly vanishing budgets of agencies charged with providing basic needs and protection to our most vulnerable neighbors. The stagnant salaries of the working poor amid higher and higher costs of living. The loss of the teacher’s power to close the door and teach, heal, inspire. A new industry rising from the dust of poverty and promising change through expensive new curriculum and assessments that just seem to widen our gap more and more. Blaming teachers does nothing but cover up the things that are much harder to talk about, and far more difficult to fix.
Teachers know that pain all too well. And I am willing to bet that many police officers are feeling that same pain today. Sooo, want to change the world with me? Tell me. Tell me, with the respect and professionalism of your honorable field, what are we missing? How can we make our communities safer, protect precious human life, and start to heal from this deep divide? I’ll listen.