Over the past couple weeks, in classrooms across Newark and Camden, KIPP New Jersey teachers, families, social workers, and staff have been helping our kids grapple with the fact that two unarmed African American men have been killed at the hands of police without provoking a trial to offer a full examination of the facts of the cases. These extraordinarily difficult conversations are no doubt happening in schools across New Jersey and across our country.
At KIPP New Jersey, this affects all of our kids. But of our 2841 students, these events have even more meaning for the 2657 who are African American, and to a still greater extent the 1293 African American males. And for those 1293 young men and boys who attend our schools, this past two weeks has sent a very loud, very ugly message to every single one of them: they can be killed with impunity for the most miniscule of transgressions, no matter how impressive they are, no matter how hard they’ve worked, no matter much they’ve accomplished.
We are teachers, not legal experts, and will leave the legal analysis to others. And indeed the facts of these particular cases are almost beside the point in light of the big-picture reality the cases highlight: the treatment people get at the hands of all of our American institutions depends to a shameful degree on both their race and their socio-economic status.
The deck is stacked against so many kids in America, including many of ours at KIPP New Jersey. From the effects of poverty to daily discrimination to the inequitable treatment they get from the justice system, our nation’s long march to equality is very much a work in progress. And sometimes it feels like we are marching backwards.
But still, we have hope. And what we as educators, as parents, and as members of our Newark and Camden communities hope for is a brighter future for our country, and for our students who deserve a world in which they do not have to fear for their lives every time they step into the street.
We hope that America looks at these cases and uses them as impetus to make dramatic changes to a justice system that values the lives of kids who look like ours differently than it values the lives of others.
We hope that all police are not smeared by the stain of the actions of a few. We work closely with the Newark and Camden Police Departments to ensure the safety of our kids, and have many KIPP parents who are police officers, and all of them have been nothing but professional and caring.
We hope that our kids who work so hard to achieve their dreams are allowed to do so on their merits, without suffering the drag of discrimination and inequity.
We hope that our communities, and especially our schools, embrace our responsibility to make life better and our world more equitable for everyone, but especially for families in poverty.
We know, sadly, that it will take far too long for all of these hopes to come to fruition. Unfortunately, we know it’s too much to hope that all of our kids will get the same treatment in America as other kids do. But our last hope, in this moment that feels like things are getting worse, is that we all get better. Just better. Every day, a little better.
For our part at KIPP New Jersey, we will continue to work ever harder to encourage, engage, and empower our students to face down whatever challenges life throws at them, however unfair they may be. And we will continue to engage with our communities to build a world where all kids have an equal chance to live the life of their dreams.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
KIPP New Jersey