on Standing Up for Justice
by Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe
Right now, amid the pain and the purpose of this productive struggle, we strain toward a more perfect union, wrestling with all it means to be American. The poetic words of the Pledge of Allegiance, for many, serve as a somber reminder of a promise yet to be realized -- “a nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. In confronting my own struggle to reconcile what is, with what must be, I was reminded of the resonant hope found in the lyrics of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’. Written in 1905, it was originally known as the Negro National Anthem. Paired together, the words of the anthem serve to envelop and amplify the aspiration of the Pledge and call forward a fervent resolve to overcome.
My thanks to the ACOE Communications team for so beautifully bringing to life what was in my heart. Enjoy!
At this moment, as so many of us search for the words to express the inexpressible, it has never been more important to Stand Up for Justice. The uprising now taking place in the streets across our cities and across the globe have made it impossible to ignore the pain caused by the events of recent days and of our history as a nation. It’s time to take a good look at who we are in this moment and what we will need to learn in order to become who we need to be.
As educators, we look for the lessons to be learned — at this present time they are numerous and steeped in struggle. Over the next four days, our County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe will be offering a series of personal reflections entitled Teach, Listen, Learn, and Act to attempt to shine a light toward a path forward for us all.
June 2 2020
It’s Monday evening and as the sun sets once again, cities across America cry out in pain, anger, and anguish. With the open wounds of the deaths of Ahmaud, Breonna, and George — familiar names, in all too familiar circumstances — fresh on our minds and screens, our children are watching.
They are watching to try to make sense of what they are seeing and hearing. They are watching to see what we, those entrusted with their care and education, will do in this moment. What will we show them? In this moment, in the midst of a global pandemic, when parents, grandparents, and guardians are not only their children’s first teachers, they are now their primary teachers, while classrooms remain shut. What lessons will they learn?
At the same time, there are scores of young people graduating all across this country who are stepping into a world that has become almost unrecognizable, and yet the events that have led to the lives lost in recent days we recognize quite well. The story of this great nation of ours, for all its promise and freedoms, cannot be told apart from the indelible crimson threads of racism woven deeply into the fabric of our republic. What will we tell them about the future they stand to inherit?
We cannot waste this opportunity. Hatred, racism, violence against black bodies cannot be tolerated -- beliefs, behavior, and an unwavering commitment to justice are learned. The role of education has never been more critical — teach!
L. Karen Monroe
June 3 2020
Right here and right now the world is bearing witness to our collective struggle as a nation and the story that it tells about who we are. Not only do they see us, many have joined us as we express our present pain, persistent hope, and our fervent resolve to stand, demanding that those long oppressed be seen, heard, and valued. They have listened, learned, and for many, lived our story and want to identify themselves with being a part of a move for change.
Pictured here are my great-grandparents, their daughter and two sons — the baby is my grandfather. The photograph was taken in New Orleans around 1900, just after Reconstruction, a time when African American lives were taken with impunity to instill fear, wield power, and even for sport. As a child, I listened as my grandparents spoke of how groups of “college boys” from nearby Tulane would go out on the weekend looking for someone to lynch. When the boys were teenagers, my great-grandparents, along with hundreds of thousands of other black families, migrated north and settled in Oakland, never to return.
The way we come to see, hear, and value the fullness of who we each are, is to listen to one another’s stories and listen well. Listen to where joy is spoken, pay attention to challenges overcome, lessons learned, and dreams held as precious. Though my story is common to African Americans, it is personal to me. When I speak it I am communicating what I value and why. It’s important to resist the temptation to believe we know people, and as a result, judge from that preconception. Throughout our county there are wonderful examples of generative learning spaces where educators masterfully promote deep listening and teach their students how to take in the perspective of others.
At this moment in time we are facing the sobering reality that we are a nation divided. And for those who are asking “What can I do?”, “How can I make a difference?” — seek to hear. Commit to setting aside what you think you know and strive to truly understand — listen!
L. Karen Monroe
June 4 2020
The sun rose again this morning on a world whose shape is being shifted by people united in their outrage and determination to respect and redress the lives so senselessly taken -- people who have continued to gather in the streets and around their screens day after day, night after night.
As with the civil and social actions of our recent and distant past, we wonder whether the mark we are making, propelled by the sting of injustice and loss, will last or if the world will simply return in due time to its familiar course, a path forged easing the way of some, while others traverse obstacles and pits set before them to slow their progress. We must learn how to bend our present course and travel together toward justice.
The power of knowledge is understood in equal measure by the oppressor and the inspirer. Oppressors know that by preventing access to learning they retain the power to write the narrative -- while those who seek to inspire know that their ability to build bridges to learning benefits us all. Teachers have an incredible responsibility and opportunity to influence the fabric of our citizenry.
Experience is a powerful teacher in and of itself. We are cautioned that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. We have an imperative to use what we are learning now to change the course of history. We are the agents of this present moment -- what we do to ensure hatred and intolerance cease to define any part of who we are as a people, will depend on our willingness to expand our knowledge of what the lessons of the past have to teach us -- learn!
L. Karen Monroe
June 5 2020
Patriot: /ˈpā-trē-ət \ one who loves and supports his or her country.
As an elected constitutional officer, I have taken an oath to support and defend the constitution of the State of California and the United States, a promise I made freely and take seriously. And still, last week, as voices throughout the world began to swell in response to the vivid and horrifying images on social media, we were in the midst of preparations for this year’s virtual graduation and I was asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance for our recording—and I hesitated.
I was raised in a military family. My father was a career California National Guard soldier, rising to the rank of General. For people of color, particularly African Americans, there is a complexity associated with the obligation and genuine desire to serve and defend this country. In the 1950’s, the military had become one of very few places Black men could get a good job and be assured of equal pay and equal accommodations, even though no such assurance existed for equal treatment. Nevertheless, my father served proudly and with honor. We lost him last year. The photo here is of me receiving the flag at his military funeral.
Today, as the very soul of our country hangs in the balance, it has never been clearer that in this present turmoil—we must act. The foundational principles of liberty and justice on which our democracy was formed have rung more true for some than for others—this must end. We must teach our children to recognize injustice and fight to defend the dignity and humanity of others. We must listen to and honor other’s stories just as they are told to us. We must seek to learn from both the inspirational and painful lessons of our past. Retreat is not an option—we must act!
And we must VOTE!
Added today are resources to assist you in informing your vote. Take action and help others to do the same. We cannot miss this.
L. Karen Monroe
Resources on Racism
To support our community with creating safe spaces for critical discussions and building agency and advocacy with children and youth, ACOE is compiling a list of high-quality resources. Because many students are at home at this difficult time, the following list of resources are identified for parents and caregivers in having discussions and supporting African American students with anti-racist education and self-identity. The resources are digital or easily accessible.
"The opposite of racist isn't 'not racist.' It is 'antiracist.' … One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of 'not racist'" (p. 9). Teaching for an antiracist future starts with us, the educators. An antiracist educator actively works to dismantle the structures, policies, institutions, and systems that create barriers and perpetuate race-based inequities for people of color. Educating students to see and respect the humanity and dignity of all people should be a national imperative, especially if we want to heal—and have a future—as a nation."
— Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
Parent & Guardian Resources
Teaching Tolerance (website):
Center for Cultural Power: No Going Back (website)
No Going Back Guide (pdf)
Books for Students
Heise Reads & Recommends - 100 picture books that include Black people and communities
Book/Video suggestions for Youth and Adults
National Book Award winner Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Organizational Resources for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity (EID)
Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building the political power of young people.
Party of Lincoln app is a non-partisan resource guide, a place where you will be able to register to vote, change your party affiliation and get candidate information during election season, both nationally and locally.
iCivics includes curriculum for middle and high school designed to provide students with an introduction to the electoral processes of the American political system.