Natick High School students and recent graduates gathered on the Natick Common today for a peaceful demonstration in support of their classmates of color in wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. A Minneapolis Police Department officer on May 25 knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes—assisted by three other police—after pinning the handcuffed black man to the ground during an arrest. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office on Monday released an autopsy report, which listed the cause of Floyd’s death as “cardiopulmonary arrest.”
Charges of second-degree murder have been brought against Derek Chauvin, who has been fired and is now in police custody. Also in custody are three former police officers who were on the scene and now charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. The incident has sparked protests throughout the US and around the world.
Against this backdrop, Natick youth say they organized the demonstration as an act of solidarity to show their personal determination to demand and enact change. The two white students who put the event together didn’t want to be named or called out for special attention through a picture of themselves that would appear in the news.
In an exclusive interview with Natick Report, one of the organizers explained the big picture: “Several student activists of color in Natick have really had to do all the heavy lifting on activism when it comes to changing things in the schools. Whether it’s changes in the curriculum or in fighting racism in the schools. It always lands on the students of color to fight. What we are trying to do here is trying to take at least some of the burden off the students of color and demonstrate that we are standing with them. That we want to change things with them and take real responsibility to enact that change. They shouldn’t have to do it.”
Another student organizer noted that the intent of the demonstration is to enact change at the most local of levels — their own hometown of Natick. “With the letter, we want to demonstrate that we haven’t had school leadership of color, and we are the poorer for it.”
The letter she referenced was a major part of the demonstration, a way for students to put their names, their very identities, on paper as tangible evidence that they are not just all talk.
At a table on the Natick Common, in front of the Civil War Monument, young people lined up to sign individual copies of the letter, which was addressed to Superintendent Nolin and the Natick School Committee.
Dear white people:
The first paragraph of the letter read: “My name is _______________ and I graduated/will graduate from the Natick Public Schools in ________. In response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other black Americans at the hands of the police, and to the many protests that have followed, I have been considering the role of racial inequities in shaping my own life.
“In reflection on my time spent in the Natick Public Schools, I have realized that I was _______ years old when I had my first non-white teacher in NPS. During my entire career leading up to graduation, I had a total of _______ educators of color. Particularly relevant to this moment in time, I realized I had a total of _________ black educators.”
Read the rest of the letter:
The presence of teachers of color is essential. Teachers of color “serve as role models and advocates for students of color and for all students (The Hechinger Report, 2018). Further, “teachers of color often hold students of color to higher expectations, more frequently use culturally relevant instructional practices, and have a greater likelihood of addressing racism and bias in their classrooms, which better prepares all students for a diverse world” (The Hechinger Report, 2018). The experiences of students in the Natick Public Schools and the lack of diversity in teaching staff demonstrates that NPS has failed to provide this diverse perspective and space for conversation.
I call on Superintendent Nolin and the School Committee to release a plan for improving the diversity of the hiring process to ensure that educators of color are prioritized and supported in the coming years.
Furthermore, in recent days several students and alumni of color have expressed frustration at the administration’s failure to address incidents of explicit and subtle racism at Natick High School. One particularly current and troubling example was the clear leniency with which white student activists were treated in comparison to similar demands made by activists of color. Rather than ignoring the requests of students of color from behind closed doors, I demand that the Natick Public Schools administration confront their failures and listen with real intent to the needs of students of color going forward.
As a district, you have the responsibility to support your students and teachers and facilitate an educational environment that nurtures all. I am calling on you today to ask you to open your eyes, ears, and minds to the experiences of students, teachers, and staff of color in the Natick Public Schools. I am asking you to make a commitment to prioritizing equity and celebrating the diversity of voices in the district.
I look forward to your swift action on this matter.