Thoughts on Events in Ferguson, Missouri

Written by Eric Schwarz, Founding CEO of Citizen Schools and author of The Opportunity Equation, launching Sept. 2 Hello Citizen Schools community,

As we prepare this season to re-enter schools across the country we must collectively pause to recognize the horror of what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri. Our students are filled with creativity and dreams and pre-teen energy and yet too often they have been told their futures are dim and options few. How will they react when they learn that yet another young black male has been gunned down by a police officer? How can we help them discover what Dr. Martin Luther King called "soul force" and the power of love and service as they work with us and others to open up opportunities in their own lives while also working over time to bring about systemic change in a society that sends as many black and brown boys to prison as through college?

How can we keep our own hope alive and keep our focus on lifting up and equalizing opportunity for children when we see so many obstacles all around us and when in our own organization we don't have the diversity and dialogue about race many of us would like to have?

I don't have adequate answers to these questions.

I do hope that we as a community of caring, smart, positive people will re-commit to building a society where every Michael Brown in every one of our communities grows up surrounded by opportunity and love and is no longer held back by the gravitational pull of racism and poverty.

I do hope that we will join the peaceful protesters of Ferguson by tweeting a message of solidarity such as some of those shared below.

I do hope that all of us -- but particularly team leaders and campus leaders re-entering our schools -- will think through how to talk with our students about Michael Brown and about racism in a way that acknowledges the brutal fact of persistent racism in our society, and of growing wealth-based opportunity gaps, while building a sense of hope and efficacy that every child needs to create a more positive future -- for themselves and for all of us.

I do hope that we will retain confidence in the work we do. This will be hard to do. At times like this it is easy and understandable to see even the best of our academic coaching and even the best of our apprenticeships as window dressing on a crumbling house, or as just bailing out the ocean with teaspoons. In some ways what we do is small. But it is not small to the children we work with. Last year in Chicago, 327 students in Citizen Schools - all, if not most, of color - made almost two full years of academic gains when too many of their peers across the country made less than one year's progress. Last year in Newark, NJ a few dozen young boys wrote their own super hero comic books and dreamed bigger about the powers they had to influence the world around them. Last year in East Palo Alto, CA the children at Cesar Chavez school built robots and designed buildings and argued in mock trials and got access to many of the incredible assets that their wealthier peers in Palo Alto have always taken for granted. Last year on Citizen Schools campuses all around the country adult citizen teachers got to know children through Citizen Schools and they built empathy. As I said in a blog Tuesday, often for citizen teachers, "those" kids become "our" kids or "my" kids.

Michael Brown could have done Citizen Schools and still been gunned down. That is tragically unfair and a reality that will change slowly. But if we persist together it will change. As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Following are a few articles and resources that may be helpful in thinking about this tragedy

Citizen Schools Managing Directors of Program are also meeting on this topic and will soon be sharing resources that program staff might want to use in considering how to talk about this issue.

In addition, the Citizen Schools Massachusetts diversity working group is meeting Monday to think through ways for the entire Citizen Schools community to discuss and take action on this tragedy. We will share any ideas they come up with other regions and HQ staff as well.

As you know I am stepping down as CEO of Citizen Schools in one week. I am proud of much of what we have started to build. We offer a new vision for what school and education can look like -- a learning day with more love, more mentors, more chances to make things, and more time for academic practice. Amidst the great challenges of our society, we are helping children discover and achieve their dreams, helping them enter and complete college, and helping people make a positive life in an unfair and too often violent world. And as hard as our work is, the evidence shows it works, even more than we believe it does.

We have a long way to go as an organization, including on issues of race and diversity and inclusion. We are a work in progress, as is our larger society, and we will continue to be a work in progress until the privileges that have been afforded to a minority of our citizens, including me, are afforded to all of us.

Thank you for all that you are doing to build opportunity for children and to build what Dr. Martin Luther King called a "beloved community."

In service,

Eric

Tweet a statement or take a video of yourself saying one of the phrases below (as examples)

  • Post it to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
  • Tag #DontShoot #MikeBrown #Ferguson (and @DontShootMO if you have the characters)
  • Tweet others (especially celebrities and national news) to make their own video and retweet yours!
  • Tweet Mike’s #DontShoot Graduation Picture (attached)
  • Visit DontShootMo.com to support and stay updated

YOUTH

  • I want to go to college - don't shoot.
  • I want to graduate - don't shoot
  • I want to have a family - don't shoot
  • When I'm riding down the street - don't shoot
  • When I'm walking with my friends - don't shoot
  • When I'm tweeting - don't shoot
  • When I'm coming from the store-don't shoot
  • When I just wanted some skittles - don't shoot
  • When I'm speaking to my community-don't shoot
  • When I make a childish mistake - don't shoot
  • When I'm just trying to talk- don't shoot
  • When I'm listening to my music -don't shoot
  • MAKE YOUR OWN-6 seconds or less!

PARENTS/ADULTS

  • I love my child - don't shoot
  • When I'm picking my child up from school - don't shoot
  • When my child is walking home - don't shoot
  • When my son is headed to college - don't shoot
  • When my daughter is headed to college - don't shoot
  • When my son is standing at the bus stop - don't shoot
  • When my daughter is standing at the bus stop- don't shoot
  • MAKE YOUR OWN-6 seconds or less!

ALLIES

  • This is my community too - don't shoot
  • This is your community too - don't shoot
  • MAKE YOUR OWN-6 seconds or less!

ALL

  • I am a man -don't shoot
  • I am a woman-don't shoot
  • I am a human - don't shoot
  • When we disagree - don't shoot
  • If I don't look like you - don't shoot
  • MAKE YOUR OWN-6 seconds or less!