At my previous school I was charged to deliver an invocation at one of our faculty meetings. My words never left that room…until now. And whether you are a teacher, student, adult, or teen, I hope these words and my challenge will speak to you in the same way it did my colleagues three years ago.
I’ve grown complacent living in a beautiful, Pleasantville-like community such as this. The Hogwarts-like entrance, the wildlife, the view. Where else can one go where most people are so kind to visitors and residents, alike? Where most greet one another with such warmth and kindness? And after more than one full school year here, I have grown complacent. I have grown naïve in thinking or at least forgetting that places like this are few and far in between. Now, I’m not saying we’re perfect, but I am saying that sometimes places like this and the type of colleagues and students with whom we interact make it easy to forget there’s a world outside.
The first time I saw the Confederate Flag was on the drive into Georgia. Waving high above, towering beneath the clouds sways the flag of red, white, and blue. A symbol of Southern pride, state’s rights, or what other justification people tend to ascribe, this flag serves as a beacon of racial terror, of over 300 years of oppression, hatred, segregation, and white pride. A means to instill fear—and fear is exactly what I felt as I crossed onto Georgian territory—a place I’d call my home for four years. And in those four years, I ironically only saw it three times. I grew complacent.
During my second year of graduate school in Illinois, I moved into an apartment complex not knowing my next door neighbors not only hoisted that very same flag in their apartment window for all to see, but also had a confederate flag plate on their car, hanging right above their license plate “Redneck.” Fear. Terror. Anger.
I’ve grown complacent after living here in New England. Not really thinking about racial terror, and yet feeling my race, my blackness, my difference everyday in a way I never experienced before. Born and raised in Chicago and attending college in Atlanta, I never felt my race. So living my entire life as a majority, this is a weird line to straddle, a strange world to navigate, and just as I am finding my place in this community, I find myself growing more and more complacent.
On Saturday, October 12th, 2013, I saw that same flag that “welcomes” folks into Georgia. That same flag that hung in my neighbor’s window. I saw that flag that incites fear, danger, and anger in Keene, NH. Now if anything, seeing that flag again in, what I thought, was an unlikely place, could have led me to pick up and leave. But instead, it empowered me to pick up and fight. To remember to be aware. To not get too comfortable. To remember that there is life outside this place that needs as much work and help as it does here. Seeing that flag made me remember why I do the work I do. Why I teach. Why I am intentional about the types of authors and narratives I introduce. Why I enlighten and empower and inspire kids to make a positive difference in this world, to be change agents who leave this place better than they found it.
I’ve grown complacent and naïve since being here, and I can guarantee I’m not the only one. And so I ask you to sit for a moment and consider what you’ve grown complacent about. But the challenge is not just to think about it, it’s to act. Find what motivates you to do what you do everyday, go out, and do just that.
Step outside of your comfort zone, and watch the real magic happen.
It will be scary, it will be uncomfortable, and it will be difficult, but it will be worth it.