A message about recent events

I watched from my window as they gunned down unarmed men
Tried to say it's not my problem, couldn't happen to my friends
But the truth is they're my brothers, and they're my countrymen
And if we lose our better angels, we won't get them back again

Come on and raise your voice above the raging seas
We can't hold our breath forever when our brothers cannot breathe
Come on and raise your voice above the raging seas
We can't hold our breath forever when our brothers cannot breathe

All good people, won't you come around?
Won't you come around?
Defend your brothers

All good people, won't you come around?
Won't you come around?
Hold up each other

from "All Good People," originally performed by Delta Rae

Dear Gordon Families,

I was introduced to the song “All Good People” when Gordon’s seventh and eighth grade choral ensemble sang it for the first time at the Six School Choral Festival this past October. They have sung it many times since then, but one of the most powerful performances was not a performance at all. On our annual Civil Rights Trip to Georgia and Alabama, our eighth graders spontaneously broke out into this song on the bus. It was unplanned, and it was perfect. As they drove down the route taken by the Voting Rights March of 1965, feeling tired and deeply connected with one another, our students intuitively knew what was needed in the moment.

So, what is needed in this particular moment? The senseless and horrifying killings of Breonna Taylor in her own home, of Ahmaud Arbery on a run in the park, and of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer are a painful reminder that our country’s legacy of racism and racial violence remains firmly intact. “All Good People” was written five years ago, after nine black worshippers were killed by a white man at their bible study. Eric Garner had been killed only a year earlier. Philando Castile, Atatiana Jefferson, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin. And so many more. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo observed yesterday, “The names change, but the color doesn't. And that is the painful reality of this situation.”

As the black mother of a black son, the sister and daughter of black men, and the wife of a black Puerto Rican, I have moved these past weeks through feelings of fear, despair, hopelessness, and rage. This weekend, Rodney and I spent time with his teenage sons trying to make sense of the world and reminding them what to do if they are ever stopped by law enforcement. My son Novian decided to cancel his road trip from North Carolina to Rhode Island because he didn’t want to risk being pulled over by the police. I’m writing this at 3am because I can’t sleep. I can breathe, but it’s been hard to find my breath - the breath that comes only when I am not worrying that the people I love most in the world can be taken from me for no other reason than the color of their skin.

This weekend, I was given the gift of breath from Gordon’s Board Chair and the white members of the Leadership Team as they drafted a letter to faculty and families explaining how Gordon would support and serve its students this week. Rather than spending Saturday and Sunday at my computer trying to make sense out of the senseless, I could do the Cliff Walk in Newport with my family and celebrate my sixth wedding anniversary with my husband. 

As Gordon’s Head of School, I take my pastoral role seriously. There are moments when a leader is called to comfort the community and reaffirm the institution’s values when they are threatened, directly or indirectly. I will admit that I struggled with the decision to let others be the first to address the community at-large. Ultimately, I felt this was a moment for “all good people” to come around and hold up each other. I needed to be held this weekend, and I am thankful to my colleagues and this community for allowing me the time and space to take care of myself and my family so that I can continue to take care of Gordon. 

I'm glad that parents heard from some new voices yesterday. In the face of ignorance and hate, this is not the time for any of us to be silent. Voices are being raised in protest all over this country, and Gordon students are urging us to raise our own voices “above the raging seas.” Will this be the moment when we choose to listen to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “language of the unheard,” or will we go down the familiar road of critiquing how the oppressed are expressing their rage? Will this be the moment that things change or will I find myself writing some version of this letter a month or two from now?

Raising our voices means talking to our children about race and the history of race in this country. Raising our voices means challenging systemic bias and white supremacy wherever we find it. Raising our voices means seeking to understand the struggle of our brothers and sisters, even if their struggle is not our own. 

I am proud that Gordon teachers, students, and parents are already engaged in this work. I believe we are being called to go deeper and to do more. This could be the time when we amplify each other's voices to the point where this nation accepts - and embraces - the fact that black lives matter.

In Sunday’s letter, my colleagues shared how Gordon would continue to engage in this work with Gordon's children. Your partnership in this work is crucial. If you have questions or hesitations, please reach out to the school to talk them through, and if you need a place to start, I encourage you to take to heart the words of Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (and patron saint of the eighth grade Civil Rights curriculum). In this 2012 presentation, he offers the following wisdom for healing our nation’s brokenness:

  • Find ways to get proximate to people who are suffering. Our understanding of how we change things comes in our proximity to inequality and injustice.
  • Change prevailing narratives intended to justify and perpetuate injustice. We must talk about the ills of the past and their connection to today. Truth and reconciliation are what is needed to change the American narrative on race.
  • Stay hopeful. “Hope is what gets you to stand when other people say sit down,” Stevenson says. “Hope is what gets you to speak when other people say be quiet.”
  • Get uncomfortable. We cannot change the world if we insist on doing only what is comfortable and convenient

I urge you to explore these resources to support you in engaging in anti-racist work. Please come back to this list as we will continue to add to it. 

My instinct is to end this letter with an invitation to commit to creating a better future. But our children cannot wait for the promise of brighter days to come. Dr. King spoke of the “fierce urgency of now” fifty-seven years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Many of the folks who gathered on the Mall in 1963 are on the streets protesting the same injustices today. This historic moment demands our attention and our intention. Now. Together, let’s take this precious opportunity to act and create the “new now” that our children deserve.

In partnership always,

Noni Thomas López, Ed.D
Head of School

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