June 17, 2020:
On Friday, June 19, 2020, KIPP NYC will observe a day of action to honor Juneteenth and the ongoing fight for Black lives and liberation. All around the country the day will be observed through action and we invite you to do the same. This action can come in many different forms – some of your schools have already planned events or trainings in the pursuit of racial equity and social justice. Others of you may decide to participate in our food pantries program which serves KIPP NYC families in three different boroughs. Or you may decide to take action and participate in protests and rallies calling attention to issues around police brutality and state-sponsored violence against Black and Brown people and communities. However you decide to take your action, please know that KIPP NYC joins you in actively working to dismantle systems of oppression and marginalization that are increasingly, and refreshingly, under attack in our country.
In an important and deeply connected way, Juneteenth occurs during Pride month and the celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and their fight for equality and acceptance. It has not been an easy time to celebrate or feel much has changed in terms of the progress of marginalized or oppressed communities. From the isolation and devastation that COVID 19 brought to our city to the continued reminders of state-sponsored violence against Black Americans, of which Rayshard Brooks’ senseless murder is yet one more painful example, the news is unrelenting and hard to process.
The heartbreak and anger of the past few months makes yesterday’s major civil rights victory that much more disorienting. Seemingly from out of nowhere – from a Supreme Court stacked with judges unsympathetic to civil rights causes – came a decision that the language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is perhaps a sad commentary on the state of affairs in this country that we would celebrate such a seemingly obvious set of values that are set forth in the heart of our Constitution, but it is a victory nonetheless that people have risked much to attain over the years. We are grateful to all who have been engaged in this struggle and share in relief of the progress that this moment represents. The fight for full legal rights for the LGTBQ+ community is clearly not over, but yesterday was an important step.
The news, of course, is tempered by the reality of what takes place in our country despite laws that are set to protect us from abuses of power and hatred based on bigotry and oppression. The recent deaths of Riah Milton, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Tony McDade are only the most recent examples of a plague of violence directed at Black trans individuals. Thus the celebration of victories in courts must be followed by the actions and resistance of all of us in the name of making good on the promises of our country. We must continue to fight for the rights and protections of the most marginalized and dispossessed groups in our country because it is clear that we cannot be truly free until our whole country enjoys those same rights. It is in these spaces where the intersection of race and sexuality identity cross that we have seen some of the greatest cruelty and harm.
Last month, a man who embodied the notion of activism and troublemaking for all the right reasons, passed away. Larry Kramer, playwright and AIDS activist, arguably did more to move AIDS research and find a treatment for the virus than any person in history. His example stands as a testament to the kinds of social activism that can produce results. The legacy of Larry Kramer during our current moment in history is clear and immediate. In the face of indifference or hatred, he was willing to wave his humanity in the public’s face, forcing them to deal with who he was and how he loved. He also was merciless to those who tried to remain in the middle or purposefully ignorant on the issue. He believed deeply in acting up and making life uncomfortable for the people who wanted to look the other way – even when injustice was killing people on a daily basis.
KIPP NYC honors this tradition by continuing to make space for our LGBTQ+ staff and students. We are committed to leading from the margins where we provide support and opportunity to all of our students. We know that school, like life, only works if all students have opportunities to fully express who they are and what they aspire to become. For that we will take the victory of today and fight to make sure that we cash the check that our country has written for its people.
Our liberation is truly bound up together. As we prepare to observe Juneteenth 2020, we continue to fight for the freedoms promised to Black Americans in 1865. Please take the opportunity that Friday provides to take action in the cause of racial and social justice. This is a rare moment in American history and it is time for us all to make this moment count.
Jim Manly, Superintendent
Alicia Johnson, President