Purnell Responds to Recent Events
Purnell School

Sometimes a burden is so great, it must be shared. We are moved to express our sadness and outrage at the killings of George Floyd and too many other black Americans and the consequent riots in Minneapolis and so many other cities across our nation. I want to share my thoughts and the action steps we will take as a community early next week. Our country is already in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a disease that's disproportionately hitting communities of color and exposing the racial disparities that plague our nation.

May 31, 2020

Dear Purnell Community,

Sometimes a burden is so great, it must be shared. We are moved to express our sadness and outrage at the killings of George Floyd and too many other black Americans and the consequent riots in Minneapolis and so many other cities across our nation. I want to share my thoughts and the action steps we will take as a community early next week. Our country is already in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a disease that's disproportionately hitting communities of color and exposing the racial disparities that plague our nation.

"I can't breathe."

These were the last words of George Floyd who died with the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on his neck after being pulled over for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. Reports and video confirm that the officer had his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck for almost 3 minutes after he was unresponsive.

"I can't breathe."

We have heard these words before from Eric Garner who died after an illegal chokehold by a New York City police officer. Mr. Garner was apprehended for selling loose cigarettes, not a crime that warrants a death sentence.

These are two men who were not resisting arrest, were denied due process, not read their Miranda rights, and pleaded for their lives. Why do we have to hear these words twice? Why ever?

As you may be aware, the Purnell School community collectively composed the following Diversity statement and it is a commitment we take seriously.

Statement of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Purnell School strongly believes that the promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion aligns with our founding principles: Truthfulness in All Relations, Consideration of Others, and Use of Common Sense. Furthermore, we believe that cultural competency is critical as we seek to educate and prepare our students for a dynamic and global world. Purnell School strives to create a community environment that is affirming and inclusive, where each member feels safe and valued. To that end, Purnell School strives to embrace difference. Purnell School recognizes and defines diversity broadly, including (but not limited to) age, ethnicity, family structure, learning differences, gender identity, national origin, physical ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background. It is the school's expectation that all members of the Purnell Community will commit to this diversity philosophy. Purnell School believes that it is crucial to promote a culturally rich, intellectually diverse living and learning community in which we provide a curriculum that reflects multiple cultures and connectedness.

Every year, Purnell School's Board of Trustees recommits to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) principles of equity and justice. Our school works to expand and support the diversity of its students, faculty, staff, administrators, and Board of Trustees in order to promote the broader education of all our constituencies, as well as the values of acceptance, inclusion, and respect.

We write today with our shared values of inclusion and equity in mind.

With respect for my fellow school leaders, I have read letters from other school principals who have noted that "this is not okay." I think this is a weak statement. Our American citizenry must tackle a bigger problem by doing more.

For me, the knee on Mr. Floyd's neck is not only a tragic loss for his family and community but a powerful metaphor for the generations of racial inequities that our fellow black citizens have suffered. I have been thinking lately about James Baldwin's essay "My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation" and Ta-Nehisi Coates' book Between the World and Me, which both tell of necessary warnings to young black children about the risks of being black or brown in America. Baldwin wrote, "To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time."

After generations of unequal access to healthcare, loans, housing, and education, can you blame the protesters in Minneapolis, Louisville, New York, or Atlanta for protesting?

As a person who believes in law and order, habeas corpus, and due process, I understand this anger. It is anger that has smoldered and grown over generations for material, systemic reasons with pathetically little progress. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who consistently advocated and practiced non-violent protest wrote, "A riot is the language of the unheard."

Malcolm X channeled this long-festering frustration starkly: "That's not a chip on my shoulder; that's your foot on my neck."

I am also reminded of a recent statement by former President Barack Obama. "This shouldn't be normal in 2020 America. It can't be 'normal.' If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better."

Purnell School is a safe place where we peacefully exchange ideas and learn from each other. However, we are a small part of an imperfect world, in which bad things can happen to good people, often without reason.

It is important to deal with these events as a community to process what has happened and also to talk about the increase in hostile speech and aggression that too often occurs as a result of hate and intolerance. We will do so early next week in a format we call Courageous Conversations. This will be a voluntary event led by Dr. Beverly and Ms. Hildenbrand.

Whether you identify with a particular group or not, we are all human beings. We all have dreams, friends, families. We are all Americans. We are all citizens of this country and this world. Human rights, civil rights, and equal protection under the law are for all of us, everyone.

I am not a religious person, but today I pose to you the biblical question: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Yes, I am. You are. You are the protectors of your brothers and sisters. We each have a responsibility to speak out against hate. At the very least, do not be a part of it.

I encourage you to read the Campaign NAACP | We Are Done Dying.

Let us never forget those who were lost these past weeks and before:

  • Breonna Taylor, an EMT worker who was shot and killed in her own home.
  • Ahmaud Arbery, was out for a run when he was chased and shot by white men who claimed that they thought he was a burglary suspect.
  • Sandra Bland, who died while in custody for a pretextual traffic violation.
  • Philando Castille, who shot in his car while during a traffic stop in front of his girlfriend and her daughter.
  • Freddie Gray who died of spinal injuries sustained while in police custody and denied medical care.
  • Trayvon Martin who was killed carrying skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea on his way back to his father's house.

There are simply too many people to list. This history of violence is too long.

Each of us - especially together - can do a lot. At Purnell, we can be the place where peace and respect begin. Each of us can carry that with us into the larger world we share. Protest peacefully, speak out, and - by all means - vote.

We will address these events and the historical context of systemic inequities early this week. If your daughter would like to speak with a member of our counseling team, please do not hesitate to reach out to Dr. Torres, Dr. Beverly, or Ms. Skerker.

As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Let us be part of that momentum for justice, equity, and inclusion.

With sadness, outrage, and hope,

Anne M. Glass, Ed.M. and Clyde Beverly, III, Ph.D.

Head of School and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator