An explanation and apology.
I want to express thanks for the responses from the membership and Evergreen EA Equity Team. The Equity Team recommended I model restorative justice in this response to the membership.
What Happened: Aware that the members needed to be updated on some critical time-sensitive reminders on the last day of school, I wrote an email. The last day of school was June 19th, and I also knew this was the holiday, “Juneteenth.” I was reflecting on the celebrations happening all over the country, as well as the push to make this a national holiday, as I strongly believe. I learned recently that the date celebrated was based on an event that happened in Texas, where I was born, and home to my mother’s side of the family, as well as my sister who teaches in Dallas. I started the email with my connection to the state of Texas. I gave a very brief explanation of the event that Juneteenth celebrates.
This is where I went horribly wrong. Knowing that I would end the email with the list of reminders, I wrote a terrible segue that literally compared the celebration of the last day of school to the celebration of the end of slavery. In the email, I made the statement: “You are free,” and started to talk about the end of Continuous Learning for our members. This is the section for which I most regret writing.
I went on to thank several groups for their work. I acknowledged the challenges before us, and made the other statement I regret: I encouraged members to treat the day “…as the holiday it is: where we celebrate the inalienable right of freedom.” This was also an inappropriate, dismissive reduction of why people celebrate Juneteenth, using it for my purpose in highlighting a calendar holiday.
What was I thinking? I recognize an explanation does not rationalize the mistake of what I have written. I do not excuse the insensitivity of my comparison with my intent. I am writing this because of the understanding I have of the impact it had among many members. However, I do want to share what I was thinking at the time so that you will at least know of my intent. Describing my intent is only for the purpose of reflecting on its impact.
Honestly, I was thinking more of the celebration of the end of a very difficult school year. I hear daily from members of how hard the closed schools have made their jobs. The concerns they shared about our most vulnerable students and how they were unable to do the thing they loved most: Teach. I was thinking of the burden of responsibility we all shared in trying to make a model few of us were trained in work without direct access to our students. I was thinking about the celebration of freedom, not the connection between the difficulties we faced and the horrors of slavery. As I stated above, this is not intended as an excuse, only to share what mindset could have led to such a grave error in judgement that I made while speaking as President on behalf of our members.
What I think now. The thing I learned most of all, is that Juneteenth does not belong to me. It is not for me to invoke, as a white man, how the holiday is to be recognized in any way. Instead, it is a time for me to consider what part I play in the institutional racism and white supremacy culture that exists in society. How am I evolving from being non-racist to being anti-racist? I needed to ponder how more than 400 years of oppression has affected not only those who suffered the atrocities of slavery, but how the current system continues to create inequities for people of color, including loss of life. I understand that it is my responsibility to treat Juneteenth with reverence and a desire to learn more, not a time for platitudes and dismissive statements pretending that the suffering only existed in the past. I acknowledge I have no right to define what the meaning of Juneteenth has to a person of color. In this acknowledgement, I recognize my ignorance and need for more education.
Who was harmed? I recognize the impact and harm done by the callous comparisons and false equivalency of my message. My first thought that caused me deep regret was for the members of color I serve. I had to first acknowledge how it must have felt to read the words from the EEA President, maybe even someone they voted for, as I dismissed their experience and feelings about what June 19th represented for them. This was my first reaction soon after being made aware of the impact by an EEA Equity Team member and led to the retraction I sent out immediately after.
I also value the input from the members who are not members of color. They were correct that I did not recognize my error in judgement before I sent it to the membership. They may have questioned my commitment to the pursuit of social justice and combating institutional racism, possibly undoing some of the work I’ve done in fundamentally changing the structure of the EEA to make this a priority of our union, including appointing our first EEA Equity Team comprised of some of our most dedicated members, promoting the election of three members to the WEA-Riverside Equity Team, and asking members to amend the EEA Constitution to make this work a critical PURPOSE of our association.
What can I do to make it right? I am grateful for the membership and equity team guiding me to hold myself accountable and respond directly to the harm I caused through this statement.
For this error in judgement, I apologize. I ask that you bear with me as I learn more around the topics of white-supremacy culture, anti-racism, and how Black Lives Matter at school and everywhere. I am asking for your grace for the opportunity to learn, grow, and better represent every member of the EEA in my ongoing process. Through this experience, I have come to realize that I have much more to learn, regardless of my desire to seek opportunities to be an ally. In the future, I will not attempt to speak for people of color; I will continue to use my privilege and power to elevate the voices of color in our association, school district, and community. Thank you.
Bill Beville. President