Redoubling Our Efforts

Wendy Kopp, CEO & Co-founder, Teach For All

As demonstrations erupt all around the world in solidarity with those protesting institutionalized racism in the U.S, it feels important to reach out to our global community of friends and supporters.  

I’m ashamed of my country's failure. We have failed to dismantle white supremacy and institutionalized racism. We have failed to educate generation after generation of young people to understand our history, appreciate our shared humanity and the value of our diversity, and shape a more equitable world.

We’re collectively outraged at the murder, again, of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer, with other officers standing by, observing, and doing nothing. This comes after countless other visible examples of racism and racial violence in the U.S. And it comes at a time when we have already been called to support each other in the face of a global pandemic that is disproportionately impacting this country's marginalized communities.

Protesters across the U.S. have raised their voices and stood up to call for an end to the killing of Black people, and for systemic change. In response, police forces have met peaceful protests with aggression and our nation’s attorney general ordered tear-gassing and use of rubber bullets against non-violent demonstrators to make space for the President to have a photo opportunity, after he called out the military to keep protesters in order.  

Here in New York City where I live, an 8 p.m. curfew just went into effect as I write this. The last time there was a curfew in New York was 1943, when a Black soldier was shot and injured by a white police officer.

When I set out on this journey 30 years ago, I thought that ensuring all children have the chance to attain an excellent education would be the path to our nation becoming the land of equal opportunity it aspires to be. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s not that simple. Education is the key to transformation, but it isn’t sufficient. I’ve seen that enabling all children to fulfill their potential also requires dismantling the inequities in all of the other systems—including our justice system—and purging the ideology of white supremacy that infects our society, our institutions, and ourselves.

I remember visiting the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis a few years ago and standing in front of exhibits that starkly reminded me that it was just 30 years before I'd graduated from college that there was legalized segregation in our country. This appalling reality isn’t ancient history but recent history. Another 30 years has passed and we are still here, far from having reckoned with and accounted for the legacy of slavery in our country. If you haven’t heard the case for the need for a process of reconciliation to move forward, please do read these thoughts from social justice leader Bryan Stevenson.

I’ve also learned over time that we need to consider what an ‘excellent education’ really is. We’re not providing all of our students with an excellent education if they grow up to kill people because they’re of a different race, religion, ethnicity, or caste, or if they grow up to stand by without intervening in the face of injustice or to meet peaceful protests with violence.  

Moving forward will require leadership—leadership for undertaking a reconciliation with our history, reshaping institutions to be equitable, and re-orienting our education system to prepare all of our young people to shape a better future. 

This means that our shared work across the Teach For All network to foster the leadership needed to take on entrenched mindsets and inequitable systems is incredibly important, here in the U.S. and around the world where other injustices also rage along lines of difference. 

I’m proud of the ways Teach For America is helping to develop this leadership—people who through their teaching experience become still more committed to taking on the inequities facing children and families comprehensively, and to educating students about the many ways this country was built and continues to thrive on racial inequity and injustice, about the powerful role people of color have played in building the nation’s wealth, and about the agency their students have in social transformation. Teach For America alumni helped start Black Lives Matter, and many of them are leading voices in and allies of the black community right now. Do listen, for example, to DeRay McKesson sharing his thoughts on how to stop race-based violence, or to DeRay, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, and Dr. Clint Smith discussing the murder of George Floyd and the protests across the nation.

What I’ve learned over time is that it will take extraordinary vigilance and perseverance to develop the leadership necessary to tackle persistent inequities in proportion to their magnitude. Living into this potential will require even more deliberate effort to engage ourselves and our teachers and alumni in deep work to unpack our own privilege and recognize the assets within the communities most impacted by injustice. It will require still more intentionality in supporting the leadership of those who have themselves experienced the inequities we’re working to address. It will require doing still more to support the rising generation of students and growing forces of teachers and alumni and allies to fight the barriers facing young people in all their dimensions.

I’ve heard the pain and anger of my Black friends and colleagues over these last days, and I stand in solidarity with them. Thanks to social media, the injustices their families have been experiencing for decades are more frequently exposed, across the U.S. and to the world, in ways that we must ensure create a collective commitment to change.  

At Teach For All, we are committed to do more. As individuals, we commit to recharge the effort to work on ourselves and break down all of the constructs we’ve each internalized. Within our global organization, we commit to create new space to re-evaluate and dismantle the ways we’re perpetuating inequity in our work. And, we commit to come behind our network partners as they act with agency to develop the collective leadership we need to create an equitable and just world that gives all children the chance to fulfill their potential.