One of our contributors, a high school English teacher, wrote a letter to her students following the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
To My Dear Students:
As you probably know by now, white supremacists and Neo-Nazis took control this weekend. They terrorized Charlottesville, a small town in Virginia, claiming to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee (as you may remember from U.S. History, he was the lead general of the Confederate Army during the Civil War). Heather Heyer, who was attempting to stop the white supremacists’ hateful actions, was murdered when a white supremacist intentionally drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist counterprotesters. Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates were killed when their helicopter crashed as they tried to help the people who had been hurt.
This is a dark chapter in American history, and one we should not quickly forget.
I know that many of you are angry, scared, disappointed, shocked, outraged, confused, and hurt by what happened. I know that many of you are angry, scared, disappointed, shocked, outraged, confused, and hurt by the fact that our president refused to condemn their actions, instead blaming it on “both sides.” I too, am angry, scared, disappointed, shocked, outraged, confused, and hurt by the fact that these individuals roam our streets and feel that their actions are justifiable.
It is true that many of you are the very people these terrorists not only hate, but fear.
You are smart, capable, driven, and kind, and yes, many of you are of color. I, too, am of color, as is my father and my sister. My father is the one who would be called “terrorist,” since he is Muslim. Yet he is no terrorist. Like all of you, he is smart, capable, driven, and kind.
Even though we are of color, we should not forget that we are smart, capable, driven, and kind. Even though there are those who would happily watch us vanish into thin air, we must not let their hate guide our actions.
We must remember that we are stronger than they are, kinder than they are, and braver than they are.
We are in tumultuous times, but we must remember that the greatest art, literature, music, social movements, and revolutions come from tumultuous times. The Civil Rights Movement happened in a period of strife. The Women’s Rights Movement took place during a period of strife. The American Revolution took place during a period of strife. We must not cower down, and instead use our voices to be heard and make a change once and for all.
Never forget that you are striving for a better future.
By coming to school each and every day, you are learning how to critically think, how to question the values of our country, the systems in our country, and how they came to be.
You are gaining the wisdom, courage, and kindness needed to make a difference. Education doesn’t simply end with a textbook or begin with a standardized test — it begins with a thirst to better oneself, to gain knowledge, and to eventually use your education to make a positive change for people of every culture.
I could not be more proud of each and everyone of you. Know that you must continue to be brave, kind, and continue to question the world around you. Do not be afraid, do not let others tell you that you are not worthy simply because of your background or skin color. Continue to be the strongest version of yourself.
I leave you with the words of the great Maya Angelou:
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”