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Pursuing Peace and Justice with Professional Development

Friday, April 6, 2018

"True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice."

—Martin Luther King, Jr., after being accused of disturbing the peace during the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama


On the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, race remains a difficult topic. Racial justice, equality, and equity are still in question, and roiling identity politics fuel old divisions. Even if our hearts feel pure, the demons of bias on personal and societal levels persist.

At Burgundy, in keeping with our strategic plan, and in response to what we hear, see, and feel happening all around us in the world, we are increasing our attention to the divisions, inequities and the ‘blind spots’ that can contribute to less-than-equitable experiences at Burgundy. We must pay extra attention to things said or done or even omitted that might hurt or exclude or silence those around us. This is hard work, and work we sometimes wish we did not have to do. But because we know it is important to improving the learning environment here (for all students) and shaping a happier, more peaceful world, we are committed to working at it with growing intention. Thus far, at both the trustee and employee levels, we are engaged in training to expose blind spots.

Faculty and staff this school year have been learning about implicit and unconscious bias. We’ve become familiar with the experience of Frank Somerville, which illustrates the concept.  Early this winter, trustees worked with Rodney Glasgow, an independent school administrator, diversity expert, and trainer. Next week, on our professional half-day at the CAPS conference, faculty and staff will work with teachers and staff from area progressive schools, along with TED Talk persona and trainer-educator Dena Simmons, a woman of color from a tough neighborhood and decidedly un-privileged upbringing in Brooklyn, NY who was able to gain a scholarship to boarding school and ultimately found her way to the Ivy League. She later became an educator and speaks poignantly of the burden she carries, of feeling like an imposter because of her race and background.

Overcoming biases requires courage and vulnerability from the more dominant or empowered individual or group who usually benefit from unearned privilege, power, or status. These individuals—including me—have to be willing at times to put their own perspectives and needs aside in order to make room for someone else’s. This is a sacrifice. But finding common ground is always about sacrifice and giving. Hence, with our faculty and staff we are just at the beginning stages of opening ourselves to what we might be willing, each of us, to do and to give to make our community stronger and more just. We have inspiration from Dr. King and so many others.

P.S.: Speaking of hard work—and the amazing products that come from it—if you’ve not seen the April issue of National Geographic, you’ve really missed out! It focuses on the concepts of race and is fascinating, one of the great contributions (of many) of this incredible periodical.

Hope to see you at the Arts Festival next week!