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These are Perilous Times

These are perilous times. I pray that you are all well and safe.

As a Black man in America, with Black children (one a son), no one needs to tell me how to feel right now. I took this job because I wanted to see more health care supports provided to more students. I understand that healthy students learn better and that we need to de-stigmatize mental health. It’s just health and kids who look like me and kids from low income families need more health care.

I came to the Alliance from the School Safety movement, where I worked with many police and public safety professionals dedicated to serving kids in schools. I no longer refer to them as law enforcement since a NYPD ESU (think SWAT) commander reminded me that cops do more than just enforce laws.

I am also the son, god-son and nephew of police officers. In my dad’s day, he and his colleagues prided themselves on serving in the South Bronx, Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant and other tough assignments while never firing their guns in the line of duty. Yet, even as a cop’s kid, I can point to the times in my life when I have had police officers draw down on me. So can all of my educated professional Black male friends. As one of my female African American colleagues said to me yesterday, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Murder is murder and once again we have it on tape. The dehumanization of African descendants has been going on for 400 years in America. The only difference now is the smartphone recording and websites sharing it. Denying what happened is futile. That said, all cops are not racist or bad people.

As a Christian (and former youth and children’s minister/chaplain), the attacking by military police, of peaceful demonstrators, with rubber bullets and tear gas just so the president can take a photo, holding up a bible in front of a boarded church (without offering a prayer nor inquiring on the health of the Pastor or church staff) is nothing less, than in the words of an Episcopal Bishop, blasphemous.

With that said, here’s my 2 cents.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go back to the way things were. I want real change.

Think for a moment about the things that we have grown to accept: poor performing schools, children in poverty, lack of opportunity for low income adults, lack of quality healthcare for low income families, lack of food security in low income communities, chronic homelessness, the containing of immigrant children in cages, cheering of heavily armed civilians marching on state capitals, the militarization of our public servants (police), 40 million people unemployed, and state and local political leaders chastised for not beating protesters, while American cities are burning. (Can anyone say Nero?)

Religion aside, racism, indifference toward others, lack of charity toward those less fortunate, discrimination against those with different perspectives or orientations than us, the failure to honor all human lives (and yes, Black lives matter) is a sin against our union. Just as slavery is a stain on the soul of our nation, our society’s failure today to welcome and care for the world’s poor, sick and hungry, is a true tragedy amidst what some called “the greatest economic boom in the history of the world?” It just doesn’t seem that way amongst people who look like me and low income people, regardless of their race, color or ethnicity. There are too many people hurting while a few keep hoarding more of the world’s resources. “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Mathew 25:40 NASB)

Yes, these are perilous times.

Things are changing daily. No one knows what daily life, work or school will look like this next year. In the face of uncertainty, we need to be courageous. In the lack of clarity, we need to find faith in each other, in people trying to do good and yes, from my perspective in God (by whatever name you chose to use).

Most educators and healthcare professionals working in schools are responding to a “call” to serve and are not drawn to the space because of the economic benefits. Unlike some who judge the world in purely monetary economic terms, we draw our satisfaction each day from helping others. That is not to say that we are better than those who solely chase dollars, but our self-affirmation comes from the smiles on the faces on the children we serve.

As the renowned educator, Dr. Pedro Noguera told the Coalition of Community Schools: “We are not going to say that we simply accept things as they are.” He’s right. If you believe in what you are doing, please don’t accept the status quo anymore. It’s not good enough to simply re-open as we were; we need to expand access to healthcare to all low income students (wherever they are). Society needs to do more to get healthcare to low income students and we must hold law and policy makers’ feet to the fire.

So, instead of another trillion dollars in trickle down funding to publicly traded corporations and banks, how about a trillion dollars in direct funding to Title 1 schools? (Including a school-based health center, and an appropriate number of school nurses, school psychologists and school counselors in every school.) How about affordable internet access and equipment for low income families? (It does no good to have access if you don’t have a device to connect.) In the greatest food producing nation in the history of the world, how about 3 meals a day and weekend food for low income families instead of dumping grain, meat and milk, because farmers can’t get market prices (due to an artificial trade war and a real economic depression for low income people).

Somebody called me an out of the box thinker the other day. My response then was the box blew up. There is no box anymore. Today I say that the box is on fire. So here is the good news. There is no box. There is nothing limiting your vision to re-imagine what we do and how we do it. Now is an opportunity to work together and do things as we have wanted to do them, but were constrained by the proverbial box. This is the opportunity to tear down silos and work together. Together, let’s build a new box with no walls.

Please stay safe, in all things, except your imagination of how things could be better. And please vote; it is your right as a citizen and the only way to peacefully affect change.

Robert Boyd

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