Reflections on Charlottesville and Beyond

To Our AF Team & Family, Friends and Partners,

We spent the weekend as likely many of you did – watching and reading with increasing alarm about the rally and clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. As white leaders who support a network of schools serving mostly black and brown children, as Americans who are troubled and saddened by these events and as humans who believe in the dignity and worth of every life, we are compelled to speak out. As white people, we can never fully understand the pain and fear felt in communities of color after such events, but we also know that at times like this, silence can be deafening.

Let’s call the rally what it was: repugnant hatred in plain sight. While the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville may be the most overt and unpalatable form of racism, America is sick from a thick racist “smog” that permeates so many of our institutions from criminal justice, to housing, to employment, to education. Our high school graduates tell us that when they arrive on predominately white colleges, they certainly find friendship and support, but they also hear snide comments about their speech or dress or taking a spot that was “deserved” by someone else.

So where does that leave us? What can we do?

First, we need to take care of each other. In these days right before school starts, check in with your colleagues and allow space for conversation. Let folks know that for them to bring their full selves to work, part of that self may need time to engage and heal. 

When our students arrive, tell them – and show them – that we love them. More than ever, as we work to set incredibly high expectations to start the year, we need to ensure that we build relationships with students so that they know we care about them, see them, know them and will listen to them. In age-appropriate ways, talk to them about hatred and love, courage and leadership (you can find resource here).

More than ever, our mission matters. To borrow from Rafe Esquith, we need to teach and lead like our hair is on fire. We need to support our students to unleash their skills so that they can graduate from top-tier universities and be the leaders our communities and our country so desperately need. We also need to support our students as they form clear, positive, bold narratives about who they are, where they are from and where they are going. We need to teach them the good, the bad and the ugly about American history – about the promises made in so many American ideals and the need to work so much harder to deliver on those promises. 

We hope you all find your own ways to show love and to speak out against racism whenever and wherever you see it. And, with two days to go until we welcome our newest students, let’s all link arms and double down on our commitment to ensure that our nearly 13,000 students will become unstoppable forces that will build a better tomorrow for us all. 

With Love,

Doug McCurry & Dacia Toll

Achievement First Co-CEOs