King’s words, I believe, capture well the passion, dedication, and perseverance that has been shown across our county in the wake of incidents of hate and bigotry that have played out in our communities and schools.
In caring and committed ways, our school system’s staff and students have joined with parents, community groups, faith-based organizations, and elected officials set out on a path that I believe firmly will lead us to a climate where acceptance and inclusion is not just the expectation, but the norm.
Our path is not about imparting values to our children. That is a job for parents and families.
Our path is about enabling our children to engage with those who hold differing values and to do that in ways that are accepting, civil, and productive. We can, after all, choose to be defined solely by our differences. Or, we can appreciate those differences – along with our similarities – and work together to make our communities better places to live.
That’s what was so encouraging about the community meeting we held in Pasadena last month.
A diverse group of parents, community partners, and some students met for two hours to talk about what they as individuals, we as a school system, and all of us as one united front can to do create climates where children don’t feel persecuted for their clothing, their faith, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, or any other factor.
That work starts in the home, but extends to schools, businesses, community centers, and houses of worship as well.
That was the first – but certainly not the last – meeting we will host, and other groups have stepped up to plan events as well.
Those types of conversations are similar to what has happened in the Global Community Citizenship course at Arundel High School over the last two years, and what we envision happening across our high schools beginning next year when the course becomes a graduation requirement for incoming freshman.
This course is intended not to force one’s beliefs on another, but to foster understanding and dialogue, even dialogue that comes from incidents that cause hurt and anger.
That is exactly what happened at Broadneck and Annapolis high schools last week after a racist post surfaced online. Knowing that Annapolis’ student-athletes had been emotionally and psychologically scarred, Broadneck Principal Jim Todd asked to speak to the players.
That meeting, which also included coaches and athletic directors, allowed for more than a heartfelt apology. It allowed for Annapolis’ players and staff to see Broadneck in a different light.
Todd’s visit spoke louder than mere words. On behalf of his school, he acknowledged the wrongdoing and took responsibility to personally meet with the team in order to help raise them up and begin the healing process.
As a society, we must not only be willing to acknowledge the hurt but affirm the commitment to work through it. We also must be willing to step outside our comfort zones so that we can – individually and collectively – move upward.
There is no height to which we can’t soar. Without a doubt, this is an area in which we can reach what some view as the unreachable star. To do so, however, we must do more than stand arm in arm. We must stand on each other’s shoulders and lift each other up.
The writer is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.