Today I want to share the power of our voices, no matter how small or what your age may be. Every single one of us has the power to create change.
As one of the administrators of the CT Coalition for Educational Justice and a Culturally Responsive Curriculum, I have been so grateful to witness our local communities come together to work towards our common goals of a brighter and more inclusive future for all of our children. The Coalition will continue to advocate for the incorporation of more diversity into our public education system, at all levels and throughout all subject matter, and materials, in hopes of developing a more inclusive academic experience and to achieve equity throughout our CT schools. It is with the combined voices and efforts of our community members that we will begin to see the realization of a society in which the basic human rights of equality and justice for all are upheld, as promised to all of our citizens.
I am so honored to be able to share this amazing letter written by 11-year-old Abigail to the CT Region 4 School District administrators, as well as the progress that has already resulted from her taking the time to make sure her voice is heard. Thanks to Abi’s advocacy and her letter, changes are already being implemented at both the elementary school as well as throughout the school district. Her wonderful letter was extremely well received by our administration and ALL of her book suggestions have been added to a list the school is purchasing! She was also offered a student spot on an equity committee that the district will be forming under the direction of our superintendent, to tackle these issues head on.
Abi has personal experience and knowledge and such an eloquent voice, a voice that can beautifully speak the truth that so many other 11-year-old children may not be able to articulate. A voice that represents her experience as a biracial child going through a school system and an education system where the two amazing parts that make her who she is, aren’t viewed as equal in so many ways, especially when it comes to representation. It is because of this experience and her own knowledge that Abi decided to do something about it. Even at the young age of 11, she can see the importance of inclusivity and acceptance and she has unfortunately felt the lack of presence of the very diversity that makes her who she is.
Abi’s parents have done an amazing job of making sure that she knows both sides of herself and her own history as well as the amazing, rich and diverse history of People of Color, and they have supplemented her education through learning at home and in the real world. So many others unfortunately don’t or are unable to do the same for their own children due to lack of knowledge and experience.
Abi’s Mom, Kristen, is also a Region 4 Alumna, as am I. Kristen went on to college in Washington DC, where she minored in African American studies. It was then that Kristen realized everything that she had missed out on learning because it wasn’t taught in our public schools. This coupled with the sudden presence of diversity in Kristen’s new environment made her see that there was so much missing out of her own repertoire and from the lives of many of us raised within our small towns.
My own personal experience looks a little different, although it starts out very similarly. As sad as it is, I didn’t even have the knowledge or know that I was lacking in the knowledge, that so much more existed until far too late in life. When Kristen went on to college outside of the state she was able to experience so much more and she learned so much about diversity and the things that were missing from our education back home. In order for her to even realize this she had to move across several states and take college level courses specifically in African American studies. It shouldn’t take that for an entire race of our community, and the demographically white populated communities surrounding us, to understand and know the truth.
We need knowledge and People of Color need proper representation in all areas of our education. Inclusivity and diversity are vital. The world is going to change with our children’s generation if we can change the system that educates them. Abi, at the age of 11 understands that, thanks to her amazing parents, and she has taken it upon herself to be a voice for that change.
I asked Abi and Abi’s parents if I could share her letter because I fully believe that hers is a voice that deserves to be heard, beyond our administration, as does the progress that her efforts have received. People need to hear and people really need to begin to listen with an open heart. This is especially true if we don’t have our own personal experiences as a Person Of Color. It is impossible to know what we haven’t learned, experienced or didn’t even know existed. So many thanks go out to Abi, her parents and every other person who is willing to share their own truth so we all may learn. If her words can help even one person to understand or one positive change to be implemented then that is something truly special.
Dear Superintendent White,
My name is Abigail Alexander. I am 11 years old. I recently graduated from Essex Elementary School and will be attending John Winthrop Middle School in the Fall. I want to give you a little background about myself; to do so, I will start with my parents.
My mother was born and raised in Deep River. Therefore, she is American. Her ancestors, that we know of, are mostly from Italy and some from Poland. This means, she checks the “White” box. My mother, having grown up attending Region 4 schools, knows the value of the education she received here. She graduated Valley Regional, as President of her Senior class, in 1996. While attending American University in Washington, DC, she majored in Criminal Justice and minored in African American studies. It was at that time, she came to know what had been missing in her prior education.
My father was born and raised in Grenada. Therefore, he is Grenadian. He came to the United States when he was 13 to live with his father in Maryland. His ancestors are from Africa. This means, he checks the “Black” box. As you can now probably tell, I am mixed. From the time I was born, my mother has always been upset and frustrated when it comes to filling out forms regarding my racial identity. I’ve heard her tell the story many times of when she was called for the 2010 U.S. Census. They needed her to pick my racial identity from the typical limited options. She had already told the representative that she was White and my father was Black, so what was she supposed to pick for me? The representative insisted she select an option. My mother refused. As she has said over the years, she does not want me choosing between her or my father.
I was born in Middletown. Therefore, I am American. I moved to Ivoryton in 2013 to start Kindergarten. My parents decided that Region 4 was a better school system for me. While in many ways it is, I have noticed that over my seven years at Essex Elementary School, we did not learn much about Black history or Black people. The only Black person the curriculum taught me about was Martin Luther King Jr. I mean, my teachers briefly talked about Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks but, as far as I can remember, there were no in-depth lessons on either of them. In addition, even during Black History Month (February), lessons about Black people were not very present. There have been, and continue to be, many great Black people in the world. They should be talked about too. And not just during Black History Month. Blacks were instrumental in the forming of our country.
There are countless important Black people that are not talked and learned about. While we clearly should be learning about Rosa Parks, what many people do not know is that, at the young age of 15, Claudette Colvin was arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus for a White person. Claudette actually refused to give up her bus seat 9 months before Rosa Parks did. To continue, Alice Ball, the first African American (and woman) to graduate from the University of Hawaii, developed a way to save the lives of people with leprosy. Unfortunately, Alice died before she was able to publish her discovery. Instead, the University of Hawaii stole her work, published it, and didn’t give her credit. Later, Alice’s work was recognized and celebrated.
In addition, Thurgood Marshall is known for becoming the first Black justice on the Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall graduated from Howard University with a law degree and later represented the NAACP to fight for equality for African Americans. Thurgood Marshall is famous for arguing the Brown v. Board of Education case and winning. He served as a Supreme Court justice for about 24 years. Finally, Ruby Bridges is known as the first Black child (in the South) to attend an all-white school. Ruby Bridges was only 6 years old when she began attending the William Frantz School. Young Ruby experienced extreme racism from, not only students, but parents as well. As a result of this, every day, the little girl was protected by U.S. Marshals when going to school. And still, she refused to stop going to school. The aforementioned people are only four of the amazing, and important, Black people that aren’t talked about in schools.
Perhaps we could even learn about local people that have had an impact on our nearby towns. For instance, James Pharmacy, in Old Saybrook, was owned and operated by Ms. Anna Louise James. She was the first African American woman to become a pharmacist in Connecticut. Another example is the Shoreline Underground Railroad, in which Deep River played a role. Plus, there’s also Constance Baker Motley, a then Chester resident. She was “the first African American woman to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, she won nine of her ten cases, including the landmark 1954 Brown vs Board of Education, and her equally famous 1962 James Meredith Desegregation case. These were followed by her successful legal cases for the admission of blacks to the University of Florida, Georgia, and Clemson University in South Carolina. Working side by side with Dr. King, her persistent legal advocacy brought rulings that ended segregation in restaurants in Memphis, Tenn. and at whites-only lunch counters in Birmingham, Ala. She petitioned for King’s right to march in Albany, Georgia, and visited him in jail – as his lawyer.” (full article by Marta Daniels)
In my opinion, schools should revise the current curriculum and how it portrays American history, particularly Blacks in American history. Schools should revise how they teach about the oppression of Black people and should explain examples of racism that still exist in today’s world. Of course, they could tailor as needed for kids in younger grades. In addition, schools could include more Black authors in their libraries, develop new courses on Black history, and expose students to books and websites about Black history.
Because of the lack of my ability to learn about Black history in school, my parents have tried to supplement my learning at home. They began when I was younger, buying and reading me picture books about black history and culture. They even subscribed to “Because of Them We Can,” a website that sends packages to children and teaches them about Black figures that are not taught in mainstream schools. A couple years ago, my family visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. We explored that museum for hours and even, more recently, went back again. My parents even bought me books about Black history there to further grow my learning. Furthermore, there are many amazing books that kids can read about Black history. Below are some of the ones I will be reading this summer:
We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
Fire from the Rock by Sharon Draper
Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose
Loving vs Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell
Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories by Ellen S. Levine
Revolution by Deborah Wiles
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
Dream a World Anew: The African American Experience and the Shaping of America by the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones
While writing this letter, I wanted to include a statistic of approximately how many schools in North America teach about Black history and people, but I was unable to find one. Instead, I discovered that currently, some schools are still segregated. In conclusion, I would like to suggest that schools require African American studies as a graduation requirement. I realize that you may say to yourself, “Would we then need to include course requirements for all minorities?” But to that I would say, are Black people really a minority when they have played such a major role in developing America?
Thank you for your time and consideration.
With gratitude, Abigail Alexander
What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise. — Barbara Jordan
Life’s piano can only produce the melodies of brotherhood when it is recognized that the black keys are as basic, necessary, and beautiful as the white keys. — Martin Luther King, Jr.