Across the nation, we have been confronting and bearing witness to horrific acts of violence against people of color, including the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, which bring up traumatic memories of our American past of residents and law enforcement terrorizing and murdering people of color outside and inside their homes. We are also in the midst of a global pandemic, which has already taken over 100,000 American lives and has disproportionately ravaged our communities of color. These are unacceptable examples of systemic racism, oppression, and bloodshed.
We know the education system in this country is historically grounded in oppression and institutional racism. As an education organization serving 97% students of color, it is more important than ever that we commit to doing our part to disrupt and eradicate injustice, racism and systems of oppression in our network and in our schools. STRIVE Prep stands alongside our students, families, staff, and all the individuals, organizations, and communities demanding and deserving change.
STRIVE Prep - RISE scholars have shared specific goals that express demands for change through this open letter. We are deeply proud of and grateful for their leadership of youth in Far Northeast Denver and across the entire city. Hear their voices and read their words. Stand with them and share their message broadly to elevate this call to action.
As an organization, STRIVE Prep centers itself around three core beliefs: Achievement, Justice and Perseverance. It is our belief in Justice which anchors our work, and our responsibility, to disrupt systems of oppression in our schools. It is imperative to our students and community that this work is meaningful and has an impact on broader societal changes.
We’ve taken some important steps over the past several years in our network, but also recognize that we have a great deal of work to do to fully align our practices with our core beliefs. As a network, we have committed to the following actions:
- Adopted the network commitment, “I commit to disrupt inequity, bias, and systems of oppression,” to raise our collective accountability and acknowledge that we have much work to do to make this statement true.
- Convened the IDEAS Advisory Council (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accountability, and Support), a team of STRIVE Prep staff representing each campus and the central office.
- Led a network-wide book study for the past two years (Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race, and DiAngelo, White Fragility).
- Conducted culture audits in schools focused on equity and inclusion.
These steps are a start, and we acknowledge they are by no means sufficient and require continued commitment. Areas where we must improve include:
- Examining our staff experience across lines of difference and how our network systems support, and don’t support, inclusion. To support this work, we will be participating in Promise54’s Denver Cohort of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Accelerator.
- Committing to further diversity of staff in all positions across the network and assessing and sustaining a culture of inclusion to support retention of staff of color.
- Expanding our staff training led by our IDEAS advisory council to include more regular dialogue and skills for disrupting moments of racial conflict to deepen inclusion on our teams.
- Deepening restorative practices and culturally responsive social-emotional support for all students through pilot programs in three schools next year and expanding to all schools by the following year.
- Elevating student voice such that our scholars experience their education as anti-racist through both their academic courses and their student activities- and can all demonstrate the leadership we’ve seen from our STRIVE Prep - RISE scholars.
The education system is historically grounded in oppression and institutional racism. White colonization and privilege drive much of the narrative in many textbooks and classrooms. It is our responsibility and duty to the more than 3,500 students and staff in our network to disrupt this system and take real steps to combat racism. This happens through continued commitment and work, not just superficial emails and statements. We know that these words of action are only meaningful if we follow through and we actively take steps to break the system. That is our commitment.