On June 24th, 2020, former New Canaan High School student Griffin Hall, wrote an opinion piece skewering an open letter and presentation delivered by several current and former NCHS alumni. The main thrust of the letter and presentation was to appeal to the Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi to amend the New Canaan Public Schools curriculum to add a broader and deeper understanding of systemic racism, implicit bias, police brutality, and privilege. They also asked Dr. Luizzi to encourage surrounding school systems to adopt such ideas.
Griffin’s Op-Ed wanted to “remind” these alum that “Black Lives Matter is a movement about ending police brutality and racial profiling.” He called their proposal “a retroactive crusade against sheltered white childhoods.” He couldn’t be more wrong on this subject. I hold this subject dear because I grew up in New Canaan as an ABC scholar and part of the NCHS class of 2005. I can say with certainty that NCPS is holding its own students back by not giving their students a fuller, broader view of history and the world around them today.
Mr. Hall believes that the letter and presentation are “the left’s cultural putsch.” When did doing what’s right become a political argument or statement? When did valuing the lives of those who don’t look like you become a leftist issue? Simplifying this issue to a left vs. right argument is unreasonable and unproductive. And a “putsch?” A violent attempt to overthrow the government? That level of hyperbole is uncalled for.
Next, Mr. Hall believes that activists are insisting “that white people writ large apologize for alleged thought-crimes of racism.” Even though that’s what you believe, Mr. Hall, that’s not what is being asked. I didn’t ask my high school cohort to reach out to me, apologize to me, or check in on me after the heinous murder of George Floyd. They did so unprompted because they finally understood that what happened to Mr. Floyd could happen to me or any of the other black folks they know. They realized that attending school or university with black students is not reform enough. They realized that not confronting persistent racial injustice not only allows for it to fester, but it allows for innocent men, women, and others to continue be murdered for selling CDs or playing loud music, killed while sleeping in their own homes or just breathing in their own neighborhoods. Then these former classmates committed themselves to being better and putting in the work to become actively anti-racist.
Mr. Hall seems to believe that bringing up race only serves to inflame racial tension. In fact, racial tensions are ignited when communities feel continually ignored. Instead, the way the world has been talking about race ever since Mr. Floyd’s murder is what we as black and African-Americans have been asking for for years: to confront racism to its fullest effect. Racism isn’t just calling someone the n-word. Racism is almost being denied housing as a potential black tenant. Racism is having your white girlfriend hail taxi cabs for you because they won’t stop for a black man. Racism is almost being denied a job because of your skin tone. That’s a tiny fraction of the things that have happened to me in New York City, a city considered a bastion of racial equality. Racism is systemic and has invaded every facet of our lives and must be confronted in order to be rooted out.
One of the ways we root out racism is by ensuring the next generation knows what systemic racism looks like and is given tools to fervently fight against it. That has to start at a very early age because we know that very young children already recognize racial differences and often already demonstrate a bias towards whiteness. To work towards an elimination of conscious and unconscious biases, anti-racist teachings and curriculum must permeate the institutions of NCPS. I appreciate that Mr. Hall understands and urges Dr. Luizzi to push for reforms within NCHS, but he directs this only to the high school. Additionally, Mr. Hall’s ideas for “reform” focus on token improvements for the students of color and ignore the big picture benefits of introducing an anti-racist education for the white students of New Canaan. Mr. Hall suggests “asking minority students if and how their race impacts their role in the NCHS community,” which may sound like a good idea until one remembers how difficult it can be for some high school students to articulate their feelings and emotions. The burden of reforming NCPS should not be placed on their shoulders. All of the kids of New Canaan deserve to be better informed about the world. The letter written to Dr. Luizzi proves that the town cannot rely solely on a few mission trips and one volunteer day to teach students that the world isn’t fair to black and brown people.
Let’s face it, systemic racism is the reason A Better Chance exists. If equal access to a proper education existed there would be no need for ABC and I would have never heard of New Canaan, CT. I appreciate every single opportunity that I had while living in the town of New Canaan and attending NCHS. I used the education and opportunities gained there to become who I am today. Through ABC, New Canaan has already enrolled in “town-sponsored progressiveness.” Will Hennessy and the students that wrote that letter, including Jelani Aladdin, 2010 ABC of New Cannan grad, are only asking that New Canaan go all in in its commitment to its precious few minority students.
David Cox, NCHS ’05, ABC of New Canaan Alum