June 2 — 2:14 pm, 2020

Union president urges school administrators to speak out about racism and discrimination

"We will promote anti-racist policies, culturally responsive curriculums, peaceful protests, and intellectual discourse and courageous conversations about these difficult topics."

Robin Cooper

As the proud president of Teamsters Local 502: CASA, the only administrators’ union in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I am compelled to speak out about the senseless murder of George Floyd, who died because he was African American and because of the institutionalized racism that has made such killings a commonplace part of our culture.

It is equally important to note that George Floyd follows a long list of African American people cavalierly killed for either minor violations or for absolutely nothing at all. Police officers are sworn to serve and protect, not judge and execute. This violence has become an alternative strategy to enforce vigilante justice against a race of people they apparently neither understand nor seek to understand. To imagine a grown man lying on the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck using his last gasps of breath calling for his mother and children is enough to make any person, regardless of race, cry out with the heart of a human. This is a human rights violation.

George Floyd is not the first African American who uttered the words “I can’t breathe” before he transitioned from this world to the next. Other recent killings have also left us all reeling – Breonna Taylor, who was killed by officers while sleeping in her Louisville, Kentucky, home and Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed by residents while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, committed no crimes other than being born in the skin they were in.

Amid protests across the country, James Curbeam, chairman of the Teamsters’ National Black Caucus, writes, “The actions of the officers involved have shined a sad and heartbreaking light on Americans and in turn, are bringing black families, friends and allies, other people of faith and goodwill, and communities, together across the country in a cry for racial justice. This movement is demanding justice for George Floyd and all of the others who have been wrongly taken.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York denounced the violence, but firmly stands on the side of the protesters by affirming that a broken system must be fixed: “When the prosecutor came out and said there is other evidence, but I can’t tell you any more than that, that only incited the frustration. Injustice in the justice system – how repugnant to the concept of America.”

Although I was proud of the way Philadelphia, known as the City of Brotherly Love despite its own sordid history on race relations, started the day with a peaceful social-distancing protest, I must admit I was also filled with trepidation about what was to come. Why? I understand that our young people have so much bottled up, and with schools being closed due to COVID-19, they don’t necessarily have all of the coping mechanisms available to properly process ongoing indignities and address such an enormous problem in an appropriate way.

So, take this, plus the current pandemic crisis that has brought the country to its knees, and add the murders of three African Americans –  Ahmaud Arbery in February, Breonna Taylor in March, and now George Floyd – and one can see the combustible mix.

The outcome of a destroyed Center City pains me greatly. Most of the looting crowds looked past school age, but the damage still remains. We educators are currently powerless to properly engage some of our students in a physical sense. Yet we must and we will find ways to get to them virtually as soon as possible to fully explore this situation and begin to repair the damages from a history rooted in pain.

As educational leaders in the Philadelphia School District, where the enrollment is largely students of color, we must land on the right side of history. We will continue to stamp out racism, first by acknowledging its existence, then by educating ourselves, our colleagues, and our students on its devastating impact, and then by using culturally responsive resources in our teaching. It is imperative that we understand that students we teach and adults we claim as friends, colleagues, and co-workers are now and have been experiencing trauma that has affected them to their very cores. Yet they may never breathe a word about it for fear of being ostracized in the workplace.

We have to be there to let the entire nation know that we recognize that the disproportionate killings of African Americans at the hands of police officers are not only a “Black” problem, but also a human rights problem. As humans, we must all be outraged all of the time and we must be vocal about our outrage.

As a labor union where our members, children, and families are our main priorities, we have the collective power to make our voices heard! We have heard from many groups within CASA, and we understand that there is a collective pain, frustration, confusion, rage, disconnect, fear, uncertainty, and resiliency taking place – in some cases at the same time. The need to lead and continue being professional in the midst of so much pain is a daunting task!

We recognize that some who are hurting are also putting on a facade to try to numb the barrage of traumas suffered from witnessing such atrocities. We further recognize that some may be silent, not because they are racist, but because they are not sure about how to approach the topic of race and are fearful of not saying the right thing.

The stance of Teamsters Local 502: CASA is that we are a progressive union and we stand against anything that allows any class of people to be discriminated against or anything that continues direct or indirect racist actions.

We will promote anti-racist policies, culturally responsive curriculums, peaceful protests, and intellectual discourse and courageous conversations about these difficult topics.

So, how can CASA members help to bring calm to our school populations, neighboring communities, and our colleagues in this virtual setting and beyond? How do we attempt to handle conversations about race and discrimination, among other things?

  • Acknowledge that racism exists and its impact.
  • Vote against racist policies.
  • Be aware of subtle signs of bias, discrimination, and racism.
  • Attend professional development sessions to learn about the negative impact of racism.
  • Address biases that you may have concerning people of different races, ethnic groups,
    religions, sexual orientation, gender, and any others.
  • A few great culturally relevant books about race are:
    1) Courageous Conversations About Race, by Glenn E. Singleton
    2) Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel
    3) White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
    4) Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom, Lisa Delpit

This is by no means an exhaustive list, of course.

I ask you to stand in solidarity with Teamsters Local 502: CASA as we continue to root out racism, discrimination, bullying, abuses of power, and the disenfranchisement of all American people in our families, workplaces, institutions, and society. Our children’s lives depend on it!

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