In response to the protests that erupted across the country following the killing of George Floyd, who died at the hands of the Minneapolis police, Head of School Ned Parsons sent the following message to the full Rivers School community. The message calls for people to stand together against prejudice and racial inequality and to take the time to educate themselves on the ways in which white privilege protects the systemic racism that still infects our country.
Following is the full text of his message:
Dear Members of the Rivers Community,
The other night Lisa and I sat down to watch the national news, which came to us live from Minneapolis. We realized together and at once that it was the first time in three months the lead story on the national news was not the pandemic. The footage of all that is happening there and across this country and the world is heartbreaking to watch, and it portends a sad and difficult time ahead for all of us.
Of course, that lead story, the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police, is also the story of a disease, one we’ve been struggling against for more than 400 years in America. Racism, like a virus, found its insidious way into the cells of the organism in silent, invisible ways—and in violent, blood-spattered ones—long ago. In every way, in all regions of this country, it has made its way into the lives and cultures of succeeding generations of our children.
The pandemic’s disproportionate toll on communities of color nationwide has laid bare the on-the-ground reality of systemic racism in our nation, and we know that racism and inequity are daily sources of depletion and suffering for many in our community. The statistics show a bleak picture nationwide of the pandemic’s impact on communities of color, and the video roll of recent race-related incidents leading up to Floyd’s death only makes more vivid the reality of the added weight that living with racism entails for many of our colleagues, friends, and classmates.
Though the school year has ended and our immediate community dispersed, we are nonetheless bound by the pain of what is happening in this country right now. We know that it lands here as a distinct reality in the lives of people of color who are members of our alumni, parent, faculty, staff, and student bodies. Many of us could allow ourselves to feel—even as we sympathize with the plight of those who are targeted—that all that is going on is “not our concern or responsibility,” or that it “doesn’t impact me, so it’s not my issue.” But as we have made clear many times before, issues of racism, inequity, and the disparities growing from the persistence of white privilege concern all of us. These are our issues, and we all must stand up and call out the injustice, showing as we do our care and concern for every single member of the Rivers community and communities everywhere.
At a time when we have been ordered to distance from one another, we must reach out across that distance to show clearly and unequivocally our support, care, and concern for those whose daily experience is impacted by this insidious disease. This is a lesson that extends beyond Rivers to the very democracy within which all of this pain currently exists, and it is the very reason we emphasize engagement with all of you: The disease of racism negatively and decidedly impacts every one of us, no matter our background, upbringing, or skin color.
Rivers is committed to the fight against racism and social injustice, and we are committed to creating a powerful allyship with our students as we engage in that work. In that spirit, I encourage you to take the time to read two documents prepared by members of our community. One is a guide developed by the members of BRIDGE
, a student club devoted to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, that talks about how to be an anti-racist. This is a document the group has been working on for more than three weeks and reflects not only the racism revealed by the killing of George Floyd but also by the unequal impact of the COVID-19 virus. The other is a list of resources
—articles, books, films, and podcasts—put together by our Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) that provides information on how to actively fight racism.
I couldn’t be more proud of the way that our students and faculty, especially our BRIDGE members, the members of our Office of DEI, and our Office of Community and Civic Engagement, have been proactive advocates for social justice, and I look forward to supporting them as fully as possible as we move that work forward. The final line of our country’s Pledge of Allegiance calls for “liberty and justice for all.” None of us should be complacent until those words reflect reality.
Head of School