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We Can Make A Difference, Together

Head of School Sarah Pelmas
Dear Winsor Community,

I have tried, as you know, to find the silver linings in our current circumstances. I believe deeply that our best way forward through this pandemic is to acknowledge the immense challenges and the real suffering, and also to delight in our blessings when they appear. But this is a crisis. And our failure to find solutions is threatening everything we cherish and value.

The recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, have shown us aggressive, unjustifiable, racist violence. It is sickening and horrific, reading about their deaths and seeing the images. Ms. Taylor and Mr. Aubery’s deaths received minimal investigation at first and were not widely reported in the press, adding another layer of horror. Mr. Floyd’s death received immediate attention, because it was recorded by a bystander. The circumstances of each death were different, but the underlying racism is the same. Protests are occurring all over the country, including Boston. Protests sometimes foster hope, but I think there is still a good deal of despair: the Minneapolis police department had training on racial bias. They were supposedly better prepared to handle their interaction with Mr. Floyd.

The disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the African-American community is a crisis, and these recent killings add to the terror, the injustice, and the anger. Even worse, as so many commentators have noted, the unjustified murder of African-Americans is not new and it feels virtually impossible to say anything useful right now. Nevertheless, we need to speak up, because many members of our community do not feel safe. Some people reading this letter are unsafe, simply because they have brown skin. Some people reading this letter have to worry when they wear a mask outside because a masked black man is seen as an automatic threat. Some people reading this letter have to warn their children to behave exactly perfectly, to hold their hands where people can see them, to never ever question authority, to never wear their sweatshirt hoods up. Some people reading this letter know they are not safe going for a run or simply being at home.

Now is not a time for mere words; it is a time to stand up and fight for what matters, to speak honestly about the racism splitting this country apart, and to use our collective voices, privilege, and power to make change.

Winsor will always work toward equity and inclusivity. We will work toward a time when no one is in mortal danger because of their skin color. We will teach, actively, about micro- and macro-aggressions. We will look at our own past, at the history of the school, of Boston, of the United States--and we will use what we learn and what we know to fight for justice. We began this school year discussing the New York Times’ 1619 Project, thinking about how the effects of slavery have manifested themselves in our present day. We also began the school year honoring the five African-American women who integrated Winsor in the late 1960s, the difficult experiences they had, and the path they bravely forged for those who would follow them.

Though we only have a week of classes remaining, Winsor can still react and respond to this current crisis. Already, in a variety of ways, Winsor faculty and staff are meeting to process their own reactions to these tragic events, and to discuss support for our students in advisory, in other groups, or individually. There are resources that you can access, as well. One of the best curated lists--covering everything from the history of brutality against African-Americans to suggestions for White parents--comes from the organization Facing History and Ourselves, and I encourage you to take a look. Also extremely useful and supportive is Embrace Race, a website designed to help parents talk to their children about race. And, though it is a relatively small thing, Winsor has joined with BB&N, Milton Academy, Noble & Greenough, and Morristown Friends School, to create a virtual workshop entitled Independent Schools and Beyond: The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color. It was originally planned for this summer, before the recent tragedies came to light, and we hope it will be the start of broader education and conversations about the deep, racial divides in this country.

Winsor students are a source of unbridled joy and hope for me every single day. I have the utmost faith in them, their voices, their vision. And I want to give them a world that is healthy, whole, and worth inheriting. Making the necessary changes will be hard work. We have to ask ourselves difficult questions about the systems we inhabit, and our role in preserving the status quo. We must educate our students and ourselves so we can dismantle the thinking and the systems that maintain institutionalized racism. We all live in those systems; we can all help make changes. I know we are brave enough to ask these questions, and I know we can make a difference, together.

Warmly,

Sarah Pelmas
Head of School
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