Dear Early Childhood Community,
To say it's been an emotional time is an understatement. Families and the world community are hurting witnessing the murder of Mr. George Floyd. I am the mother of two Black men, a grandmother, and a mother to Black men from other mothers of which I include George Floyd. My heart is heavy for the Black men and women, including Eleanor Bumpurs, Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor that have come before him. The list is long and growing. There are many that we will never know their name. My heart is heavy for those who took a seat and a knee for justice who lost their lives and their careers for doing so.
Recent events remind us that racism is pervasive and deadly. Author, Ta-Nehisi Coates states our phrasing, race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy--serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, and breaks teeth. We cannot allow systemic racism to go unchallenged. If we don't address history, history will continue to repeat itself. "An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future." (Coates) Looking away and silence is not an option.
What we are experiencing is a call to action. We must own our truth and address education policies and practices that have a disparate impact on Black children and families. African American males' education experiences are often negative. They experience injustice at all educational levels and in all areas of education. If you're Black in America and especially if you are a Black man or boy it has been stated you are convicted in the womb. In our preschool classrooms, studies show that Black boys are more likely to be seen as "problem" children than their peers, and they are less likely to be considered ready for school. Teachers spend more time watching Black children than White children when looking for disruptive behaviors. How do we reconcile the over-representation of Black boys as early as pre-K-3 in areas of suspension and expulsion? African American males are suspended more than any other racial group, beginning in preschool. How do we reconcile the special education referral process that results in the misplacement of Black boys in high incidence areas (i.e. learning disability, developmental delay, emotional and behavior disorders)? Terms such as "at risk" and "endangered" have become a proxy for African American males. How schools create welcoming, supportive, and quality early education and care experiences for Black boys is critical. Black boys matter, and they need and deserve nothing less.
Our children are watching and listening to what we stand for during these challenging times. This is not the future we want our children to experience--injustice, indifference and inequality. Individuals are struggling as to what to say or what to do. One can no longer say "I don't see color"; skin color is the measure of one's life and its value. Systemic change requires action. Until there is change there will continue to be a knee on Black peoples' neck. Each person can do something starting with self-reflection, listening to understand, be willing to have the hard conversation, and be a part of the solution at the policy and practice levels. What matters are the actions that are taken. Mr. Floyd's 6-year-old daughter Gianna reminds us "Daddy Changed the World". On behalf of the Governor's Office of Early Childhood Development staff we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the Floyd family and may Mr. George Floyd rest in peace.
Dr. Jamilah R. Jor'dan
Acting Executive Director
Illinois Governor's Office of Early Childhood Development (GOECD)