I don’t know if you have done the math, but I have.
This June marks our thirteenth anniversary. We never married, and we’ve never been much for ceremony for the sake of tradition. Yet, I was curious about what the traditional gifts might be. I was really hoping for paper. I still have my summer intern packets. They’re well worn now. The highlighter and pencil marks have faded a bit, but I fell in love with you over those bound pages, so paper would have been appropriate. Alas, the interwebs report that it’s lace for the thirteenth go around the sun. So instead, I’ve decided to write you a love letter.
When we met, you were the more experienced, the wiser half of our relationship. You knew more about the world. You knew yourself and were set in your mission. Quite simply: you wanted to change the world, making it a better, more equitable place for all students. You were passionate about changing the systems and structures that made it difficult for folks of color to enter the pipeline to the academy. And it was that mission, and your commitment to it, that caught my attention.
I, on the other hand, was still finding myself. I was young and naive: Neo before the red pill. Still, you saw something in me. You introduced me to your inner circle. Some of the folks had big names like Morrison and Dewey. Some were names that I grew to love like Freire and Anzaldúa. Then there were the fellow students who had fallen in love with you in earlier years, just as I had. Their work, in sum total, turned on switches and lights and bells inside of me that I hadn’t realized I possessed. In those sticky weeks of June and July, I realized just how much I shared many of your same missions and passions.
Since then, I’ve become a kindergarten teacher. In part, because I believe that the seeds of the conversations that we had in Andover have their antecedents in the circle time discussions of the five-year-old classroom. In working with young children, I get to turn on the switches, lights, and bells of equity and justice early. Knowing that there are many ways to walk through the world is a universal truth that everyone should learn early. The tools of combating injustice are forged while we are still young and primed to speak unfiltered about unfairness.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that I had more to offer than just my skills in the classroom. Maybe it was always there. Maybe it was all those times back when you pushed me to accept my place as a critical thinker and as a facilitator, I don’t know. But I began to seek out opportunities that allowed me to broaden my equity work. I coordinated professional development workshops for teachers to talk about their own racialized experiences and how those experiences influence their teaching. I participated in a school-wide study that examined the experience of its Black male students. I led a committee tasked with pushing overarching, school-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
Today, in addition to my responsibilities in the classroom, I wear a number of different hats. I am a Lower School Diversity Coordinator at my current school home. I lead a monthly seminar for parents whose drive is to create positive school change through conversations about equity and diversity. I also have the privilege of sitting on the faculty of a leadership conference that brings together nearly 2,000 high school students from across the nation each winter.
The writer Alice Walker once spoke about the empowering act of decolonizing one’s spirit, the process by which we unpack and ultimately reject dominant narratives, rediscovering and reclaiming those parts of ourselves once written off as “unnatural”. You, IRT, are in the habit of holding up the mirror for students, bringing into focus all the beauty that has been drawn out of focus, telling us that we belong.
You gave me a gift of paper that summer thirteen years ago, IRT. I’ve been writing my own story on it ever since. In return, I hope you accept this gift of lace in the form of a love letter.