(Note: the below is a reflection by Lenny McAllister on the events in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021, and is not to be taken to be an official position or statement of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools as an organization nor is it intended to be a political position in any regard.)
Like so many millions of Americans and other from around the world, we at the Coalition watched with a churning set of emotions inside as the events of Wednesday played out in Washington, DC. There was so much to witness and so much to discuss. And, like others, I went through this range of reactions as well. I just had a chance to discuss with long-distance friends and colleagues in the media in New Zealand about what we experienced on January 6. I will continue hearing from my cousins in Europe as they watch from thousands of miles away. I talked with close colleagues here in Pennsylvania, through phone calls, emails, texts, and frank heart-to-heart conversations.
Much of the sentiment I heard was the same. What is happening to the beloved United States? Is it the worst that it can be? Can it get worse still? Is democracy in a death spiral? Is America headed for a civil war? Will we ever pull out of the national depression, anger, frustration, and hopelessness that we have felt in the pit of our stomachs and the depths of our souls increasingly over recent years and heavily throughout 2020?
Some would say maybe I’m unrealistic, but I still believe in us. I still believe in you. I still believe that we will make this better.
These times are hard to struggle through, but we have collectively been through worse and endured. We saw assaults on the Capitol on Wednesday that were nationally tragic and horrible to watch, but we have not seen a physical assault – a caning, no less – on the floor of the US Senate between senators as we did before the horrific Civil War over 160 years ago. We have seen assassinations of character and facts during these recent times, but mercifully, we have not lived through assassinations of political leaders, civil rights leaders, and presidential candidates as we did in the 1960s and 70s. We have heard the loud turbulence of protestors – both this month, earlier in the fall, and prior still in the spring and summer of 2020 – but those sounds resonated along with the continued expression and enjoyment of the First Amendment of our ever-present – and still-standing – Constitution. It certainly has been bad, but it can also be worse.
Within our Coalition, we could ask: what can we specifically do? Some of us are just teachers. Some of us are just kids – just students. Some of us are just administrators of some sort. Do we have a role in any of this? Can we speak out on any of this? Should we? Do we have any obligation to speak, to act, and to fix anything of this? After all, we’re just folks that are attached to education, part of a charter school community of thousands but still primarily focused on textbooks and lessons.
I say yes. In fact, I say yes emphatically, confidentially, and encouragingly. There is much work to do, but there are still firm foundations for us to stand upon.
Our community within education – the collection of us within the Pennsylvania charter school community and, greater still, the education community regardless of what school we attend or work at – reflects the very spirit of hope through times in our history where the lack of knowledge, resources, approach, or understanding can be scary and unsettling. The value of education is highlighted more than ever in moments such as these in our history. The necessity of hope, of learning from our mistakes, of getting better after both small missteps and big mistakes – they are all vitally important in growing, healing, and improving ourselves, our communities, and our country. Collectively, it’s something we do every single day.
Students: that path is not just one that you walk on as you continue going to school and learning from your teachers and coaches daily. That is something all of us as Americans are required to do ourselves – everyday. And in moments like this, we feel everything you do. We are scared sometimes. We are angry sometimes. We hurt sometimes. We are confused sometimes. We feel like we’re living a dream and walking through a fog. We look around and simply don’t recognize parts of our world anymore. And yet, like you, we have to continue moving through it so that we can learn more so that we can do more to make things better.
Students, we are with you through all these things – from the emotions to the challenges – because we care about you, we care about our communities, we care about your schools and we care about our nation. We are with you with the jumbled mix of emotions you have about all that you have been seeing in your communities and on television. We are with you through the range of feelings you have been experiencing within. And, also, we are with you as you continue to come to school every single day throughout all of this. After all, the ability to learn about the solutions we need in our communities and our nation to fix the problems we are going through and heal the hurt that we are seeing and feeling – let’s be honest: that’s one of the reasons – among many – why you come to school each day.
But know that you are not the only ones that have something to learn through all of this. All of us as Americans do. The ability for us as adults – as teachers, coaches, administrators, and professionals – to support you daily and teach you valuable lessons along the way is a big reason why we adults commit ourselves to continuing to learn, heal, listen, and grow everyday ourselves. Students, we understand in a way that you might not right now with all of this going on: despite what you see and how you might feel, each one of you and each one of us holds the potential and ability to overcome the odds – as big as they might seem right now – to be a force for good to change the wrongs we currently see in our communities and nation. What you see might scare you, as it scares many of us as well. However, your power to learn, your ability to grow, and your potential to do so much good will always mean more than the troubles we are working through together. That is why it is so important for us to keep faith, keep coming to school, keep learning our lessons – all of us, both children and adults, being students in schools and students of life. That is why it is so important for us to work together, trust each other, care for each other, and uplift each other.
Kids, take a moment and look back to what President Obama said so many years ago -at a time before most people believed he could actually become president: “…the challenges we face will not be solved with one meeting in one night…Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” One of his heroes, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, once said, “…courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it….it is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” And remember what Mrs. Michelle Obama famously said as well: “…when they go low, we go high.”
Yesterday – January 6, 2021 – will be a day that we all will remember for a very long time. This past year – 2020 – will be a year that we all will remember for a very long time. Challenging times are also character-building moments as well. For me and for so many I have talked with over the past day – from those of us at the Coalition to the community we touch around the world – this all has been a lot to absorb, to process, and to work through. The thoughts and feelings I wrote above are ones I wanted to share to remind us all – collectively as students, as fellow community members, and as fellow Americans – that we care about you, we believe in you, and that we’re here for you through all of this. Don’t forget that. Even when it looks as though we have lost our way, never forget that we can always find our way back to the best of what we can be through our faith, our learning, and our work – together.