While protests, marches and rallies calling for racial equality and the end of police brutality continuing across the country following the killing of George Floyd, dozens of local educators silently marched and protested for social justice on Friday.
Organizer Janet Carter, who teaches Spanish at Shawnee Mission West, said that as both a black woman and an educator she was strongly impacted by Floyd’s death. As educators play a significant role in youth development, Carter said, they have a special opportunity to influence the way students view themselves and others. Racism is taught, she said, but “anti-racist views can be taught as well.
Carter said it was important for educators to make a statement that they recognize how systemic oppression and lack of diversity plays into the structural institution of education. As Shawnee Mission has recently issued statements acknowledging its own faults and gaps, Carter said she and fellow educators want to partner with the district on these issues.
“Not only do we recognize and acknowledge it, but we’re also willing to stand up and help change it, to be part of the change and to help the district in moving toward more equity for all students” Carter said.
The event Carter and two SM West colleagues — counselor Kim Urenda and world languages teacher Jennifer Elliot —organized brought more than 100 people out to 95th Street and Nieman Place, near Westridge Middle School. Several speakers addressed the crowd, including Shawnee Mission diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator Tyrone Bates, Jr.
Bates provided a historical background on police departments, which originated from slave patrols, he said. The recent and past injustices are merely a result of police departments upholding ideals of a constitution that did not include black and brown people, he said.
“Let me be clear, what we are experiencing is not a function of the police,” Bates said. “It is a function of racism. It’s the product of racism. It’s the offspring of racism.”
Other speakers included Urenda, Education First Shawnee Mission Chair Megan Peters, Blue Valley Northwest alumnus Tatiana Hutchinson, SM West senior Laylan Hamid and SM West parent Anisha Jackson, a member of a Shawnee Mission parent group that has been lobbying for the district to address diversity, equity and inclusion issues for years now.
Two participants and local educators Angie Powers and Clayton Kistner marched up and down 95th Street, across from Oak Park Mall, long after others found shady hideaways. Kistner said it’s important for white educators like themselves to engage in difficult conversations.
“I think it’s very easy for Johnson County teachers to try and, like, write off that we don’t need to be talking about race because this is such a white flight county,” Kistner said. “Realistically, these conversations are important because the people who grow up to enact systemic racism are people who are coming from white communities like Johnson County.”
The pair work together, and are actively analyzing and diversifying their resources, Powers said.
Kistner encouraged districts to listen to and hire more black educators, while Powers said it’s equally important to retain black educators. When there is only one black educator in a school, it’s discouraging, she said.
“It’s just really important that educators become more educated themselves, specifically about the Black Lives Matter movement — not only to be better educators, but specifically to be prepared for this upcoming school year,” Powers said.