June 7, 2020
To the administration and community of St. John’s School:
Our nation and our Houston community are in crisis. We, the undersigned Black St. John’s alumni, condemn the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and every other Black life unjustly taken by current and former law enforcement. In this painful moment, we have reunited to reflect on our experience of occupying space at St. John’s as Black students and the varying levels of psychological trauma that we all share as a result. While the recent murders and current climate have necessitated our response, the reality is that from the very beginning of this American project, Black people have been fighting for equality and the recognition of our humanity. We acknowledge the consistent racism–both covert and overt–that Black students at St. John’s experience from members of the St. John’s community and that has continued to define our experience from generation to generation.
We have been made aware of certain efforts, such as those to expand the curricula of the History and English departments to be more conscious and inclusive of the Black experience. We must acknowledge and appreciate these efforts, but find it difficult to commend them, as we have also been made aware of ways in which students continue to feel marginalized and that their calls and requests for change are left unheard or are actively quieted – and so we find the Head Master’s statement to the SJS community insufficient without any mention of actionable objectives. It is not enough to continue the current work, or to commit to upholding values already present. We demand that the work expand to truly prioritize the emotional health and safety of these students, over maintaining the comfort of the majority. In fact, there can be no true comfort of the majority if pain or hurt is constantly being negotiated and navigated by members of the community.
We therefore demand a deeper investigation into the blind spots that cannot be willed into obsolescence, but instead, unchecked for far too long, leave gaping holes in the fabric of our community. We cannot hear of the hurt inherent in structures of this school, and then accept a statement that only promises to continue and uphold. We have gathered in order to bring some of those blind spots to your attention, and to suggest some shifts, actions, ways they can both be addressed now, and prevented in the future. We demand that the entire community be called to consider their complicity.
Racism takes many forms, and it is our belief that the innumerable manifestations of hatred and insecurity that Black people encounter are inextricably linked. The white student who faces no consequences for referring to his or her classmates as “niggers” in school, or in the broader community as a SJS representative, will view his or her actions as valid and rooted in truth; the perceived validity will permeate their future interactions with individuals and communities of color, whether through overt racism, microaggressions, or the vehement upholding of systemically racist institutions. When we teach a version of history that omits the unflattering or uncomfortable truths about our country, we pass along a lamp of knowledge dimmed by delusion and ignorance. When we turn a blind eye to discrimination and bigotry for fear of alienating the powerful, wealthy outspoken few, our entire St. John’s community suffers.
In the interest of building a more inclusive St. John’s community and developing individual, spiritual, ethical, intellectual, social, and physical growth for all current and future St. John’s students, we hereby make the following requests:
- Update the Headmaster’s statement to more specifically acknowledge the racism & systematic oppression facing the Black and Brown community and the actionable steps SJS will take to address these realities among its own community.
- Redistribute this updated statement across all SJS social media profiles, email listservs, and website portals to SJS students, parents, faculty, & alumni with consistent and clear messaging outlining St. John’s stance.
- Introduce a student code of conduct and ethics that includes racist bullying, harassment, and discrimination among a list of zero-tolerance offenses and outlines a plan of action for disciplining students who violate these policies.
- Revise History and English curricula across grade levels to spotlight Black, Indigenous, Asian-American, and Latinx voices and more accurately educate St. John’s students on systemic racism, American imperialism, and racist domestic terrorism.
- Topics requiring further examination include but are not limited to:
- Historiography focused on the effects of imperialism on our understanding of African Histories
- The West African kingdoms
- The transatlantic slave trade, the brutality of chattel slavery, and its ongoing legacy in the United States
- The origins of the American Civil War and the South’s commitment to upholding slavery as the cornerstone of the southern economy and a means of social control
- The failures of Reconstruction and the origins of Jim Crow and the KKK
- The role of community organizers and Black activist coalitions in the Civil Rights Movements of the mid-century.
- COINTELPRO and other covert US government operations that aimed to subvert Black liberation movements
- Redlining and its role in shaping public space and upholding segregation.
- The origins of mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, as well as their role in maintaining racial hierarchies in the United States.
- Suggested texts below:
- Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
- Danielle L. McGuire – At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance- a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power
- Edward E. Baptist – The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
- Isabel Wilkerson – The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
- W.E.B. Dubois – Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880
- Angela Y. Davis – Are Prisons Obsolete?
- Toni Morrison – Beloved
- Toni Morrison – The Bluest Eye
- Maya Angelou – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
- James Baldwin – The Fire Next Time
- John Lewis, Andrew Aydin – March, Books 1-3
- Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man
- Ralph Ellison – Juneteenth
- Frantz Fanon – Black Skin, White Masks
- Langston Hughes – My People
- Lupita Nyong’o – Sulwe
- Malcolm X – The Autobiography of Malcolm X
- Additional Resources can be found here.
- Topics requiring further examination include but are not limited to:
- Clear actionable goals and strategies for the recruitment of Black students, faculty, Trustees, and administrators. Our suggestions include:
- Information sessions and recruitment fairs at public schools in majority-minority neighborhoods
- Introducing a Diverse Slates approach to hiring, requiring that a minimum of two (2) candidates from underrepresented backgrounds reach the onsite stage of the recruitment process for all roles before a hiring decision can be made. In instances where this Diverse Slates requirement is not met, recruiters must produce documentation of their sourcing and outreach efforts to show that sufficient effort was made to build a diverse pipeline of candidates and be granted an exception.
- Increased representation on the Board of Trustees for Black and Latinx alumni
- Create opportunities for experiential learning focused on the Black experience, including but not limited to field trips to sites of historical and cultural significance to the Black community, such as the Houston Museum of African American Culture, Emancipation Park, Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Olivewood Cemetery, and others.
- Proactively socialize issues of race as concrete realities that need to be addressed, not as touchy or polarizing issues to be avoided. In order to accomplish this, the SJS community must:
- Acknowledge the existence and realities of Black Mavericks and create an environment for them to flourish alongside their classmates.
- Create platforms for Black students to share their own personal experiences with racism and to discuss, dissect, and engage these topics and concerns with their peers.
- Train faculty and administrators to facilitate these mandatory conversations.
- Suggested resources include:
- Robin DiAngelo – White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism
- Ijeoma Oluo – So You Want to Talk About Race
- Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
- Peggy McIntosh – ”White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”
- The 1619 Project (all the articles) | The New York Times Magazine
- For Parents: Jennifer Harvey – Raising White Kids: Bringing up Children In A Racially Unjust America
- Additional resources can be found here.
- Establish a scholarship fund specifically for Black students to make St. John’s accessible to all families and equitably distribute resources within the St. John’s community towards diversifying the student body.
- Give students of color a voice by opening lines of communication between the Unity Council and faculty, administrators, the Executive Board, and the Board of Trustees with regular in-person meetings.
- Update the school’s Diversity and Inclusion strategy to include more transparent goals, metrics, and timelines, allowing for a greater sense of urgency and accountability.
The reforms above represent the first steps in what will undoubtedly be a long journey to transform the culture at St. John’s for the better, and we offer them up in addition to and in full support of the demands that current St. John’s students on the Unity Council have already shared with the administration. Our community has been wounded, and true healing will require an ongoing, open, and honest discourse among Mavericks of all backgrounds and political leanings. Above all else, we must remember that St. John’s does not exist in a vacuum. It is one of many flawed institutions in our deeply flawed country. As leaders in the city of Houston, the state of Texas, and beyond, it is our duty to set an example by creating a welcoming environment for all Mavericks.
To current and former St. John’s students, parents, and faculty members who have suffered at the hands of racists in the St. John’s community: we see you, we hear you, and we stand in solidarity with you to build a more just, equitable St. John’s School.
Black Lives Matter
Black Students Matter
With our respect and gratitude for your anticipated support,