NEW YORK — Before an audience of over 850 attendees, Race Forward and partners kicked off their much-anticipated H.E.A.L. (Honest Education Action & Leadership) Together initiative. The campaign promotes equitable schools, a quality education and a multiracial democracy. It will also support local and national leaders working to strengthen education and democracy.
In addition to Race Forward, a host of activists and organizations including Emmy-award-winning storyteller Sarah Eagle Heart; Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY); Kiah Morris; the National Education Association; Student Voice; Schott Foundation for Public Education; the Alliance for Quality Education; Dignity in Schools Campaign; Red, Wine and Blue; the Women's March; Moms Rising; Parents Together Action and others attended the kickoff.
"Part of the reason our communities are still suffering is because our history has been suppressed," said Sarah Eagle Heart, a member of the Lakota Tribe. "It has been suppressed due to the taking of our resources. But there is also resistance to look at the shame of our own history, which means that we don't move into healing. We have to do it now in order to live."
"Efforts to curtail progress are a direct response to organizing by grassroots groups to create a more equitable nation," said Glenn Harris, president of Race Forward. "But let's be clear: The resistance we see today emerged, in part, following protests over the brutal killing of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. After Floyd's murder, outraged Americans from a host of races and ethnicities engaged in protests across the country. The June 2020 actions were the largest civil rights protests in American history."
For over a year, there has been a wave of policies restricting what teachers can and cannot say in the classroom, what books schools will and will not offer, and what employers can and cannot say at work.
"Those policies aren't about creating environments conducive to learning but rather about limiting multiracial progress," Harris said. "But we will not be deterred, nor will we be denied."
Attendees took a pledge to do their part to support good schools and a quality education, which are key components in ensuring a multiracial democracy. Event facilitators shared that local and national partners will offer assistance with district data analysis, curriculum review, best practices for teachers, survey development, graphic creation and policy review. Participants then had the opportunity to pledge their support and advocacy for an honest, accurate and fully funded public education for all students across this country. Eagle Heart read the pledge.
"Schools should be a safe place where students can thrive and reach their full potential," said Beatriz Beckford of Moms Rising. "What is most exciting about H.E.A.L. Together is that we're joining young people who are stepping up and advocating for truth teaching and progress."
"When we transform systems to be more equitable and fairer, the sum of us wins," said Dennis Chin, vice president of narrative, arts, and culture at Race Forward. "This fight isn't just about parents' rights and individual freedom. Individual rights and freedom do not live in a vacuum — we are interconnected. We have shared responsibility with one another to ensure everyone has what they need, such as public services and public education."
Following rousing remarks from education leaders and activists, Race Forward and partners declared that they would not allow attacks on the teaching of American history, the LGBTQIA community and books to go unchallenged.
"Part of what we're trying to do is to create a bigger 'we,'" said Zakiya Ansari of Alliance for Quality Education.
At the kickoff, Maria Dautruche served as master of ceremony, enthusiastically welcoming the crowd and introducing the myriad speakers. She noted that the H.E.A.L. Together effort is designed to ensure strong schools, more equitable communities and a more inclusive democracy.
"Regardless of whether you have children in school, the debate around the accurate teaching of American history and contemporary issues of gender, race and sex impacts us all," said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association. "Imagine trying to explain the significance of the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court without being able to talk about the history of race in America."