Thank you Lily. You’re an incredible leader. From advocating for your students at Orchard Elementary all the way to sitting in the Oval Office demanding an end to the high stakes standardized testing of No Child Left Behind, you have been a passionate and fearless leader your entire career. It’s an honor to work with you every day, and with Becky and Princess, the NEA Executive Committee, and the NEA Board of Directors.
And to every RA delegate joining us today, thank you for what you do every day.
I wish you could see and know every single one of the NEA staff – they are so talented, so dedicated, so hard-working. And on behalf of the entire staff, let me say we believe in our mission. We believe in this union. And most important, we believe in YOU!
I want to share with you today some things that are part of my lived experience…..as one of your former students, as a parent with two children of my own, and as a person of color in America. I hope you won’t mind a bit of vulnerability and a bit of challenge – it comes from a place of abiding love for you and this organization. That’s what my mother and my educators taught me.
When I was in seventh grade at Thoreau Middle School in Vienna, Virginia, educators changed my life by seeing all of me. They saw a talkative, disruptive kid in class, but they didn’t refer me for a special education evaluation. They didn’t send me to the principal’s office. They didn’t just see this awkward, brown-skinned girl who was the daughter of a single mom and then jump to the conclusion that I wouldn’t amount to much. Instead, they figured out that I wasn’t bad; I was bored. Mrs. Skjei asked me to help a few other students in my class learn new material. And my guidance counselor, Mrs. Elliott, asked me how many AP classes I wanted to take in high school and how many colleges I would apply to….not whether I was going, but how many applications I would fill out.
So, NEA members, every single time I think about you, I think about the fact that you changed the entire trajectory of my life. You saw me and valued me as a whole person. Your belief in me, awakened my belief in myself and helped me see my own potential.
Now here’s the hard part. Not all kids experience what I experienced in school. As human beings, we know that we all have implicit biases. And those biases mean that some students’ stories are not fully seen or heard. My own daughters noticed that at a fairly early age in their own schools.
That’s why our work is so very important. Our fight for social justice, our advocacy, our professional development, our coalition-building—it all matters. If we continue, if we scale this work, we could see the following dream become a reality across the country:
That our union’s professional development and online micro-credentials ensure that every single NEA member is the best at their craft, so much so that potential members, administrators, lawmakers and parents say: hire more NEA members because they’re the BEST in the business! And that you say belonging to the union makes that possible!
That every local affiliate bargains or advocates for the common good. When we partner with the community, with parents and stand together as the agents of our community’s hopes and dreams, we change the system for everyone – for students, for educators, for families, for communities.
That we organize, join, and help lead this incredible movement moment we are in. That our Red4Ed movement stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in other movements — the Fight for $15, the LGBTQ movement, the Families Belong Together Movement, the March for Our Lives, the Climate Justice movement, the #MeToo movement, and yes, the Black Lives Matter movement to demand racial, social, economic, and climate justice.
This is the most intense multi-racial, multi-generational movement moment in this country since the 1960s. And it will take this kind of socio-political movement power to disrupt systems in our country that aren’t working for the vast majority of Americans.
We CAN make this dream a reality.
What an honor it is to stand here to mark an important anniversary. Five years ago today, the NEA Representative Assembly unanimously passed the historic New Business Item B.
That set us on a journey to take on dismantling institutional racism, which means understanding the pervasiveness of white supremacy culture and advancing racial justice in education. This isn’t for show. This is real, and it’s urgent. And we’re on the right path.
Our trainings, our programs, our campaigns — and yes our culture— we are working to change all of those as we learn more. As we continue our own racial justice journey.
My dream as a parent and as an American is that one day, we will wake up and be able to say that the first form of a just society that a child experiences is in her public school — and that her educators made it so.
Imagine the day when every student learns about Juneteenth and the Trail of Tears and Wong Kim Ark and Sylvia Mendez and Stonewall and that educators made it so—a culturally responsive and reflective curriculum that tells every student in America that they are seen and that they have agency.
Imagine the day when a student no longer asks the question: Why do some schools have classes in robotics, artificial intelligence, and coding and others can barely find a Bunsen burner or connect to broadband?
Imagine the day when there is no school to prison pipeline because we as a union ensure that every single member has the tools to challenge their own implicit biases and that we insist that schools stop criminalizing black and brown students. That we insist that our schools look and feel more like a vibrant university than sometimes feeling like a jail.
That’s why our Leaders for Just Schools effort is so important. We are developing equity leaders as part of OUR union’s leadership roles. Imagine the day when every single NEA member is an equity leader in America from pre-K to graduate school and in our public spaces.
Imagine the day NEA when we march up to Capitol Hill and we demand an Equity and Excellence law that proclaims that the United States will ensure that every student in America truly has equal opportunity in public education from Anchorage to the hollers in Kentucky. That we once and for all declare that access to a world-class, 21st century public education is a fundamental right. And that our education system prepares students not just for a job, but teaches them to pursue justice because it’s what they experienced in their public schools.
I can see that beautiful day NEA. But getting there won’t be easy.
Even if we as a union lead this country to truly tackle white supremacy culture and purge anti-blackness from the American psyche, we will still be left with at least two structural obstacles to forming a more perfect union.
As we pursue racial and social justice we must also pursue economic justice and political justice.
It’s no secret that we have a fundamentally rigged economy and a democracy that has been manipulated and corrupted by voter suppression, unchecked foreign interference, and corporate money.
He who controls wealth policy and the electoral system that seats the policy makers, gets to decide whether we as a country are ever going to achieve economic and political justice where every American has real opportunity and real voice.
I grew up believing that if you work, you shouldn’t be poor. It’s one of the basic underpinnings of the American Dream.
One of our members teaches full time in a public school. She lists her condo on Airbnb, and when she has a tenant, she leaves her home and drives to her school parking lot and sleeps in her car.
The fact that some of our education support professionals and other public service employees receive food stamps is an abomination.
It’s not unreasonable to want basic fairness.
It’s not unreasonable to be outraged that 60 of the largest fortune 500 companies in America don’t pay a single cent in federal income taxes.
And at a time when the country is reeling from a worldwide pandemic, it’s not unreasonable to expect our federal government to act. This country is grappling with an economic crisis that has been caused by a President who has failed to act swiftly to protect us from a deadly health crisis.
NEA, we need to shout at the top of our lungs to the U.S. Senate – to Sen. Mitch McConnell. Stop standing in the way of saving lives, of saving family businesses. Stop punishing public workers because state and local revenues have dried up due to the complete and utter lack of a national response from the President and all who stand with him!
NEA Members, go to nea.org/covidaction to raise your voice about what students, educators, and communities need.
But don’t stop there.
We know the path to recovery and to justice also runs through the ballot box. NEA members, I want you to go to strongpublicschools.org and make sure you are registered to vote. Don’t take that for granted. And then volunteer. Take action. Help us make sure that people can vote safely this year.
NEA, in 2018, nearly 1,000 educators were elected to public office! If you know how to raise your voice and share your expertise, you know how to run for office. See Educators Run. See Educators Win. And see public education transformed. This union has trained you. And we will help you win and we will help you lead!
If we want a public education system that is worthy of our students, that is the engine of our economy, and the model of a just society, we have to raise our voices and we have to vote and we have to lead.
NEA, the time is now. Speak out. March. Vote. Run. For our students, for our members, for our communities, and save our democracy! Thank you, NEA!