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Stop the Tip-Toeing Around Race Problems : Q&A with Imahni Ward

Junior Imahni Ward sent this letter (published below) to former principal Mr. Susi on May 29 following the death of George Floyd. It was then forwarded by Mr. Susi to all staff. At the bottom of the page, check out what she has to say about it now.

Letter sent to Mr. Susi on May 29

DEAR TEACHERS,

Do not stay silent. If you do, you are part of the problem. You preach about how our generation will become the next leaders, yet you pick and choose what to censor when it comes to talking about important topics. Right now, Black men and women are being murdered by the people that we are supposed to trust and we NEED to address that. Who can they turn to now? When 911 is being used as a death threat? Why do you choose to say nothing to the young people that you are supposed to teach? Is the curriculum so important that you cannot stray from it during the times when it is most important to? Have conversations. Be angry. This is no time to turn a blind eye. I am angry. And you should be too. I’m disappointed and greatly saddened that none of my teachers have spoken about this.
Every day, people are speaking about the coronavirus, so why not this? Please, talk to your students. Even if some of them don’t engage. Because right now I feel ignored and that hurts. It’s just like last year when saying the n-word was a problem and none of my teachers could look us in the eyes and say “don’t say the n-word” and have meaningful conversations without tiptoeing. It’s frustrating. Why can’t you address the things that hurt people like me head on? Our problems are real. They are brutal. They’re disgusting and hard to comprehend. They deserve your attention and acknowledgement. Are my brothers and sisters’ deaths so easily brushed off? Are you not disgusted with our country? Why must I fear for my life? For my father’s life, for my brother’s life, and for my sister’s life? The murder of Black men and women cannot be ignored so SAY. THEIR. NAMES. George Floyd. Sean Reed. Ahmaud Arbery. Steven Demarco Taylor. Ariane McCree. Terrance Franklin. Miles Hall. Tamir Rice. William Green. Michael Dean. Trayvon Martin. Breonna Taylor. Oscar Grant. Eric Garner. And too many more. Check your privilege. Use your influence as our teachers. Refuse to stay silent. SPEAK FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT BREATHE. Because Black lives  MATTER!
But let me slow down for a moment and rephrase. Because this is not just “our” problem. It is everyone’s problem. It’s no secret that our school is mostly white. All my teachers and most of my peers are white. It’s easy to say that it can feel a bit isolating. And while it may feel like it’s not your place to speak, it is. Things won’t change until people of color and white people can come together and have these  conversations.
So speak out. Please.

Signed,
Your Black student, Imahni Ward

Junior Imanhi Ward

NTERVIEW BY: NOELLE AVENA

Viking Saga: What was the process of writing the letter like?
IW: Well, honestly, I wrote it at night a few days after George Floyd’s murder because I couldn’t fall asleep. I was feeling really frustrated and that was keeping me wide awake. I felt so ignored when none of my teachers spoke out about it that I couldn’t help but write my feelings down, envisioning that I was actually speaking to the teachers. The next morning I woke up and read it to my family and they all really liked it. When I suggested actually sending it to Mr. Susi, they all readily agreed. I wrote him an email asking if he would help me send it to the whole faculty, which he did.

VS: Do you think the letter would have been received the same way if there wasn’t current pressure on the administration to do better with inclusivity and  race?
IW: Honestly? Probably not. I mean, even with the letter there were teachers who didn’t say “Black lives matter” or George Floyd’s name like I had hoped they would. Why? I’m not sure. But it’s probably because in a community like East Lyme where the vast majority of the community is white, people are reluctant to talk about race and the problems that people of color face on a daily basis.

VS: What was the intended impact of the letter? Do you feel like it’s been achieved?
IW: At the time my intended impact was rather simple. I truly just wanted the teachers to speak about the injustices happening in our country, especially when it came to George Floyd. I wanted to know that the adults that I was supposed to trust stood for Black Lives Matter. I wanted the tip-toeing around race problems to stop.

VS: I know the letter was aimed at your teachers, so imagine you’re writing one for the student body instead. What direct message do you want to send to your peers, friends, and classmates?
IW: My main message would be that no, we’re not too young to talk about these things. In the past months, I’ve been frustrated with some of my peers. A lot of them seem to think that they don’t need to have these hard conversations. People who don’t feel comfortable talking about racial discrimination even with their friends worry me. If not through social media, speak up in your own friend groups. It’s okay to change your opinions. I’ve been changing mine over these past couple months as well.

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