The deaths of George Floyd and too many others weigh heavily on all of us, including the PTSA at Hazel Wolf. We are also in the midst of a pandemic crisis that is also impacting our vulnerable communities disproportionately during this time. This is a time to pause, to listen, to contemplate, and – most importantly – to stand up and take action.
Generally, the work of the PTSA is not controversial: it’s about fundraising to support tutoring, playground equipment, overnight camping trips, and pancake breakfasts. We are proud at Hazel Wolf to have funded grants for art, music, PE, and engineering; to have helped with the Read-A-Thon and Back to School Nights; to have held annual auctions and restaurant nights. All of this work, which involves hundreds of hours and dozens of volunteers, is directed to enhancing the quality of life for students and teachers, as well as to providing valuable community building.
Sometimes, we are called to step up our efforts at community building in more complex ways. The Hazel Wolf PTSA last year decided that “increasing awareness of racial equity” would be our primary area of focus for the 2019-2020 school year. We publicly declared that we would focus on making decisions using a racial equity lens, by listening to students and parents of color and by offering community, staff, parent, and student education opportunities. We meant it, even as we acknowledge that the focus, if it is to be meaningful, requires stepping out of traditional comfort zones, and taking actions as well as saying words.
Last October, the students of Hazel Wolf K-8 E-STEM School in north Seattle held a peaceful protest. The students, supported by the PTSA’s Racial Equity Committee (REC), were protesting the use of the N-word and other racial slurs at school, and asking for accountability around what happens to those who use the slurs. Our principal, Ms. Nelsen, and other administrators, teachers, and staff, as well as dozens of family members and siblings, listened to and cheered for the students who spoke out. The peaceful protest lasted about 15 minutes in front of the school and received some coverage in Seattle media.
The protest and the coverage evoked a lot of emotions. There was shock that racist incidents happened at Hazel Wolf. There was dismay that the protest was mentioned in the news. For some, the students’ descriptions of racist incidents were a wakeup call. For others, it was nothing new. The recent murder of George Floyd, one in a tragic series of similar events, has brought great grief to our community. As parents and as PTSA members, we work hard for the betterment and safety of our beloved children.
Among 46-year-old George Floyd’s words while dying were a call for his deceased mother, a wrenching reminder of the bond of family that we all share. We also know he leaves behind a 6-year-old daughter who has lost her father in a public, painful way.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are all names in the news these days due to racist violence—they are also folks like us with moms and dads and children. The recent protests not only here in Seattle but across the country and the world have reminded us in daunting ways of the work to be done to heal our community from the trauma of racism. As happened after our peaceful October protest, the recent deaths and reactions are shocking to some, old news to others.
We know that a PTSA cannot solve these problems. We at Hazel Wolf also know that we cannot look aside. We cannot shrug our shoulders. We will continue to do the work we have done successfully in the past: supporting the needs of our teachers and students, through the traditional and valuable events and grants. More than that, though, we will take seriously our responsibility to create equity for our black students, our immigrant students, our students of color. We will continue to support Black Lives Matter at School and Black History Month, as we have done every February. We have also offered to support professional development for our teachers (who, as is true at most schools, are predominantly white) around racial equity trainings. We will support efforts to bring in more black and other teachers of color, who are role models for all our students. We will fund our Family Support programs, which provide food and other supplies to our low-income families. We will recognize that many of our low-income families are families of color, due to the systemic and entrenched history of racism that has created tremendous disparities in health care, education, employment, and more.
The REC has created an online Community of Practice for white women to focus on anti-racism work. The REC is also offering an online Community Gathering and Healing Space for black parents and caregivers. As we learned from Erin Jones, our guest speaker at the January General Session, we have so much more in common and we must continue to make progress as a united front – with authenticity and appreciation for each other as human beings. We, as the REC and PTSA, are grateful for the way our whole school community has not just talked (though talking is important) but is also walking the difficult path toward racial justice.
The Hazel Wolf K-8 PTSA Board and Racial Equity Committee