In his speech in 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Racism is still deeply rooted all over America.” Fifty-four years after King said these words, students throughout the United States still encounter racial stereotypes in their daily lives.
Racism is alive in Nebraska. This was once again displayed at a recent high school girls basketball game. It continues to appear over and over through the names of high school mascots and in the language of our students in the heat of competition. Does this sound repetitive? It is. We cannot stand idly by and allow racist language and symbolism to continue. Respect and dignity of each other is a must.
It is seldom that administrators and school officials are at fault for these incidents. There are investigations and consequences for racist behaviors. But the challenge is much deeper than a proper response to each incident. It is about lack of character and the willingness to accept the behavior. We must dedicate ourselves to addressing the root causes of racism in our society.
For our students of color, conversations about racial inequality do not routinely happen unless there is prominent news coverage of an event. Why is that? Discussing racial inequality can be difficult. But the conversations are critical. We all must do a better job of accepting the challenge and have these conversations.
It is imperative to the Nebraska State Board of Education to ensure that every student feels safe and welcome on a bus, walking to school, in the classroom, in the hallway, on the court or on the stage.
It is the goal of the Nebraska State Board of Education to meet racism and racial injustice with firm and fair responses. Each and every Nebraska student must receive equitable treatment, equitable opportunities and equitable resources no matter their gender, gender preference, their zip code or the color of their skin.
It is of greatest importance that every educator receive training on understanding their own implicit biases and the biases of others with the methods needed to prevent racist decisions and strategies to avoid harmful racist stereotypes. Educators must encourage their students to make informed and empowered decisions so that they may grow into productive citizens to meet the future challenges of our state and our nation.
It is the goal of the Nebraska State Board of Education to continue to work within the purview provided in rules and regulations assigned to us by the Nebraska Legislature. We will address systemic issues in policies and procedures and influence the change necessary to ensure a physically and emotionally safe learning environment that is inclusive for all students.
We are building a society every day through the education of Nebraska’s students. We must use the power of education to drive change and confront racism. We must recommit ourselves to addressing and understanding all manifestations of hate. Our future is dependent upon the effort all of us put forth today confronting racism and racial injustice.
In achieving this effort, it takes everyone working together with us: communities, local school boards, educators, parents and students. By having open and meaningful dialogue about the many forms of bias young people face and ways schools can lead efforts, we will begin to end discrimination. Let this work begin now.
Maureen Nickels is president, and Patsy Koch Johns is vice president, of the Nebraska State Board of Education. They submitted this essay on behalf of the entire board.
We must recommit ourselves to addressing and understanding all manifestations of hate. Our future is dependent upon the effort all of us put forth today confronting racism and racial injustice.