A Message from the Head Master on Black Lives Matter

This letter from the Head Master was sent to the Calvert community on June 1, 2020.

We are all carrying a sorrowful and tremendous burden, and I am compelled to reach out to our community to express my own outrage and profound sadness. In truth, I have been writing this letter for days, fluctuating between anger at recent events, and despair at the world we have created for our children.
In recent weeks, we have watched the all-too familiar and brutal narrative of the experience of Black men and women play out in this country – from the repugnant vigilantism of White men in Georgia who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery as he was out for a jog, to Breonna Taylor who was shot in her own home in Kentucky, and finally to Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered while being placed under arrest. If you think my choice of words here is strong, you are correct and wrong at once. It is impossible to find words strong enough to describe these recent events. They speak to everything this country and our own community at Calvert stands against.
I think back to my years as a graduate school student at Fordham University in the Bronx. As is often the case on urban campuses, housing was at a premium, leading Fordham to rent out the unused units in a nearby high-rise for a handful of its graduate students. The building was designated for lower-income households with a special emphasis on the elderly, and was home to people of different races, religions, and ages. The neighborhood itself was underserved in terms of access to quality grocery stores, quality public education, and a whole host of services to answer the needs of those who lived there. The neighborhood was also a community of people – a beautiful community of people – who looked out for one another, who cared for one another, who worked hard, who loved their families, and who, like everyone, simply wanted to make their way in the world in peace. I have found this in all the communities that I have been fortunate to be part of – people who simply wish to take care of their families, to do good if they can, and to live their lives.

Unfortunately, the events of this last week and these last months have once again reminded us that not everyone in our land has equal access to this way of life. Not everyone has equal treatment under the law, not everyone has equal access to a quality education, to healthcare, to freedom itself. These very basic ideas that serve as the foundation to our humanity in a modern civilization are too distant to too many. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It is a shameful and ongoing part of our country’s history.
I have been asked several times how we might address all of these things with our children. And it is in thinking of that question that I am reminded why I am so fortunate to work at a school, and in particular to work at a school such as Calvert. Because it is with the children that there lies the hope for a better tomorrow. Our job as parents, as educators, and as adults in our children’s lives is to ensure that they might learn to do better, to be better than we are. We need to make sure that they learn from the mistakes that have been made so that they can build a more perfect union and a more just world.

The death of Mr. Floyd, however, did not occur in a vacuum. It comes in the midst of a terrifying pandemic. It comes at a time when our boys and girls are far from their community of Calvert, a safe place where they can process all of this within their classroom communities, and with the guidance of their teachers. It comes at a time when our own need for connection to each other is great, yet that need is outweighed by our collective social responsibility to remain distanced.
There is no question that these are extraordinary times. As a result of all of this, our children are going to ask difficult questions – questions that we may not know how to answer. I don’t know how to explain to a child the evil that can live in the heart of man. I don’t know how to explain indifference to suffering, prejudice, and pain. I can give them the history behind all of it, but not the lack of humanity that guides that history. These are questions that have been rattling around in our collective consciousness for a very long time, and I would not presume to know the answers any more than any of you. The closest I have come to an answer myself is a quote from Dr. King that hangs in the Middle School, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” 

Maybe evil exists so that good can triumph. I don’t know.

And though I cannot explain the darkness, I can tell you what it is not. That darkness is not charity, it is not compassion, it is not empathy, it is not love. I know that the darkness is not community, and most of all I know that it is not, nor will it ever be, part of our Calvert community.

We can help our children manage their own worry, sadness, and anxiety at this time by first managing those feelings within ourselves. I would suggest in answering those questions aloud to your children, practice those answers quietly and carefully first to yourself. Know how much your children know, and try to limit their exposure to difficult truths based on their age. Be prepared to provide them with honest and authentic responses to their questions, but don’t pass on more than what’s important or appropriate for them to know. And please let us help you as you navigate these conversations. We are here. In the meantime, these guidelines for engaging in conversations about race with your child may be helpful.

For our part, we will continue to foster classroom environments and developmentally appropriate pedagogical opportunities that enrich our students’ minds and spirits. We will continue to use our student-led diversity programs and initiatives to focus the conversations for all of our students. We will also continue the good work of our Institute for Leadership & Purpose as it provides a platform for our students to actively contribute to positive change in the community of Baltimore. We will continue to foster their ability to be active participants in creating a more just and more peaceful world.

Be well,

Andrew Holmgren

Calvert School is a coed independent lower and middle school.