Reflections on a Dream Deferred

Reflections on a Dream Deferred
A message from founding Executive Director and President James Woody and Head of School-Elect Michael Molina about the moment at hand.

Dear Michael,

My father loved cars. Born in 1920, on a small family farm in Hanover County, VA, he was one of eleven siblings. A car represented freedom for him—the ability to pursue a life away from grueling agricultural labor and the expectations of others. I was born in the newly desegregated nation’s capital in 1954, and I inherited my father’s passion. Being a teenager behind the wheel of a car gave me the untethered ability to explore a larger world and fostered my sense of independence. True to form, my son was either genetically or experientially programmed to love cars, too. His taste in vehicles tends toward the exotic. He’s enamored with engineering and design. Horsepower and torque are two of his favorite subjects.

A symbol of our shared joy is sadly also emblematic of our shared pain. When I was nine or ten, I vividly remember our family being pulled over by a North Carolina State Trooper as we approached my mother’s hometown of Laurinburg. The sting of witnessing my father being called “boy” by the uniformed officer who demanded that he exit the vehicle for no apparent reason, remains etched in my psyche. Thirty years later, I again felt fear and outrage when my son, Erin, was approached and held at gunpoint by a local police officer because he and his friend allegedly “fit the description” of two suspects who had been seen “stealing tires” in our neighborhood—despite the fact that these young men were wearing white dinner jackets as they disembarked from their vehicle after returning home from their senior prom. Since that initial encounter, I’ve lost track of the number of times Erin has been stopped by the police—his primary offense being that his car didn’t match the officer’s perception of what he should be able to afford. After each incident, I’ve given thanks that, by the grace of God, the encounter didn’t end in tragedy, because I know that many families have not been so fortunate.

James R. Woody
Executive Director & President

Dear James,

In 5th grade, I wanted to be a Cub Scout more than anything in the world. An older friend, Brian, had made it to BoysEagle Scouts and all of us younger guys were in awe of the skills he knew, memorialized in cool patches that popped with bright colors against that crisp, tan uniform. To be like Brian, I had to be among the first Black Cub Scouts in the particular troop affiliated with my elementary school during America’s nation-wide experiment in integration in the early 1980s. Through mandatory busing, Jean Gordon Elementary was 40% Black, 40% White, and 20% Asian, Latino, and immigrant while being located in the historically White Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans. After completing Cub Scouts, my friends and I joined the Lakeview Boy Scout troop and were quickly heckled by boys who called us the “n-word” to make sure we knew we were unwelcome. One of those boys was the Scoutmaster’s son. Having had enough of the disrespect, I got into a physical altercation with him one day after our scout meeting. The Scoutmaster broke up the fight by grabbing me, putting his hands around my neck, and squeezing just enough to scare me. I’ll never forget his words or him gritting his teeth as he said, “I could break your little n***** neck and get away with it.” The Scoutmaster was an officer of the New Orleans Police Department. I was eleven years old—the same age that my son, Miles, is now.
I had this terrifying experience in spite of the fact that I am a part of the first generation of my family to have been born with full citizenship rights in America. After my family struggled against five generations of post-slavery segregation in New Orleans, our elders saw my siblings, cousins, and my greater opportunities as proof that the struggle was worth it. Yet our parents made sure we never forgot what they went through. My mother told me of how she had to fight White boys to protect her younger siblings and get them home safely from school when her block was integrated in the early 1950s. My father told me of how, at nine years old, he witnessed his mother being insulted and physically removed from a “Whites Only” cafe because she dared to ask if he could use the bathroom in an emergency. My parents, both servants of God and life-long educators, forgave but never forgot. They instilled in us the desire to love all people as Jesus instructed, to serve those in need as Jesus modeled, and to stand up for what is right as justice requires.

Michael Otieno Molina
Head of School-Elect

Dear Bishop Walker School family,

As founding Executive Director and Head of School-Elect, we grieve the senseless and tragic deaths of George Floyd and the many other Black men and women whose lives have been demeaned, devalued and destroyed while in police custody. It is equal parts enraging and demoralizing that the deep roots of systemic racism in our nation – roots that run back to 1619 and the first Africans enslaved in America – are still manifesting themselves in the form of violence against Black people. Yet, like our ancestors who were resilient and resistant in the face of generations of oppression, we will grieve, express our indignation, and steel ourselves for the work ahead. Thank God it is not work that we will have to do alone. We are encouraged that a large and diverse swath of the American public has awakened to the realization that, all-too-often, justice is not blind, but rather is administered through a lens that is marred by racism.

The Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys was founded on the premise that the lives of Black boys are inherently valuable and that their voices, hopes and dreams matter. We celebrate our students as young royalty, created in the image of almighty God.

The inequities in our society that have been laid bare by the global pandemic and the social upheaval that has played itself out in real-time for all of us to see, conspire against our students’ future prospects and threaten their very lives. The harsh glare of the spotlight on what many have known, seen, or experienced for generations presents a precious opportunity for people of goodwill to stand together in affirmation of the ideals upon which the American experiment was founded. History will judge us by what we do with this moment.

Our students—and children like them everywhere—must have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and passions without fear for their safety or the need to overcome systemic barriers that have been erected and maintained specifically to impede their progress. It is their inalienable right that must be embraced by the institutions and leaders that facilitate the functioning of our civil society. Democracy obligates us to hold them accountable for meeting this sacred standard. Justice demands nothing less.

Here are three of the many ways that we will commit to continue ensuring justice for our boys and families:

Excellence--We pledge to invest fully in our student’s academic and personal excellence, in the professional and personal development of the teachers who will guide them to excellence, and in the community partnerships that will help us ensure their sustained excellence when they go on from the loving arms of the Bishop Walker School community.

Education--We pledge to engage our students in a curriculum and school culture that informs and prepares them to identify and tackle real-world social, economic, and racial inequities in an age-appropriate fashion.

Engagement--We pledge to engage with the community surrounding Bishop Walker School and with the police officers who serve this community in the belief that we all must work for peace and justice, and with the goal of building trust and positive relationships.

As we do this work, we must also tend to the hearts and minds of our young scholars and their families. We have and will continue to offer space and resources for our community to come together and heal during chapel, special virtual gatherings dedicated to processing together, and throughout our RESTORE Summer Session. Our RESTORE summer session will focus on restoring academic skills in the face of the potential Covid-19 pandemic academic slide, restoring community after distance learning, and restoring vision for our school as we pursue accreditation during the 2020-21 school year. Together, this work is part of the vital mission of the Bishop Walker School, a mission that is essential to securing racial justice in America.

As Dr. Martin Luther King once preached, “The moral arc of the universe is long, and it bends towards justice.” The truth is that it doesn’t bend on its own. We must choose to bend America towards justice. We pray that America will choose to create a society where Black and Brown boys and girls are free to pursue their unique dreams, and surrounded by sufficient love and grace, grow up to be men and women whose lives are affirmed for the value that is inherent in all of us.