Dear Educators: Our Voices Can Inaugurate Hope with The Courage of Our Truth

Bridge Fellow Dr. César A. Cruz shared his thoughts on, Inauguration Day 2017.

Let no one tell you otherwise, this is a love letter.

If this doesn’t appear to be objective, neutral, or color-blind, well that’s intentional.

Historian Howard Zinn stated that the way u.s. history is presented in schools, means you can’t be neutral on a moving train. Now is the time when we need teachers to stand, as you have always stood, not as savior, but as truth teller.

Poet Audre Lorde proclaimed that our silence will not protect us and that poetry is indeed not a luxury. We must speak (out).

I make no apologies as I seek to honor educator Brittany Packnett’s voice when I echo her thoughts, “if you sugar coat the truth, it loses its nutritional value,” so I aim to catch no flies with this honey.

A man was elected u.s. president openly calling for the caging and deportation of millions of Mexicans, in the land where, two grandmothers ago, they called home.

Names like California, Arizona, Nevada, Nuevo México, Texas and Oregon don’t just come out of nowhere. The names sound a certain way, because they are where these so-called immigrants come from. It is not Mexican land, but Indigenous peoples land, including the Mexica (Aztec) and other Nations with ties to Anahuac, to Turtle Island.

Those people are alive and well. They are at Standing Rock protecting what is sacred. See, we didn’t cross the border, the border is trying to cross and double cross us.

This spewed hate co-signs middle school kids who proudly chant “build that wall,” and then sit next to their 6th grade Raza classmates who must constantly watch their back in school. Some of these Raza kids carry the real fear of going home wondering if their parents have been picked up, and put in modern day concentration camps. This is the national rhetoric that is permeating our air before we build the new Manzanar(s).

This voice box president-elect treats Muslims as scapegoats, making it ok to strip a young woman’s hijab, laugh at her, and blame a people’s faith for a complicated history that has deep roots of american terrorism.

This “leader” openly opposes workers uniting and standing up for basic rights, but will give trillions of dollars, as corporate welfare and tax breaks, to the rich. We’ve been led to believe that the enemy wears a hijab, but this enemy dwells in gold-plated buildings, where all that glitters is not gold.

This president depicts women as pieces of bleeding meat who should be punished for having the nerve to make personal choices with their own body.

However, the enemy is not just the president-elect, see the soil is very much ready for him to be president.

This hate didn’t come out of thin air.

History books still teach that Lincoln (not Harriet Tubman), freed the slaves, and that Columbus discovered america, a place where people — the Iroquois Confederacy (not the Greeks) had already built democracy.

So-called news networks peddle fear and many, who don’t have you as their teacher, have bought it. Educator James Loewen has a name for this: “The lies my teacher told me.”

Teachers are not mass producing their own textbooks, but they can counter the myth making in those pages. They can counter that it with the truth.

In you exists the power of truth.

If we must return to a so-called white past, let’s only go to Walt Whitman. See, it appears that some of today’s white people also need positive heroes. They don’t need the KKK, they need to understand how Margaret Mead organized. They need to know how Zinn stood up and reclaimed the people’s history. And the field of Ethnic Studies affirms all peoples’ histories.

“Teaching” through a dated white u.s. lens even robs white people of their genuine freedom fighters. The Irish are not drunkards or leprechauns, that’s mythological whiteness studies homogenizing the struggle of the people.

Walt Whitman clearly instructs us on what to do:

To the States,
resist much, obey little!
[See] once fully enslaved;
no nation, state, city of this earth,
ever afterward resumes its liberty.

I agree, in part: resist much and obey little. But enslaved people can and will regain their liberty — and it must start with removing the chains of mental slavery, and for that, your role is crucial.

It was Margaret Mead who reminds us to “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people, can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

But, where are our leaders?

Marian Wright Edelman would say to us, “a lot of people are waiting for MLK or Gandhi to come back — but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.”

Remember, Bob Marley reminded us to “have no fear for atomic energy, for none of them can stop the time.”

Will we be consumed merely by fear? What will we remember and highlight from this period in our lives? Will we remember and believe that love indeed trumps hate? Will we remember the Navajo, the Lakota, the Sioux Standing Rock Nation? Will we remember images of the national guard, siccing dogs at the people, but how they remained firm even when tear-gassed?

What will we (you) teach?

Will we teach them that when the people at Standing Rock were stronger than the national guard’s tanks, and that their faith brought forth an unlikely protector in the buffalo nation? Will we need to show the future proof so that they can see, with their own eyes, that the buffalo literally came to stand with the people and protect the water in North Dakota?

Will we teach them how the veterans of u.s. wars apologized to the Indigenous people for war crimes? (Something the u.s. government has yet to do.)

Will we teach them about 4 foot 9, half-paralyzed, Harriet Tubman, who faced greater odds than we do today? And did she not find a way out of no way? Will we? Harriet stood up, with shot gun and faith, following stars, and a peoples’ movement called the underground railroad, where black lives had to matter so they could fight for and win their own freedom — one abolitionist at a time.

Where do you stand?

See, many people only quote part of what Frederick Douglass said. They remember, “that without struggle there is no progress…” but he also said that “those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing the ground.”

Do you deprecate agitation? Do you see the bridge our ancestors have paved with their backs?

Some worry because the president-elect and his supporters are trying to bury us, but they may not know that we are seeds.

We are seeds.

My educators, my relatives, please plant, water, provide sun, nurture and blossom these seeds. Commit yourself to tending gardens, starting with the littlest ones — in kindergarten. All my respect, for answering the most sacred of calls, is for the teacher.

Our task is simple: “to comfort the disturbed, and to disturb the comfortable.”

Be guided by love and truth, and not by fear. You are the one we’ve been waiting for.


Dr. César Cruz, EdLD, is a Bridge Fellow with TNTP

Dr. Cruz delivering this message in honor of Dr. King at Oakland City Church, January 2017