Clouet: Calls for unity in abolishing racism

School Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet.

School Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet.

Elias Rosario / Contributed photo

School Superintendent Chris Clouet read the following comments on Wednesday, Sept. 25, to an audience, many of whom had just left the NAACP-sponsored rally about blackface and social justice in front of Shelton Intermediate School. Clouet made the remarks after the public hearing portion of the Board of Education, held in the SIS auditorium immediately after the rally concluded.

I welcome everyone gathered here tonight. My comments tonight are for the community, meaning the Board of Education, those watching at home, and our friends from the NAACP.

Although we are in the first month of the school year, this has been a long journey to get to this place, this night.

I see eye-to-eye on the issues and ideas reflected in the mission of the NAACP. Truth be told, I have been a member for many years. Why? Because I believe we can do better, as a society and as a community.

I believe the high ideals that inspired the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag have been improved and more fully realized by the resilience, bravery and heart of African Americans because, as noted by James Baldwin and others, that’s the truth.

This post-rally gathering tonight is partly about an incident of preteens posting images on a social media platform of the racist trope of 19th century and early 20th century “blackface,” hardly understood by many Americans today, but still a painful reminder of injustice past, and the sad reality of insensitivity and bias we still confront today. When I say we, I mean black, white, Latino, new immigrants from Asia and from the Middle East and from Africa; I mean gay, straight, the entire spectrum of LGBTQIA members of the community, the affluent and those struggling to make ends meet. We are all diminished by racism and bias.

I recognize that while it is a fact that we are all diminished by racism, especially considering we are humans occupying a small, fragile planet in the vast universe, but African Americans have suffered more in this country, much more than others — perhaps an exception being Native American people (a subject for another day). Yet “blackface” continues - in Virginia, in Canada, in Guilford ... and here in Shelton. This cannot continue. This cannot continue.

I am the chief educator in Shelton. It’s my job to facilitate the education and preparation of all of our students, all of our students, for their future lives as adults. The future they will inherit, the future they create will be quite different from the past, and quite different from today. Preparing the young people for the future, that, my friends, is a duty we all share. Every parent, every grandparent, every teacher, every coach, every community leader.

As educators, our job is to teach. This painful moment is an opportunity for us to teach ... to teach why “black face” is wrong, why racism is wrong, and why discrimination in any and every form does not help us to build a stronger and just planet for all of us to share.

Racism, bias and stereotypes must be part of the past, a sad past, and it must be wiped out in the present and not carried on into the future.

As an educator, I take that heavy challenge seriously. Liberty and justice for all means something to me and must have meaning to my students. I know many of you gathered here tonight have a different point of view on what specific actions a school district should take in situations like these. I know you want what is best for your sons and daughters so they can grow into beautiful adults who will realize their dreams. I hear that.

I think an important dialog is underway, one that will result in a sharing of ideas about the role of education in the service of eliminating racism and bias in our communities, in our schools, and in our homes and hearts. I do not pretend I know all of the answers. I think finding the answers is about working together.

In closing, I paraphrase John Lewis, member of the Congress of the United States, brave civil rights leader, and friend of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Whether your ancestors came to these shores on the Mayflower ship, or the slave ship, or on a steamship that docked at Ellis Island - we are all in the same boat now.”

We cannot do this separately. We cannot do this in anger. If we are to turn the page to the next chapter of what it means to be human, and as artificial intelligence becomes prominent, we need each other more than ever before to define that core humanity. We must enter into dialog, and together plan and educate our youth at home, in school, at church, on the athletic playing fields and through social media that racism cannot be part of that future. Cannot. Must not.

Words matter, but so does action.

Our action steps include working with our Anti-Bias Committee and community leaders on the training of a high school-based diversity ambassadors group to work with our younger students. It includes having meetings with parents wanting to have support for their children grappling with these issues. It includes my working with superintendents from around the state on how to make certain our students of color and all students understand how they relate to our history and how they can be allies in building the future; and, it includes designing restorative justice practices when things do not go right.

We can do better. We will. We must.

God bless you all. I appreciate you all.