This is an open letter from Shaker Heights High School Principal Eric Juli after discovering racist graffiti on the school walls.
May 31, 2020-A community message from Mr. Juli. Here is the link Mr. Juli references in the video. https://bit.ly/36N1ZQ7
Posted by Shaker Heights High School on Sunday, May 31, 2020
This morning, we learned that people graffitied exterior doors and the pillars at the high school. The graffiti included anti-police, anti-president sentiments, and called America, Amerikkka, spelling it with three K’s. This weekend, I watched videos of cities across our country burning. I saw the protest in Cleveland turn violent and ugly. I saw organizers pleading for peaceful demonstrations, and I saw anger exploding across Cleveland and many other cities. I saw the rapper Killer Mike, the son of a police officer, give a passionate and angry, and amazing talk calling for people to “plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize!” I watched Elizabeth Warren break down the systemic racism that exists in our country. Over the last week, I watched a white woman attempt to weaponize the police in Central Park, not far from where I used to live and teach. I watched the video of George Floyd, with a knee on his neck, pleading for his mother, and crying out “I can’t breathe.” And on Wednesday night, I received word that a second Cleveland student of mine was murdered since this pandemic began. Yesterday, and again while writing this message, my two White sons told me they were going out to play. And I thought about the luxury and the privilege I have in letting them go out without a single worry that something could happen to them.
I know about the talk that Black parents have to give their Black children, particularly their sons. I know it’s a talk that I will never have to give to my boys about keeping their hands on the wheel at 2 and 10, and what to do when (not if) they are pulled over by the police. I’ve stood between the police and their dogs and my students in the streets of Cleveland, doing everything in my power to ensure my students didn’t get hurt or killed. I’ve tackled young men to ensure they didn’t rush at overly-aggressive police officers. I’ve been pepper sprayed and tear gassed in the streets of Cleveland after school because kids were fighting and it was actually dangerous, and because Black young men simply wouldn’t disperse. I’ve also stood beside police officers in hospital rooms and at funerals as we cried together for the young men and women who died. I’ve worked with police officers who wouldn’t go home until a student was found. I’ve watched police officers deliver coats and food to families in need, I’ve watched them keep the heat on at families’ homes in the dead of winter, and I’ve also watched them care as much for children as I have. I’ve watched with my own eyes many truths unfold over my long career.
After more than twenty years in inner city communities, most recently in Cleveland, this year, I came to Shaker. And I have immersed myself in our school for this entire year. I have had the joy of watching our teachers’ passion and strengths as educators. I got to see our students in action, and you are all simply amazing. But the problems that exist in our country, and that are easy to see in inner city Cleveland exist at our school, too. We have Black classes and White classes. We have lots of struggling students in far too many segregated classrooms. And I’ve been told it has to be this way-because of AP, and IB, and parents, and student needs, and because we are all things to all people, and because the schedule has to be, and because of band, and because of singleton courses and zero period, and because of the schedule and because…
Shaker Heights High School is not yet an anti-racist school. And defining our school as clearly and explicitly anti-racist does not start with any of you. It starts with me. What I should have done when Breonna Taylor was killed was put a letter and video out to the Shaker Heights High School community. When Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, I should have talked about that too, and used my Instagram account to share my outrage and anger with our school community. And when George Floyd was murdered, I should have ensured that we had a school-wide forum to discuss the impact of this killing on you as a whole, on you individually, on our teachers, our parents, and our students. But, I didn’t. And then on Thursday morning, my phone blew up with the news that a 20 year old student of mine had been killed overnight. Less than a year ago, that student, all 6’2” of him, had cried in my arms, because his friends were all getting killed, and he desperately wanted out of the life he had. He was so scared to die, but he couldn’t find the path out, despite his unbelievable desire to do so. And while I wanted to share that information, I didn’t.
I don’t yet know who graffitied our school. But I expect to find out. We have excellent cameras at our building, and our investigation is ongoing. And while I’m sad this happened, I get it. I’ve spent most of my professional career surrounded by feelings of hopelessness and rage in school, and it’s enough already. People of all ages don’t know where to put everything they are feeling. I was appalled on Saturday by the NFL and their statement about rioting and protesting. They made sure a player who kneeled peacefully could never play again, and then had the audacity to talk about how sad it is that our country is exploding. If you can’t kneel peacefully, and you can’t protest, what is left?
I need to be clearer and louder in our community about what I believe our school is for. The purpose of our school isn’t simply to develop college and career ready students. I believe in my heart that developing citizens, with a clear and purposeful focus on social justice, is part of who we can and must be. But I need to say that and I need to say it loudly and publicly. I also need to acknowledge individually and with purpose that not everyone is okay in this difficult time. And our school, whether it’s during a pandemic or not, needs to be a place where everyone can come to feel safe and be heard virtually, in person, or in our classrooms.
I have learned so many relevant lessons from my time in impoverished urban communities. It’s important for me to share that knowledge with our community. It’s equally important for us all to find ways to do more. If I had spent the year being publicly and explicitly anti-racist, then maybe we wouldn’t have been graffitied last night. And I know that I can do better. I placed some self-imposed do’s and don’t as the first year principal of Shaker Heights High School, in speaking about politics and national events and other issues. I’m ending my self-imposed restricted list. Not only can I speak out in these moments, but I should and in fact, I must. I am in a position of authority, power and privilege in this community. And I need to leverage my power and privilege to stand up for racial justice.
I can and must be better for our students and our community. It’s easy for me to say let’s be anti-racist, and harder to figure out what that means on a Tuesday in October or Thursday in April in Geometry, English, Physics, Band, Choir, Jewelry Making, and in our cafeteria, especially in an upcoming year when we’re not even sure what school will include. Will we be together or virtual or in a hybrid model are still primary questions we need to answer. But I also need to have a vision to articulate to all of you what Shaker Heights High School as an anti-racist place of learning looks and feels like in our community. Our goal as a school must be to make our school safe for every single person who enters it-always. And in making it safe, we have to address anger, and sadness, and frustration and hate, and hurt and racism, and sexism, and privilege and all the rest, every single day without ever stopping.
I don’t believe it is coincidental that issues of race and equity are occurring during a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting the African American community. Violence and protests, and frustration and anger after months of being under a stay-at-home order, just show how clearly on the edge our nation is. We have so many questions that need to be answered nationally, locally, and at our school. How are we addressing systemic racism in our country, in our community, and in our school? How will we focus on equity in our statements and actions in everything we do at our school? And we have less important, but equally concerning questions of when am I having English and Art next school year and are they in person or on my chromebook?
I’m ready to get to work first on the topics within my direct control, and then on the topics we all have to address together. I’m ready to get to work on figuring out what anti-racist actions looks and feels like daily at our school virtually, in-person, in our curriculum choices, and in our schedule. I’m ready to get back to the work of making our school safe for every teacher, staff member, student and parent who is in our community. I hope you are ready to join me.
There’s a high school in Philadelphia that published a list of Anti-Racist Resources for White People. Check it out-I sure will. The pieces I haven’t yet read, will be some of my learning this summer. I’ve also shared this link with the entire Shaker Heights High School staffulty. The link is in the message below whether you are on Facebook or Instagram, and it’s in the email if that’s how you’re receiving this message. I’m available if you want to reach out to me this summer. And, I’m ready to get to work. Be safe, stay healthy, and know that I am here to listen and support in any way I can.
Eric Juli, Principal