A Letter to the Pleasantville Board of Education Demanding Change
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Emily Payamps, a Pleasantville High School Graduate of the Class of 2009. I, on behalf of many, am writing to you in light of the injustices against Black Americans that have been committed not only recently, but have been going on for far too long in this country. I would like to address this cruel reality that we are faced with – racism--specifically the brutality that our institutions and citizens have shown toward Black people.
Unfortunately, this is not new, but the inhumane murder of George Floyd has struck a chord within society and people have taken to the streets, signed petitions, made monetary donations as a call to call for action, and more. I am certain that I can speak for everyone when I say that this most recent killing of an unarmed African-American by police has not only been eye-opening, but terrifying.
Over the past few days, fellow PHS alumni have taken a stand on social media, posted articles and resources, and talked about the actions we’ve taken or plan to take, we’ve begun a conversation in this community. A common thread is a feeling of guilt for not having acted earlier, and embarrassment for not being aware of many things that are going on in our country. In countless conversations this week, the following phrase has been repeated, “… and I would consider that we were lucky to receive a great education,” expressing a naïve disbelief in our lack of awareness. Yet that great, privileged, Pleasantville education, has not been enough.
This tells me two things:
1.Our Pleasantville education equipped us with the tools we needed to further educate ourselves, express interest in global issues, and act on them with tact and diplomacy. Pleasantville staff and faculty played an essential role in instilling confidence in us to express, debate, and defend our beliefs and also listen to others.
2.The white privilege, that exists in our schools and our community was not addressed, race was barely (if ever) spoken about, and this terrible, yet crucial aspect of US history, was not effectively taught, fueling the ignorance and endemic racism that has characterized our country for too long.
As Pleasantville residents and US citizens, it is our duty to change the way American history is taught – from starting conversations about race from a young age -- to suggesting changes in our educational system so that racism can one day be eliminated. For all of these things and more to happen, an institutional shift is extremely necessary.
What steps can be taken right here in Pleasantville?
Celebrating Black History Month for a fraction of the year is not enough, staff, faculty, and students must be held accountable to learn about and discuss the (pillars) that our nation was built upon, including the good, the bad and the ugly immoral and inhumane acts of systemic racism and cruelty, and how those actions continue to divide our nation today. Workshops about race must not only be incorporated into the curriculum, but mandatory for all faculty and staff. Guest speakers and activists should be brought in to give students a realistic view of our country and provide them with concrete actions that they can take to help address and eradicate racism. Parents should be provided with the resources for talking about race to their kids, so that this conversation can start at an early age.
This is not a political issue; this is a humanitarian crisis that needs urgent action. We, as a community, must speak up for what is right and together, educate ourselves and hold each other accountable. We must reform the system.
Yes, we will make mistakes along the way, but we must follow what we were taught, as early as kindergarten, from Thomas H. Palmer’s Teaching Manual, published in 1840, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Pleasantville is a small dot on the world map, a quaint town northwest of New York City that defines community, a quality that truly makes our town unique. PHS Class of 2009 Alumni are dispersed throughout all corners of the country and the globe, however we’ve come together as a united front to demand change and action, to make our voices heard. The time is now for our community to speak up, and help ignite the necessary change that our country, and our world, sorely need right now.
We are a small town, but together, our community has a loud voice and the opportunity to make a longstanding impact on society.
Thank you for your time,
Emily Payamps Contact the author of the petition
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