A Call to Action for Eliminating Institutional Racism in the Parkrose School District


October 30, 2015


Welcome to the Oregon Leadership Network's monthly blog series. Topics relate to building the capacity of education leaders to sustain research-based equitable practices across Oregon’s P–20 education system. Learn more about the Oregon Leadership Network.

John Metta’s “I, Racist” sermon published on the Huffington Post came to me, as many articles do, from a member of our administrative team, Kathy Keim Robinson. She first saw the blog on Facebook but didn’t read it closely until she heard our Parkrose High School colleagues discuss it as a deep and heartfelt message focused on the broad issue of how to deal with institutional racism. With our Parkrose administrator retreat just days away, I suggested a deep dive into “I, Racist” as part of the agenda focusing on equity.

Our district has taken pains to move beyond a conversation of race and equity to action. Of course, that’s easier said than done. We have gone from the stage where we identified and talked about the problem to the more challenging task of embracing our mission to ensure that every child reads and thinks critically and graduates ready for college and career.

This is why we take John Metta’s message to heart. Metta’s words resonate because we have to think about our system and change the way we welcome all students and families into our school community. We have reformulated our practices to embrace our diversity and to make sure through our own personal and institutional actions that all the students we serve have the support they need to realize their potential.

This is why I don't like the story of the good Samaritan. Everyone likes to think of themselves as the person who sees someone beaten and bloodied and helps him out.
That's too easy.

If I could re-write that story, I'd rewrite it from the perspective of Black America. What if the person wasn't beaten and bloody? What if it wasn't so obvious? What if they were just systematically challenged in a thousand small ways that actually made it easier for you to succeed in life?

Would you be so quick to help then, or would you, like most White people, stay silent and let it happen?

Here's what I want to say to you: Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.

That's what I want to say, but really, I can't. I can't say that because I've spent my life not talking about race to White people. In a big way, it's my fault. Racism exists because I, as a Black person, don't challenge you to look at it. —John Metta in “I, Racist”

I don’t view Metta’s piece as an article. Rather, I view it as a call to action. Our administrative team dug deep into this piece. A lengthy written reflection prepared us to have a deep, powerful discussion. In fact, the article had such a profound effect on our administrative team that many chose to replicate our process in their teacher in-service meetings. Our equity and data committee also put this on their meeting agenda, and although there were plenty of other things to do at the beginning of the school year, our discussion of this piece took the whole meeting.

While our discussion covered a lot of ground, we unanimously appreciated Metta’s call to action. This piece felt different to us―visceral in the sense that we have rarely heard words that so clearly define what institutional racism feels like, let alone what it looks and sounds like. Kathy Keim Robinson, the colleague who introduced me to Metta’s post, shared her conclusion, saying that, “If we don’t feel the emotion, recognize where our staff, families, and students come from, we will be stuck talking past each other, instead of joining, listening, and understanding one another.” I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why in Parkrose we are digging deep to check our systems for instructional racism: to look for barriers and knock them down.

To all my colleagues in OLN, I hope you join us in reading this piece and heed John Metta’s call to action. Together, we must be vigilant for systematic inequalities and work to ensure equitable outcomes for all students.