June 16, 2020
To the Henrico team,
Over the past week, I’ve engaged in several emotional and difficult conversations with employees, students, and community members. They’ve shared with me the trauma they are experiencing in light of the recent acts of racism, hate, and bigotry seen across our nation, as well about their personal struggles for racial equity within the Henrico County Public Schools organization. While I recognize that I can never fully understand the feelings of our African American community, I promise I will continue to bring empathy, as well as a commitment to listen and be introspective as our organization continues this critical dialogue.
A point that has resonated with me during these conversations is the overwhelming sentiment that Black culture is neither seen nor valued. As I reflect on this sentiment, I’m reminded that too often accounts of history have failed to elevate the voices, narratives, and events that impact Black America. This Friday marks Juneteenth, the 155th celebration and commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, held annually across the nation on June 19. Let us not miss this opportunity as an organization and as individuals to recognize and reflect on this deeply meaningful tradition of celebration.
Because June 19 falls on a Friday this year, it is not a workday under the HCPS summer schedule. As a result, the School Board and I would like to observe Juneteenth by closing all HCPS schools and offices on Monday, June 22.
For those who don’t traditionally celebrate Juneteenth, I ask that you please use the time off to reflect on how we, individually and collectively, can have a greater appreciation for the experience of Black Americans and others for whom race and culture have been underrepresented and/or marginalized in our nation’s history. I ask that each member of the Henrico team please consider using this time to deepen your understanding of what we can do better to achieve racial justice as educators, school administrators, and citizens.
This is only the beginning of the important and difficult work we must embark on together as we ensure a safe, inclusive, culturally responsive learning and work environment for every HCPS student and employee. This requires an enduring organizational promise to be responsive in our actions, as well as an openness to change.
Let’s look within ourselves, perhaps sit with some discomfort and reflect on what each of us can do differently. How can you do this? I might suggest starting with one or more of the following resources:
- “Why Celebrating Juneteenth Is More Important Now than Ever,” an interview with Karlos Hill, professor of African and African-American studies at the University of Oklahoma.
- Anthony Greene, College of Charleston African-American studies professor, explains the history of Juneteenth.
- “How to Begin Talking About Race in the Workplace,” by Stephanie Creary, Wharton School of Business.
- “Confronting Racism in the Workplace: A Reading List,” Harvard Business Review
I challenge the entire Henrico team to look within ourselves and use this opportunity to not only recognize Juneteenth and to share our collective voice that Black Lives Matter, but to do our part and take responsibility for eliminating systems of racial inequity.
Amy E. Cashwell, Ed.D.