Below is a transcript of the above speech that KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth gave to 3,000 attendees at KIPP School Summit in Atlanta, GA on July 25, 2016.
“I’m so glad we’re in Atlanta…This city, where Dr. King was born, is a so central in the story of civil rights in America. And we’re in a moment, Dave [Levin] spoke to this directly. Everyone in this room, I know, has been feeling this. Some of us, a lot of our schools in the South and Southwest are already back with professional development. Teachers are coming back, grappling with this moment. At the Summer Institute we had 120 leaders working together, grappling with this moment. KIPP Executive Directors have been gathering together to think about what we’re doing.
I want to acknowledge this upfront with you today from me personally: one of the toughest things of the past few weeks has been the sense that there has got to be something to do. A specific action, something we can do right now to address this. And there have been times when I feel like I’m sitting on my hands.
So I want to thank people in this room, dozens of you, who over these last two weeks have been emailing, calling, some actually coming by to sit personally to actually share that there are things we can do. That there are steps we can take and steps you all are taking. So I want to thank you….in a moment when we’re all wondering if there is something to do, so many people in this room are already bringing clarity to the fact that there is.
And there are three things I took away from all these conversations that in its simplest form struck me:
We need to spend more time listening and learning. Boy has that become clear. Understanding each other, where we come from, our histories, history, and the context of today.
We need to commit to discussion. Not once. Not just in a reaction to an event. But as part of the way we work. So that this topic of equity, of equality, of racial justice is part of who we are every day, every week, every month.
And then we do need to commit. And I took away clearly from so many of these conversations that what we can’t fear, what we must not fear, is a lack of clarity around a perfect plan. 100% clarity on what we’re committing to, every step of the plan. We can’t wait for that.
Now, no one person has all the ideas for what we should commit to. I certainly don’t. But there are 5 things that I know I’ve taken away from conversations I just want to share with you tonight. Just to make sure we’re declaring at this place in time that there are things we must do, we can do, individually and collectively.
We can commit to making sure our schools, and so many of you are working so hard on this every single day, are taking into account deeply the social and emotional needs of our kids. We have to do that. Right? We got to do that.
We need to make sure our schools are absolutely imbued with culturally responsive pedagogy and content. People are building social justice curriculum. All of that, we need to commit to. Many of you are already doing that. We need to deepen that commitment.
We need to commit to diversity on our staffs and leadership and boards.
We need to commit to show up on issues of social justice, of equity, and of equality. And I’m going to talk about that in a second more.
And lastly, Dave said this plainly, we need to commit to grow. We need to absolutely commit to open more schools, reach more kids, and work with more families to change this world. Nothing about this moment should lead us to hesitate in our commitment to continue to build on what we’ve started.
Now, I mentioned that I think one of the things we need to do is show up. And I heard that from so many people. And I want to talk about a couple of things I heard specifically about what it means to show up. People were very clear, so many of you, that we need to show up on issues of social justice, on issues of race, on issues of inequality and lack of equity. We need to be there. And at the same time, we need to also understand that showing up can mean different things for different people. And I heard that loud and clear.
The thing that struck me most is people sharing stories of marching and marches. And understanding that there are some who choose to lead marches and there are some who choose to join. In the history of marching, there are some who can’t march, some aren’t physically able. And they are making food to make sure that when marchers come back, they are fed. There are some who are providing shelter. There are some who are writing letters of support. There are some who are writing speeches. All of them are showing up. And so we have no option but to show up. And we also need to take into account that there are so many ways for each of us to do so.
Now many of you have ideas that you don’t feel have been heard or that you’d like to share. So I just wanted to open up tonight to all of you that if you have ideas, let’s hear them. Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal commitments, individual commitments you want to make, commitments on your teams, commitments in your schools, commitments in your regions, commitments we should be making nationally. Let’s gather them all. 3,000 people here this week. No better place to start.
On showing up specifically, tonight we want to show up for Black Lives Matter. And it is so important in this city.
Let me just start with something most of you know but let me be clear about it. 60% of our KIPPsters are African American and nearly a third of our staff are African American. And when we think about what is going on, and if you’ve taken the time to dig into it, there is so much that resonates.
Black Lives Matter believes in diversity. We believe in diversity at KIPP.
Black Lives Matter believes in restorative justice. We at KIPP believe in restorative justice.
Black Lives Matter believes in the power and importance of identity. Of personal identity and the celebration of it. We believe in the power and importance of identity.
So I am so excited to be with you all tonight and to go outside and light a candle in support of Black Lives Matter. I also want to be clear because there is so much discussion about this out there that Black Lives Matter is absolutely opposed to violence of any kind. Absolutely opposed. We can do so much to make sure no one gets away with making the case that it does.
Black Lives Matter is not anti-cop. It is not anti-police. So many members of Black Lives Matter have friends and family who are members of law enforcement. So many KIPPsters have friends and family who are members of law enforcement. So many. But Black Lives Matter is clear that unjustified use of force without accountability is wrong. And we can accept that as well.
Two more things I want to say on this:
Standing with Black Lives Matter today does not limit our ability to stand with others tomorrow. It does not in any way. Showing up today for Black Lives Matter can liberate us to show up for whomever we chose in the days and weeks head. And we will.
Now, in this last few weeks, as I’ve heard from so many of you, and I know that it has raised huge moments of doubt. Everyone is going to have moments of doubt when we wonder whether we are powerful as educators, whether what we’re doing actually is going to change this world. And as a team and a family, the big message here, is that when you have doubts, because you do have them, we all have them, make sure to reach out to your Team and Family to talk about it. When one person is in those moments of anxiety, we can lift them up.
I wish me saying ‘let’s acknowledge that there are moments of doubt but we need to be there for each other would be enough. ‘ But in case you ever doubt whether what you’re doing is going to leave this world any better than when you found it, and you have those moments, just think back to the last couple weeks to our alums, who when given the call to share their voice and elevate them rose across the country:
These are the voices of three of thousands of alumni. Three. If you ever wonder the power of what you’re doing today, this is what you’re making possible. There are no more powerful people in the world than the 3,000 teachers, and school leaders, and families, and KIPPsters who are gathered here today. These are three voices of thousands who are growing by the minute.
I want to leave you not just with an ask that we reveal our doubts when they come, reach out to others for support, and reaffirm our commitment, but actually be confident going forward Not confident based on hope and a dream and a prayer, although these are all good things. But confident based on our history. Confidence based on what we have done.
Two decades ago, Mike and Dave started with 47 KIPPsters. And when they discovered that fifth grade wasn’t enough, they created middle schools. And when we discovered middle schools weren’t enough, we created elementary schools and now high schools. Today we come to Atlanta, 200 schools strong, 80,000 KIPPsters in our classrooms this summer, 10,000 KIPPster alums. Every step of the way, we’ve grown, we’ve learned. When we learned to was not through college, we formed college partnerships. We now have 75 college partners across the country. Twenty plus college presidents spent the day with us to today to figure out how do we, together, build a better tomorrow. When we discovered that college might not be the perfect path for every child, we now have regions stepping back and saying, how do we build partnerships for workforce. We step back. We figure it out. Our track record, our continued commitment to learn, to grow, to get better, is the basis for our optimism and our confidence. We have every reason to believe we can leave this world better than we found it.
One year ago, I was with many of you in Los Angeles and I closed with a quote. And about a week ago when I was preparing my thoughts for today, I came upon it, and I said: one year later, this is still the very best way to leave you.
Donnell Bailey, President of his class at Franklin & Marshall, heading off for his senior year, Donnell is not going to let us down, he’s going to make it happen. All of you are going to make it happen. We’re going to build a better tomorrow. We’re going to do it. We’re better together.
Let’s have a fantastic night, a fantastic week, a fantastic year. Onward we go. Thank you very much.”