I was a junior at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina when Dr. Martin Luther King was killed on April 4, 1968. The president of the university closed the campus in an uproar.
I packed my things and got on a bus back to Hartford, my home.
I didn’t miss the irony. I was a student at Hartford Public High School in the 1960s and wanted to be a teacher. But I didn’t see any colored teachers in my high school. I was drawn to the comfort of attending a historically black college in the South — where they thrived, in large part because of the institutional racism that existed at many four-year colleges.
So there I sat on a bus, believing that I was escaping the violence of the South and returning to the safe city I had left.
When I returned home, I found Hartford ablaze and sealed off. I was shocked to see my community set on fire by the very people who lived there. Unfortunately, while the majority chose peaceful means to express their disapproval, others chose destruction.
Her anger and frustration were palpable. People were tired of waiting patiently for social, racial, and economic reform and equality.
dr King preached about inequality and the institutional racism that disproportionately disenfranchises people of color. It affects education, housing, healthcare, banks, the labor market and the criminal justice system.
It has upset a significant portion of Americans.
As we continue to battle this global pandemic known as COVID-19, we must also grapple with the resurgence of another pandemic – the disease known as racism.
Last week, demonstrations erupted across the country to protest the police brutality that led to the horrific death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white Minnesota police officer. With today’s camera phones and social media, people can witness injustice and cruelty firsthand. Calls to action can be triggered spontaneously with a simple post on Facebook or Twitter.
Peaceful protests across the country have been spoiled by rioters, looters and instigators.
For me it was déjà vu.
America has yet to meaningfully deal with the racism that has permeated its key institutions. Until our country reviews the laws and policies designed to protect and empower all citizens, we will continue to have these injustices and disparities along racial lines.
African Americans and Latinos make up about 28 percent of Connecticut residents, yet they make up 75 percent of the state’s prison inmates. Something is not correct.
Perspective on the week’s biggest stories from the Courant’s Opinion page
This affects me as a black man who is also Superintendent of Bloomfield Public Schools.
Bloomfield is a unique Connecticut suburb. The demographics of our school population—approximately 90% are African American and West Indian—reflect that of an urban school district. We are a competitive school system that strives for excellence in science, physical education and the arts, and we pride ourselves on the diversity of our community.
In recent years, the Bloomfield Public Schools system has offered learning opportunities focused on justice and race to build knowledge and skills for our students, staff and community. Recently, our district has conducted extensive professional development activities on implicit bias and culturally relevant teaching practices. We will increase our efforts to engage our school community in open conversations about race, stereotypes, expectations and fear.
Our children are watching. We know they are hurt and confused and are looking for advice.
An educated mind is the most powerful tool to combat ignorance and racism. Educators play an important role in ensuring our students are critical thinkers and knowledgeable about African American history. Our young people will eventually change the historical bias in these institutions. That’s a theme we’ll be emphasizing in Bloomfield. Education is indeed power.
dr King was right. Society and the institutions that run it must learn to judge people not by their skin color but by their character.
dr James Thompson Jr. is Superintendent of Bloomfield Public Schools.