Take a Knee 7

The "Take a Knee" protest, seeking police reform and justice for George Floyd, was held Saturday, May 30, 2020, outside the Ogden City Municipal Building in downtown Ogden.

By Brad Mortensen, Darin Brush, Jim Taggart, Reid Newey, Jeff Stephens, Rich Nye and Doug Jacobs

As educational leaders in our community, we are deeply saddened by the ongoing evidence of systemic racism in our country, illustrated by the senseless killing of George Floyd. On this day when we commemorate Juneteenth and the end of slavery in the United States, we add our voices to the millions across our community and nation to express our belief that Black Lives Matter.

We do this acknowledging our status as seven white men who are also educators. We recognize and value the important role education can play in transforming and improving lives. We also recognize the unique aspect education can play in addressing racism. In recent years, each of us has seen instances on our school campuses where the words and actions of some have inflicted humiliation, hurt and pain on others. This is not right, and it’s not who we are as a Northern Utah community. It doesn’t represent our values, and it must end.

We express our deep commitment to equity, justice and inclusion for all. We strongly believe that every student, particularly students of color, should have equal access to a safe and mutually respectful learning environment where each student is valued and honored. Creating a safe school environment requires the elimination of hurtful comments, racial prejudice, as well as personal malice and threats. Our schools must be free from prejudice, harassment and unconscious bias.

Please note that we did not use the term “tolerance.” That is by design — we can do much better than “tolerate” differences. Rather, we should celebrate one another’s differences and diversity. We celebrate diversity when we see the beautiful uniqueness that makes every person an important part of our schools and our community. Celebrating diversity not only acknowledges each individual as a respected and valued member of our community, but also it is a powerful way to celebrate our community as a whole. While celebrating our differences, we can incorporate learning with and from each other as a component of our educational exploration.

We recognize our primary role is to lead our respective institution or school district. However, together we envision the profound effect that a caring, mutually respectful environment can have throughout our entire community. So, where do we start? First, this is an important moment to listen empathically to one another. The American author and rabbi Chaim Potok, said, “We need to listen to one another if we are to make it through this age of apocalypse and avoid the chaos of the crowd.” While listening to each other can be difficult during times of unrest, those are the moments it is most important to do so. When we listen, we need to be open to the frustration people may share because we may learn realities today that they have lived with for a lifetime.

We must also unequivocally commit to ending any form of racism, prejudice and bias in our community. Today we are particularly sensitive to our Black community that has endured violence, harassment and discrimination for many years. We have a great deal of work to do to realize the aspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Ending the “starless midnight of racism” enables every person, particularly our friends of color, to see that we all belong and have valuable contributions to make to our community.

On this day of Juneteenth, let’s learn about the history of the celebration. This might prompt learning something new and having a better understanding of the frustrations our Black friends, neighbors and colleagues continue to experience. It is only by helping all individuals become their best that our community will become its best. We, therefore, call upon every parent, teacher and student, as well as all business, civic, educational and ecclesiastical leaders to join together in establishing a welcoming, respectful and caring climate where the “bright daybreak of peace” prevails and every member of our community feels valued. That’s who we are in Northern Utah!

Brad Mortensen is president of Weber State University; Darin Brush is president of Davis Technical College; Jim Taggart is president of Ogden-Weber Technical College; Reid Newey is superintendent of Davis School District; Jeff Stephens is superintendent of Weber School District; Rich Nye is superintendent of Ogden School District; and Doug Jacobs is superintendent of Morgan School District.

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