Dear Principal Kaul and Clarkston Community Schools,
We are a group of current Clarkston High School students, alumni, parents of students, and other members of the Clarkston community writing to you with a humble request to insert additional Black perspectives into the English, History, and Government curricula at Clarkston High School for the 2020-21 academic year and beyond.
The past weeks of protest in the United States against the systemic oppression, injustice, and discrimination against the Black community have been eye-opening, action-inspiring, and long overdue. These protests have cast a light on shameful disparities in our country such as the fact that Black citizens are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. We know there are unhelpful flickers of “what can I do?” afflicting millions across the country, and we are firm believers that everyone has a pedestal and the ability to actively effect change.
As students at Clarkston, most of us enjoyed a wealth of advantages and privileges: a safe school and town, a top-notch public education, and a supportive administration and staff. However, one prominent omission from our CHS experience was a set of diverse perspectives from a racially representative set of peers. Clarkston High School’s Black population is only 2%, compared to the Michigan state average of 18% (Public School Review 2020).
This is not an explicit criticism of Clarkston High School but rather a statistic meant to highlight a stark reality. Most CHS students have minimal interaction with Black Americans during their four years there. From our first-hand experience, it is common to befriend zero Black (or other racial minority) classmates until leaving for college or professional life.
The education system is a critical venue for imparting lasting change. By actively incorporating Black perspectives and history, Clarkston can increase awareness, acknowledgment, and understanding of our country’s long, guilty history of systemic injustice and racism.
The first, and thus most important, step in this process is awareness. Awareness of our country’s history, especially the uncomfortable truths that are frequently omitted from history curricula.
Awareness of the 1921 massacre of 300 Black people in Tulsa’s Black Wall Street
Awareness of the 1985 Philadelphia bombing by the city government that killed 11 people and destroyed 65 homes in the predominantly Black Cobbs Creek neighborhood
Twenty Black congressmen and two Black senators were elected during Reconstruction, zero remained in office by the close of 1901. The next Black congressman was in 1929, in Chicago, and Black legislators would not reach federal office in the south again until 1972.
And closer to home.
Awareness of the historical redlining that has segregated the Detroit metro area and directly led to the lack of generational wealth opportunities for Black families
Awareness of the continued segregation of Detroit and the surrounding suburbs, including the rise of the KKK in neighboring Howell, Mich.
Awareness of the 1943 and 1967 Detroit uprising as the result of White Flight and an almost all-white police force
As such, we ask you to challenge the English, History, and Government departments to actively incorporate additional perspectives, specifically Black perspectives, into their curricula for the upcoming 2020-21 school year.
Education is not and never has been strictly about facts and figures, memorizing trivia for a test. It is a holistic deepening of awareness, knowledge, and understanding. We are confident that the Clarkston faculty and administration possess the gumption and fortitude to embrace these principles. We would add that we are aware a diverse curriculum is not enough to impact the systemic racism within the educational system or Clarkston Community Schools. Simply adding the voices of Black authors, etc, will do little to change the Clarkston community and the world as a whole until our community takes an honest look at Clarkston’s history of racism and discrimination.
Insertions to the curricula could include long-form articles, documentaries, guest speakers, and more. There’s a long summer ahead of us with time to research, adjust, and plan for this change.
With this in mind, we suggest the following for consideration, as both fiction and non-fiction open windows into places and perspectives that open a reader’s mind.
19th century history: Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 by Eric
20th century history: The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
20th century history: If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance, edited by Angela Y. Davis
20th century history: The Assassination of Fred Hampton by Jeffrey Haas
20th century history: A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riots of 1919 by Claire Hartfield
20th century memoir: Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Criminal Justice: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Criminal Justice: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
21st century memoir: All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Beloved by Toni Morrison
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Time: The Kalief Browder Story
I Am Not Your Negro
Resources for teachers (links)
Anti-Racist Lesson Plans
21 Free Resources for Teaching Social Justice in the Classroom
(W)Rap On Race, a podcast out of the Society for Cultural Anthropology
Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality (Michigan-based, anti systemic racism training)
We are proud to be Clarkston High School graduates, but we know it would be wrong for future CHS graduates to leave Clarkston with no greater understanding of systemic racial injustice in the U.S. than our own understanding when we graduated. We challenge all who read and sign this letter to take further action against white supremacy and injustice.
Students of Clarkston High School Classes 1974-2023