After George Floyd, an African American man, died last week in Minneapolis after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer, protests and rage erupted throughout the U.S. On Monday, education leaders across California spoke out about systemic inequities and current crises facing young people. Here’s a summary:

“It has been difficult for me to make sense of how a man can beg and plead for his life and still have his life snuffed out. It has been hard for me, as a black man, who every day thinks about the impact of race. It has been difficult for me, as a parent raising African American children, to know what to say, how to answer their questions when they ask me, ‘Dad, why did this happen?’ And to know that I have to confront my own vulnerability: that when they ask me, ‘could this happen to them?’ that I might not be able to keep them safe. … We know that bias exists in every sector of society. Now is our time to speak, and to address racism and implicit bias in education.”

Tony Thurmond, California Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a statement on June 1.

“The black community is not responsible for what is happening in this country right now. We are. Our institutions are accountable. We have a unique responsibility to the black community in this country, and we’ve been paying lip service about that for generations. … We better start listening. We better start hearing people. We better own it, live up to our responsibility. We are our behaviors. Each of us has an obligation to do more, to do better.”

— Gov. Gavin Newsom in a statement on June 1.

“This tragedy must be … a wake-up call to unapologetically and with conviction address the systemic bias and institutional racism which exists in many parts of society.”

Austin Beutner, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified, in a statement on June 1.

“Last week’s death of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody must be a turning point in our approach to race and equity. … Enough is enough. We cannot continue as we have been. We must use this moment as a turning point to bring about real change. Our children’s future depends on the actions we take today.”

Debra Duardo, superintendent of Los Angeles County Office of Education, in a statement on June 1. 

“My hope rests with all of our children, and their capacity to move past the divisions, racism, bigotry and othering that have marked our country since long before its founding. I share their vision and belief in a just world where every person, of every race, belongs and is honored and celebrated.”

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, superintendent of Oakland Unified, in a statement on May 30.

“As leaders of the largest public research university in the United States, we feel that silence is complicity: We must put an end to these incidents now. No matter how difficult, we must individually and collectively reflect on the lives lost unnecessarily, and address head on the systemic problems and challenges we all face as a society. And we must do so — unified — with a sense of urgency and unwavering commitment to end these unnecessary race-based killings and violence.

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, and John Perez, chair of the UC Board of Regents, in a statement on May 31.

“We cannot allow this moment to define us as a society and as a nation. It is our responsibility to work to abolish racism on a personal, structural and institutional level beginning in our schools and colleges. It is our responsibility to have these conversations at the dinner table and in our places of worship. This is not a time for us to look away, but to confront for the sake of a fair, just and equitable future for all students.”

E. Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association, in a statement on May 30.

“We are not writing to deliver a stirring ‘feel-good’ rallying cry. It is not the time to feel good and, frankly, we don’t have the solutions to bring racism and bigotry to a permanent end — solutions that the people of this country so fully and rightfully deserve. … Instead, we will simply offer this immutable, absolute certainty: As our society and our nation are pulled apart by the powerful, centrifugal forces of hatred, intolerance, bigotry, ignorance, selfishness and greed, our California State University will continue to serve as vital and essential wellsprings of the centripetal forces that will hold us together and lead to critical discourse and analysis, to understanding, resolve, action and healing through the current and future crises.”

Timothy White, chancellor of California State University, in a statement on May 31.

“The events of this week cause me to believe even more strongly, if that’s possible, in building an inclusive environment that recognizes and respects people of all backgrounds and experiences. … Perhaps higher education can be that positive influence on lives beyond an education. Perhaps here we can create a way forward. Perhaps here we can breathe.”

Gary S. May, chancellor of UC Davis, in a statement on May 28.

“Schools have to be safe havens for young people and a place where they can make sense of these horrible acts. As educators, we have a responsibility to make sure we don’t repeat patterns of institutional racism, neglect and hatred. It falls on us more than ever to be thoughtful about every one of our actions, to create in our schools the humanity, love, care, decency and dignity we aspire to see in the wider society.”

Matthew Duffy, superintendent of West Contra Costa Unified, in a statement on June 1.

“For those of us who benefit from privilege, I encourage us to go beyond denouncing acts of racism and hate. We must examine our own bias and have honest, courageous conversations with one another. We can grow to recognize racism and bias the way people of color live with it, every day. In so doing, we will find the strength to take on the struggle of those who don’t share in the privileges conferred to us by a system that we must change.”

Sam Hawgood, chancellor of UC San Francisco, in a statement on May 31.

“Educators. This is a teachable moment. Don’t be afraid to teach about the meaning of justice and the murder of George Floyd by the police. Our students are watching.”

Pedro Noguera, who directs the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, in a tweet on June 1.

“We need to recognize and challenge power imbalances and inequities. And we must become even better at modeling this commitment as a university now as much as ever. There is much more to be done. And we all need to do it.”

Lynn Mahoney, president of San Francisco State University, in a statement on May 29.

“Rather than write a statement on behalf of the California Community Colleges, yet another statement about a senseless killing of a black person in America, I’d rather just tell you what’s on my mind. What I’d like to say first and foremost is to the black students, to the black faculty, the classified staff, the black administrators and to all the black communities that we serve: I’m angry with you. I hurt for you and I stand with you. … And to everyone in our colleges, let’s go out and do what we do best, let’s engage with our communities and let’s help them heal.”

— Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, in a YouTube video on June 1.

“We must call out and hold accountable our broken structures, build bridges that will lead to mutual understanding and respect across differences, and work to create a future in which we can all thrive, especially in these most challenging times. This work must happen across the nation — and it must happen on a local level as well.”

Carol Christ, chancellor of UC Berkeley; and Oscar Dubón Jr., vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, in a statement on May 29.

“We must never let (the officers’) indifference to human suffering become our own. We must never deaden our hearts to the pain of others. Our fundamental values demand that we care. … We conclude by stating unequivocally that Black lives DO matter. They matter at UCLA. They matter in Minnesota. They matter everywhere.”

— Gene Block, chancellor of UCLA, and 36 other campus leaders, in a statement on May 30. 

“Systemic racism is deeply woven into the fabric of our nation, and Black Americans have suffered under the weight of racist institutional policies permeating throughout our education systems, housing markets, financial markets, healthcare systems, hiring practices and our justice systems. Thus, we allow ourselves a moment to breathe — which was not afforded to Floyd. We confront the wide range of emotions that we are feeling, whether it’s anger, sadness, frustration, exhaustion, or despair. … Then we must render them into a commitment to act and advocate for a more just America.”

Elisha Smith Arrillaga, executive director of Education Trust West, in a statement on June 1.

* Theresa Harrington, Diana Lambert, Ali Tadayon and Sunny Xie contributed to this report.

Story originally published by EdSource.

Carolyn Jones