West Hartford Board of Education Chairperson Dr. Mark Overmyer-Velázquez delivered the following statement at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016:
At the beginning of the school year I spoke with our teachers about sharing my excitement of returning to the classroom, and my experience of crossing borders. Last summer, I walked across the U.S.-Mexico border with my teenage son for the first time. Walking from San Ysidro, California to Tijuana, México, I had the privilege of sharing a trip I had done many times before myself, and of imagining with him my mother’s (his abuelita’s) experience, when she was about his age, as she headed north with her family from Mexico, also for the first time. Thanks in no small part to her crossing of national, language, and cultural borders and her insistence on education, I became the first in my family to go to graduate school and earn a PhD.
Last Wednesday morning many of us woke up reeling from the unexpected results from an election that has forced us to confront who we are as individuals, communities, a nation and a world.
While it may feel that we are more divided than ever, we need to find ways to be more united than ever. We need to listen to each other, to be compassionate, and focus our relationships on love and not hate; to focus on crossing cultural and social borders, not building more walls.
Regardless of our own political views about the election, we all need to recognize that, during this time of transition in our democracy, many of us need time to heal and find ways to work together. As a model of collaborative democracy in practice, I need look no further than to the Board of Education. It’s been an honor to serve with colleagues who share a common goal of ever improving the quality of and access to education for all our students in the district. Despite our party differences and because of our shared priorities, I know that I can always turn to my colleagues Jay Sarzen and Mark Zydanowicz to cross divides and for frank and honest discussions and debates of how best to support our students, families, teachers and entire community.
At the same time, as a scholar of history and as a person of color whose own friends and family have directly experienced racial persecution, I am acutely aware of the profound danger the election’s rhetoric potentially signals for our democracy. Having experienced a campaign that in its foundations targeted undocumented immigrants, people of color, Muslims, women, individuals with disabilities, and LGBTQ communities, it is important to acknowledge how many of our students and families in West Hartford are concerned for their health and safety. I feel this fear acutely as the son of a Mexican immigrant.
I want our students and our entire community to know that the Board of Education will continue to work to keep our schools safe spaces for all of you, regardless of your race, religion, ethnicity, country of origin, legal status, and sexual orientation. We will not tolerate discrimination and division and we will not compromise our commitment to diversity, equity and social justice. This is who we are as a school district and a town. I and my fellow board members are working with our outstanding and committed superintendent and his administration to support all our students and provide resources so that they can continue to thrive as young scholars emerging as the next generation of leaders and border crossers.
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