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Juneteenth Recognition

June 19th, 2020

The following message was sent to the HCPSS community by Superintendent Michael Martirano on June 19, 2020:

Today is Juneteenth, a national commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. I ask that you join me to acknowledge the historic pain caused by racial injustices, and celebrate the racial diversity we know and love here in the Howard County Public School System.

On this day 155 years ago, Union general Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas to announce General Order Number 3, notifying the last group of enslaved people in America that they were free. The first Juneteenth celebration was held the following year in 1866, and these annual celebrations continue as a reminder of that historic event. In line with Governor Larry Hogan’s Proclamation, I ask all Howard County residents to join others today across Maryland in recognizing and honoring the significance of Juneteenth, “which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and celebrates the triumph of the human spirit over the cruelty of slavery.”

Recent events throughout our nation give Juneteenth even greater significance today, as we try to heal from the harsh lessons of the last few weeks about race, racism, and what it means to be African American in this county, state, county, and our school district. On this day, I restate my commitment to listening to the lived experiences of all Howard County students, staff, and families, especially those in our African American community, and to confront the institutional racism permeating throughout our school system and do everything necessary to dismantle it.

On June 10, 2020, we were presented with a petition from more than 400 Howard County citizens. The petition included over 100 pages of testimony, which included many heart wrenching accounts from current and former students who have experienced the sting of racism in our district, as well as remorseful expressions from those who wished they had done more to challenge and change the system.

These testimonies highlight the destructive impacts of institutionalized racism. For many, it serves as confirmation of lived experiences; for others, it raises the alarms of our social consciousness. The pain expressed by HCPSS students was difficult to read about, and even more painful to know that any young person or adult had to endure these experiences. I want to say directly to the petitioners and all those who have testified before our Board: I hear you, our Board of Education hears you, and the entire HCPSS school system hears you. We are committed to making the institutional reform that is long overdue in Howard County. We must do better, and we will do better.

The testimony highlighted seven demands for change, which our school system has begun working to address. Each division chief has a copy of the petition, and is working closely with Dr. Kevin Gilbert, our director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, to develop a system-wide plan to address these very real concerns. I pledge that every member of our staff will do our part to create the type of school system that our families desire for their children.

We have reached out to the young people who are leading a powerful movement for change in Howard County. I look forward to their continued engagement in helping HCPSS take on these very necessary reforms, because we recognize that this work depends on the commitment and participation of every member of our school system community.

Upon completion of the plan, I will respond to the petition with a full update. Some important steps are already being implemented throughout our system, while others, which were in progress, are being strengthened. Yesterday, the Board unanimously approved the FY 2021 budget, which included the addition of three new positions to help accelerate our diversity, equity, and inclusion work and intentionally address structural racism in a measured and direct way. This process includes professional development and training, school support, collaboration among all segments of our district, and community outreach and partnership. We must address racism at every level, because tackling racism will make our entire school system better for all of our students.

In the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi makes a clarion call for us all to love humanity:

This overdue work is about love for humanity. We will keep pushing, we will keep talking, and we will keep working to get this right. I know that together, we can make HCPSS live up to the promises in our Strategic Call to Action, and make this school system the equitable society our families and students expect and deserve.