In June of 2015 we graduated our first class of 8th graders from Community Roots. In that same year, the lives of a number of innocent young black boys were taken. Below is an excerpt from the speech our Co-Director/Co-Founder Allison Keil gave in addressing the graduates:
I know that I can not stand before you and this incredible graduating class and pretend that this has been anything but an incredibly difficult year. This has been a horrific time in our country. It has been a year of devastating consequence of racism and hatred that has long been a part of our history bombarding our headlines over and over and over again. It has been a year of mourning and shame, a time when we have woken up so many mornings to find that once again a young Black man has been murdered by the police and then South Carolina, there are no words. It has been a year of struggling as adults to understand how to take a stand and then ask ourselves how do we face our children, what do we say and do?
And now I look at this graduating class and I have to believe that there can be nothing more important in our country today and in our future then to bring people together. I have to have hope and my hope is that when we create a space, a school where children and families of different races, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, religions, sexual orientation, and family make up come together that we are less likely to carry with us the devastating stereotypes and othering that occurs when we have not had the honor and the privilege to work and play and learn and build friendships with those that are different from us. I have to believe that the atrocities that are being committed in our country right now are being done by people who have lived incredibly segregated lives, lives where they have grown fear and hatred towards those that are different from them. Our children have been raised together, our children know people who are different from them as human beings, our children will not stand for the othering and the distance that is created when our lives are kept segregated. I have to believe that this class and all of the classes that follow in their footsteps will stand up with the knowledge and experience of recognizing difference, understanding others perspectives, our history and what it means to be an ally.
So graduates my dream for you is that your experience at Community Roots will not be a stand-alone experience. Whether you began this journey with us in Kindergarten or joined us at another place along the way, you are now part of our family and will always have this as part of your story. I ask that you go out into the world sharing your story, you have had an unfortunately rare experience even in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world where our schools are some of the most segregated. There are so many factors working against exactly what you have experienced, so many factors working to keep people segregated. I ask that you work to remind the world that humanity exists in all people. You know how to collaborate with people who are different from you, you know how to share from your own perspective while listening and working to understand the perspective of others, you understand that friendships are based on both common interest and experience as well as on widening our interests and perspectives. You know what it means to stand up for equity and justice. You have tools that so many do not. Go out into the world, remember we love you; we will always be here for you and use the tools you have worked so hard to develop!