Editor’s note: Superintendent Mosley spoke out about the killing of George Floyd, vandalism at Nashua High School and riot in Brockton, Mass., where his twin brother is a police officer.
By Jahmal Mosley, Ed.D., Superintendent of Nashua Schools
Good Day Nashua Community:
I hope this letter finds you well and safe. A letter like this is never easy to write and, honestly Nashua, I struggled to compose such a correspondence. I sit in the safety of my home, asking myself what is the right tone and language to use when writing about race, inequalities, and social justice? There are things in my life that frighten me, and talking about race publicly is not always easy for me but, I hope, will promote understanding.
Race – Talking about race and its impact on American life and experience in the public forum is something that I would like to avoid, because I am the only African-American superintendent in the region. Finding a voice and the words is trying after reviewing the pictures of vandalism at the Nashua High School North and observing protests and violence in cities across America.
As I watched the events of protest and violence unfold throughout the country, my mind shifted between images of my father, a marine who served this country, sweeping mine fields to ensure the safety of his fellow marines; a marine who had “the talk” with me about being safe in America after receiving my driver’s license; a marine with only a high school diploma, who put my brother and me through college to make sure we had added opportunities in life. His service to America, his determination to advance a cycle of higher education in my family instilled a sense of duty, commitment, and perseverance. My mind shifts also to my childhood when I played football with my twin brother, now a police officer, in my backyard. I share my thoughts of fears, bravery, and unity as they are important themes to be mindful of as we try to make sense of current events in our country.
Over the course of this week, students, parents, and educators have reached out to me and expressed their sorrows, pain, and frustrations about both George Floyd’s killing and the recent events at the North. I hear you and I understand. Nashua is a microcosm of America, and our diversity is what makes us resilient and strong; it is what makes our students better prepared for the world and it is part of who we are. As we explore different methods to cope with recent events, finding the right tone and tenor of our voices, the struggle will not always feel perfect. We may unintentionally utter the wrong words, or question our friendships with our peers and neighbors. I support peaceful protests that yield awareness to injustice and the “isms” in our society.
I know that WE, as a community will come together and engage in difficult, honest, and productive conversations about race relationships and policing. As superintendent, I will continue to ensure that these conversations stay alive in our schools and community. While the Minneapolis police’s actions against Mr. George Floyd were wrong and unconscionable, I know America will right this wrong because that is what this country was built on righting our wrongs and appealing to our better selves.
For our children, it is important to place the protests, violence, police-community relationships and community into a context. First, not all police officers are ill-willed or racists. They too have stories, children, and families. My twin brother is a police officer in Brockton, serving the community he grew up in and loves. Last night, like many other police officers, he was in the midst of protest and violence—I watched on television as he got pelted with fireworks. Second, many officers are also upset by events that have taken place and have publicly condemned the police officers in Minneapolis for their actions involving Mr. Floyd.
They too will play a vital role in making our America better as we begin to heal and make sense of these events. Third, nothing is perfect, but conversations engender understanding, kindness, and empathy for others and, sometimes, disagreement-this is okay. In the city of Nashua, we have a police department committed to a better America led by Chief Michael Carignan, who I consider a friend and trusted ally. He instills in his officers the importance of listening to and protecting all of our citizens. I encourage our students and families not to paint a picture of generality when dealing with the police. Please understand that the Nashua police are not like the Minneapolis officer arrested and charged in the Mr. Floyd case. If you are feeling not heard and you feel that there is injustice, please reach out to Chief Carignan personally and his leadership team; they are willing to have a dialogue around differences and change.
Students, I wish I had all of the words to make this better for all of you to put recent events into perspective, and to stop the hurt and anger many of you feel. I do not have all the words to make it better for each and every one of you as we all carry our own experiences and perspectives. I can only tell you that I hear you. I feel your pain, confusion, and frustration. I know what it feels like to feel invisible or feared by strangers. This is not a burden you have to carry alone. Our faculty is here for you and please reach out to us, if you need to talk or even if you need a friendly voice. WE are in this together.
Parents, I know many of you feel like you cannot possibly weather another storm this spring, but I want you to know that we will get through this together. The Nashua School District is a community and family and when one family member is hurting we are all hurting. Please know that you are not alone and you can lean on us.
To the larger Nashua community, please know our students have been faced with obstacles this year that for many seem unimaginable. They have persevered and exceeded all expectations. They are resilient, committed, and collectively understand the power of community and connectivity. They are our future leaders and this community should be immensely proud of them, as am I. Right now they are hurting and frustrated, and I ask that you support them and listen to them and love them.
What took place at the North was not activism, but vandalism. There is an appropriate way to protest and make your voice heard. Resorting to violence and graffiti is not the proper way to demonstrate or express anger and frustration. I understand that there are some public events on the horizon for the community to share their frustration, pain, and hope.
I ask that the Nashua students and staff do it in a way that is safe and non-violent. I end this correspondence by saying that it is okay to hurt; it is okay to feel frustrated and angry—these are valid and legitimate feelings that must be acknowledged. I know that out of this chaos and uncertainty, the seeds of greatness, empathy, and change will take hold in fields of a stronger and more inclusive America. In these fields, our young leaders will grow and lead the way into a more promising and inclusive future. Best, Jahmal Mosley, Ed.D.