By Kaitlin Johnstone

Redefine Kindness

What did kindness look like for you growing up? Was it holding the door for a stranger? Buying coffee for a friend? Perhaps volunteering your time local shelter? Do not get me wrong all these acts are incredibly meaningful, and I would never undermine the value of a random act of kindness. Similar gestures have brightened my days numerous times throughout my lifetime and provided me with great happiness. We also have the basic kindergarten golden rule of 'treat others the way you wish to be treated'. Simple, right? Maybe. But do we actually practice this remarkably easy meaning of kindness as a society? I would argue that as a whole, our country does not and has not for centuries.

Before you go telling me how far we have come, or how there is no such thing as white privilege, I urge you to take a few moments to read this. Because it was not until my adult life did I understand and learn the deep-rooted systemic racism that has plagued this country for quite some time and that is for a very carefully, thought-out reason. We grow up learning a white washed version of history in which many facts have been left out in order to uphold white supremacy.

It is time we all do some research and change our perception in order to cultivate a society that is kind to all people. Our latest tee speaks to the change we wish to see in the world; a redefining of kindness and what that looks like for us.

Being Vocal.

This one comes naturally for me. So much so that I had a permanent desk in the hallway of my 10th grade history class because my teacher didn’t quite know how to handle my outspokenness. Sure, my voice has changed over the years and I would like to think of myself as someone who gets into good trouble nowadays, but the point I am trying to make remains the same. We must speak up. Hear something racist at the dinner table? Stop making the excuse that it is a holiday and we should all get along. Take that as an opportunistic time to speak to people who love you about the harm their micro aggressions are causing. Ask them if they have heard of things such as black codes, Jim Crow, redlining, school to prison pipeline, etc. Chances are many have not and white people who do know this history need to engage in conversations with anyone who will listen in order to make a change.

Rooted in Justice.

Kindness to me is not kindness unless all people have the same access to being able to live. This should be a basic human right, correct? All people should be able to go for a run; Ahmaud Arbery. All people should be able to relax in their living rooms; Atatiana Jefferson. All people should be able to sleep peacefully in their beds; Breonna Taylor. All people should be able to stand in their grandmother’s yard; Stephon Clark. All people should be able to eat ice cream; Botham Jean. All people should be able to survive a routine traffic stop; Philando Castille. All children should be able to play in a park; Tamir Rice. All people should be able to go to the corner store; Elijan McClain. All children should be able to exist in their own neighborhood; Trayvon Martin.  Unfortunately, these are just a few of the many Black lives lost at the hands of police. Since January 01, 2015, 4,728 people have died in police shootings and around half, 2,385, were white. 1,252 were black, 877 were Hispanic and 214 were from other racial groups. Black Americans account for less than 13% of the U.S. population but the rate at which they are shot and killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white AmericansSo, the next time you’re buying coffee for a friend, but crossing the street when a Black man is walking down the sidewalk, ask yourself if your kindness is in fact kindness, or are you perpetuating a system that has continually oppressed members of marginalized groups for hundreds of years?

Grounded in Action.

It is one thing to post a Black square on #blackouttuesday, but it is another story to then take that performative allyship and turn it into action. Recently our school district had a chance to make a difference. To say that they are going to institute a change and acknowledge there indeed is a problem with racism in this country. FINALLY, I felt as if I was being heard and there were other likeminded educators and administrators (which there are) willing to recognize the importance of developing a plan toward including anti-bias/anti-racist training for staff. In order to shed a little light on why this is so important, here are some statistics about our district:

In the 2017-2018 school year, there were 430 out of school suspensions for Black children. That’s 11.9% of the 3,626 Black students that attend school. In comparison 3% of white students were suspended.

Sarasota County schools decided to hire Dr. Hollie, author of Culturally Responsive and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Executive Director of The Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning. Although on maternity leave, I took the time to listen into Dr. Hollie’s professional development and there were a few immediate takeaways I had that I decided to express in writing to our new superintendent:

  1. Of the 2,767 teachers in Sarasota County, 126 were watching. I do understand that team members potentially could have been watching together but given the guidelines to social distancing I would guess that many missed out. I find that unacceptable given the climate of the country right now and teachers being the ones to lead the future.
  2. Of the 126 who viewed, there were many responses that were not overtly racist in nature, however there were multiple micro aggressions that took place and an array of false assumptions regarding race due to the lack of understanding by white educators.

Within a week of that training, it was decided that the district would be postponing Dr. Hollie’s contract until our new superintendent could get a better understanding of the content. Teachers had complained that Dr. Hollie insisted all white people are racist, which in fact he did not. Nonetheless, if you are reading this and immediately offended by that assumption I want you to do a simple Google search into white fragility and sit for a moment with why this may bother you. I have been writing and calling anyone who will listen since I found out these trainings may not continue because our Black students deserve to be seen and all other students deserve the opportunity know why it’s important that they are seen. Simple pleasantries and niceties are not enough.

Open to Change.

I get it. We aren’t all equipped with the facts. We have not been taught true history and that is a problem, but in the year 2020 (anyone else cringe simply writing those numbers down for your eyes to see?), there aren’t many excuses as to why people still won’t open their minds and understand the injustices people face in America. My views have changed A LOT over time and I am hoping they continue to do so. For instance, growing up I believed very much in a color-blind mentality. I was taught by very well-intentioned parents to not see color when choosing friends. I've learned this notion of not seeing people for who they are does far more damage than it does any good. It allows us to perpetuate the idea that children do not recognize race, while it's proven that they recognize race as young as early as 6 months old. It enables us to not empathize. It allows us to be utterly shocked when George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight. It keeps us from not acknowledging Black pain and suffering. On the flip side, it also prevents us from recognizing Black joy. This has to change. If you want to be kind, see people for who they are. Know their story, know their history, see their color.

We are hoping that you too will continue to send flowers to let your friends know you’re thinking of them, check in on elderly neighbors, say hello to strangers because all of these things make the world a bit brighter. We are also hoping you can take a moment to dig deeper and redefine your own meaning of kindness. Dig a little deeper and stand on the right side of history. To check out our latest tee and help provide a book to a child, click on the image below. We pour our hearts and souls into each new design and love the ability to share the story behind them with each and every one of you.


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