Letter to the Editor: If We Teach Our Kids One Thing, Let It Be Respect

Colin Smith, County Legislator

The nature of discourse at school boards across the country has devolved into pandemonium. And this month, it crept into our own backyard.

Things got particularly nasty last week when a Lakeland parent, who is Black, attempted to address the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) curriculum proposals of the budget at a Board of Education meeting. They were literally shouted down by other parents with phrases like, “we’re not trying to live in Harlem,” and “we don’t want diversity.”

After the meeting, racial slurs were hurled at the Superintendent and one of her Black colleagues. She even had to be escorted home by police because she was being followed by the agitators.

This isn’t how we should behave toward one another as neighbors, and it certainly isn’t the example we should be setting for our children.

In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how can we accept this behavior as a community? It harkens back to a time when persons of color needed National Guard escorts just to attend school. We cannot and will not allow ourselves to be drawn backward in time. We have come too far and sacrificed too much.

I am relieved to report that at last night’s board meeting, which I attended, many came out in support of the melting pot we call home. I’m proud of our school leaders who, against all odds, have maintained their own decorum even while under attack. I’m proud of the students who stood up and spoke against bigotry and hate, and did so from the heart. And I’m proud of Michael Lillis, president of the Lakeland Federation of Teachers, who may have said it best: “sunlight is the best antiseptic” for ignorance, intolerance, and hatred.

Indeed, on this past Thursday night, the Lakeland community lit up that darkness with tolerance, equity, and love.

We must draw the line at hatred and bigotry and continue building on the progress we have made. We must remain laser-focused on providing the best possible education for our children. And we must come together and show our children that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

If we fail at that as a society, we’ve got bigger problems than masks.

Colin Smith
County Legislator

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About the Author: Colin Smith