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  • Writer's pictureJanet Ferone

Echoes of Change: Reflecting on George Floyd’s Legacy

Listening to an NPR piece on the anniversary of George Floyd's killing brought a flood of memories and emotions. I recalled the protests that erupted amid the Covid lockdown, grappling with the internal conflict of watching my son march-immensely proud of his values and commitment to justice, yet frightened for his health in those pre-vaccine times. The uproar that rippled through the United States and beyond was catalyzed by the harrowing video of a police officer kneeling on a dying man's neck while he desperately repeated, “I can’t breathe.” Somehow it took a video for the world to acknowledge what the Black community has endured for years. 

As an educator who has primarily worked with young males of color, Floyd’s and other senseless deaths had a profound impact on me. In the weeks following the tragedy, I came across countless webinars on race issues, focused on helping students process not only Floyd's death but the broader, disproportionate killings of Black males by police, as well as protest marches and other virtual events. These lockdown hours became a time of intense learning and sharing; I distributed these valuable resources to colleagues and friends, hoping to foster a deeper understanding and more meaningful conversations. On a whim, I started a Facebook group, E2 Equity Educators to make it easier to share and reach a broader audience. The group quickly grew, 4.5k members today, becoming a vibrant community for discussing and advocating for equity in education. I thank George Floyd for the impetus. 

While I put myself forward with the E2 Equity Educators Facebook group, I decided I needed to pull back on another project—a book I had started writing about a Boston Public School program, which primarily served students of color, and the great success of our team working with students who had essentially been viewed as too violent and dysregulated to be in mainstream education. I felt this was not the time for a white woman's voice to be prominent .However, I have recently revived it thanks to encouragement from friends and colleagues of color, my former students, as well as my own heart telling me that this is a story needing to be told. I switched my focus to the voices of my students rather than mine and have been excitedly interviewing them to share their thoughts. 

My role as an educator also evolved in response to Floyd's killing. I was asked to design and am teach a graduate course in Curry College’s newly created DEI (Diverse and Equitable Instruction) master’s degree program. I made it a point to thoroughly research and include the Black male experience throughout the syllabus. For example, when teaching about disability and neurodiversity, I highlighted the stark reality that Black boys are five times more likely to be misdiagnosed with a behavioral disability when they are actually autistic. I delved into the impacts of disparate discipline, using studies showing that Black boys are often perceived as 4.5 years older than they are, thus unfairly deemed scarier when merely horseplaying compared to their white counterparts and resulting in higher levels of suspension and expulsion. 

Beyond the classroom, I recognized the importance of not just declaring oneself anti-racist or expressing support for Black Lives Matter, but also engaging in deep self-reflection to confront and dismantle the “intimacy of our hatreds” coined by Eddie S. Claude Jr., and the structures that perpetuate racism.  

While many improvements happened because of George Floyd’s tragic killing, it’s evident that there is a racial backlash trying to undo any progress made especially with pushback against DEI efforts. A recent EdWeek article highlighted the increasing use of euphemisms for DEI, reflecting the broader societal resistance. While my grad students are receptive to adopting culturally responsive practices, they often ask “what happens if a parent complains? “, and I have no easy answer.  There were also troubling trends of book bannings and the influence of right-wing national groups infiltrating school committees, as detailed in the book "School Moms." Even in my liberal town next to Boston MA we face these divisions. Once out of lockdown, I became much more politically active in my town, getting elected to our town meeting and continuing to support other candidates and progressive initiatives.

The personal impact of George Floyd's killing is multifaceted and deeply interwoven with my professional and personal life. It has driven me to be a more intentional educator, a more engaged community member, and a more vocal advocate for systemic change. While there was significant progress made in the wake of his murder, it feels as though we are now regressing. Despite setbacks, the journey for justice and equity continues, fueled by the memory of George Floyd and countless others who have suffered unjustly. Making an impact does not compensate for his tragic death, but I hope his family finds some comfort in knowing the profound influence he has had on the world. 

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