I Can't Breathe

June 4, 2020
Director of Educational Innovation and Leadership

I can't breathe​.​

Three fundamental words when put together scream out life or death.

The horrifying murder of George Floyd, by the knee of a police officer and complicit partners, has sparked outrage across the country. This murder is now compounded with the recent brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery, in the hands of ignorant and bigoted white men who felt threatened by ​an unarmed​​ Black man​​​. These unjust and cruel murders along with so many others mark the current history of the United States of America. And all in the middle of a global pandemic for which leaders in the highest levels of our land refuse to take the reins and send the heaviest of messages about how Covid-19 ​will continue to ​affect the most vulnerable​ without a national strategic plan to ensure their safety​.

Many will ask​: W​hat does this have to do with equity in computer science (CS) education? 

I say: Everything. 

We can never truly solve for the inequities in CS education without seeing past the smoke and mirrors​that mask injustices in our society. We still have a long way to go before everyone truly believes that we’re all created equal, regardless of who you are, where you come from, and what language you speak. Can we reach a day when everyone truly has access to the liberties and opportunities and the same freedoms in America? I hope so. I still have hope. I can’t lose hope.

I have struggled to find words. What comes to mind is to say that it is not acceptable to judge people based on the color of their skin, the color of their hair or shape of their eyes. It is not ok to spread hate because of the way a person looks or prays. It is not ok to be racist, or a misogynist. It is not ok to form any type of hate group. 

The large percentage of Blacks and Hispanics dying from Covid-19 and the grief and outrage of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are not unrelated. I have been grieving every day since the beginning of the pandemic. Thousands of lives lost every day due to Covid-19. Let's face it, years of negligence has continued to marginalize the poor, and Black and Hispanic groups in our country leaving them with second rate access to healthcare and education, at best. At its worst, the continued negligence keeps them oppressed. Moreover, the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd have become the current headlines that have helped to expose the institutional racism and bias that clearly still exist toward people of color. How do we justify focusing on equity in CS without acknowledging the injustices that are happening around us?

We can do better.

I’ve traveled a long road to be in the position I’m in now. In my life, there have been hardships since the beginning. But I’ve also been fortunate. I had help from educators who didn’t give up on me. I’ve been in the right place at the right time. On occasion, I’ve been truly blessed with divine intervention – I’m convinced of it. For every bad decision I made, I was able to make a good one that somehow led me to where I’m at today. I don’t take any of this for granted. Because of this, I’m pledging to do better.

We can do better to find time and safe spaces to have discussions on racism and inequalities. We can do better to connect with key stakeholders and elected officials to build relationships and bridges toward common goals. We can do better to develop leadership that enable empathy, community building, partnerships, and justice. We can do better to reject the status quo and instill a greater sense of civic duty. We can do better to change mindsets that are harmful to society. I never imagined American leadership would fail to calm the grief and anger we’re seeing all across the nation, but what we can do is lean on each other. Let me restate that: what we must do is lean on each other. Be there for one another. Collectively we must learn and grow together and make the changes needed for a more just America.

I’m pleading to all of you to join me in making a pledge to do better because this can’t be what America stands for. Change isn’t easy but it is not impossible. It is a necessity. I don’t want to see another person have to cry out: I can’t breathe. Three fundamental words when put together scream out life or death.

Photo by Cooper Baumgartner