Mijares: We must unite and create the change we want to see

Like so many of you, I have spent the last few days anguishing, ruminating, scrutinizing and judging. I have been angry. I have been distraught. I have been disheartened.

I have thought about George Floyd calling for his mother in the final moments of his life with a knee pressed against his neck. I have thought about how long — and how short — 8 minutes and 46 seconds is, and how each of those seconds could forever change life in America.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresI have thought about my own sons, now five grown men, whose trajectories could have been altered by one chance encounter. I have thought about growing up as a person of color in a land that brings boundless opportunity and sometimes unjust peril, a land still haunted by the ghosts of slavery and oppression.

And I have thought about our roles as educators.

Consider that a child in the public education system will spend 13 years in our schools learning to read, write, solve complex problems and think critically.

Over those 13 years, that child will be molded and inspired by dozens of educators and mentors. They will make friends, embark on field trips and join clubs. They might play sports or participate in academic competitions. They might wear school colors and attend pep rallies. They might find a first love, go to dances and have their hearts broken. They might find their voice and become the first in their family to attend college.

The public will have invested more than $150,000 in their success, and that investment will yield remarkable returns as the student enters the workforce, applies their skills and contributes innovative ideas. They might be your coworker, your colleague, your friend.

And after all of that, after 13 years of first days, textbooks, lunch breaks, crushes, group projects, recesses, new friends, extracurricular activities and high-stakes tests, that student’s life could be cut short by a single act of violence. Thirteen years of growth and development could be wiped away in a span of eight minutes and 46 seconds. Or less.

I don’t have the right to tell you not to be sad or angry. It’s not my place to discourage you from peaceful protest.

But I believe we will ultimately need to come together as a people. We will need to heal our divisions and leverage diverse coalitions of educators, law enforcement representatives, social justice groups and faith-based organizations to bring about change. We will need to embrace civic learning and empower young people to understand the mechanisms of their government.

We did not ask to live in an era of pandemics and civil unrest. We did not seek to solve America’s most vexing and longstanding problems. The challenges we face will test us.

But we are here now. We are together now, a blend of generations that must pull in the same direction because our fortunes are inextricably bound.

Today we pray and mourn for George Floyd, his family, and too many others whose stories and potentials were cut short by violence. Tomorrow we must find the strength to rebuild and create the change we wish to see in our lifetimes and for future generations.