True Compassion During a Time of Injustice
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring”
–Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Time to Break Silence,” Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967
This quote from Martin Luther King Jr. has always resonated with me for several reasons. Mainly, I believe from my keen interest in addressing the root cause of a problem rather than tinkering around the edges. I think this quote is even more important when wrestling with large societal problems.
The quote also reframes the idea of what being compassionate means and forces those who think they are being compassionate to evaluate their approach.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a series of unjust killings of Black people at the hands of law enforcement (here & here) and two residents in a small town in Georgia (here) has accelerated the Black Lives Matter movement. We are also in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has laid bare the systemic problems that disproportionately affect people of color in this country, resulting in higher rates of transmission and mortality within these communities. The confluence of these events has forced our country to reckon with America’s original sin: racism.
I have also heard many of my friends, colleagues, classmates, etc. express that this time has aggressively nudged them towards personal reflection around the topics of race, racism, anti-Blackness, institutional racism, inequality, and justice. Something about this moment “feels different.”
As a Black man in America, I do not have the luxury of leaving racism at the door. Moments like this do not serve as a reminder of racism, but are a resounding confirmation that racism still exists, and permeates everything. The moment is simultaneously inspiring and melancholic. It feels like we are at the precipice of substantial change, but it has taken so long to get here with no guarantees that this change will be realized.
We have a precious but fleeting moment to show our true compassion. To me, this means that we must not only double down on a focus on racial equity, we must also address institutional racism at our most prominent institutions such as education, government, and corporations.
We should not shy away from this moment, rather, we should be bold and innovative at every level with racial equity at the center of our work. The education space should play a crucial role in shaping history since it is a critical institution, its large scale, and its core function of shaping the minds of our citizenry.
What true compassion looks like to me, as it relates to our public education system is:
- Our educator workforce mirrors our student population at all levels, especially leadership.
- Equitable distribution of education resources with a focus on the needs of communities are proportionately met by the resources they receive.
- An acknowledgment that our public-school education system is not apolitical, therefore we should re-design a system that does not prop up or perpetuate racist ideology or institutional racism.
- The process of becoming an educator requires training/professional development in being anti-racist.
I am certain there are other ways to truly be compassionate that I have missed. However, the goal is to collectively envision a new path forward that embodies MLK’s meaning of “True Compassion.”
I am excited to be a part of the team building the Greater Los Angeles Education Foundation’s vision for a new path forward and taking the necessary steps to actualize that vision. Most recently, Greater LA has worked to address the digital divide by providing wifi devices for LA county’s most vulnerable students and supported districts to strengthen their capacity to mitigate the impacts of learning loss.
Moving forward, we will lean into diversifying the LA county educator workforce, addressing poverty through community schools initiatives, making countywide inequities transparent through data, and more to come that doubles down on the nexus of equity and innovation.
As a team, we are aware that more work is needed to unwind a history of unjust systems, but if we continue to strive towards a truly compassionate application of resources, policies and services, we can make real strides towards educational justice.
Dr. Steven Purcell
DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS
Steven Purcell is the Director of Strategic Partnership at the Greater Los Angeles Education Foundation. Previously, he was the chief of staff at Bellwether Education Partners. Prior to his role at Bellwether Education Partners, Steven was the director of college partnerships at the KIPP Foundation where he led a team keenly focused on supporting KIPP Alumni in their pursuit of postsecondary attainment. Before this position, Steve was a program and policy development advisor at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) where he led the development and implementation of a district-wide performance management system. His work has been instrumental in stewarding LAUSD towards meeting its district performance goals and building capacity within central office departments to make the shift from a compliance culture to a performance culture.
After completing business school, he was accepted as a Broad Resident in Urban Education and spent the two years of his residency in the San Francisco Unified School District. He then spent ten years dedicated to working to improve our public education system through his strategic, analytical, and operational expertise.
Steve has a BS in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Southern California (USC), an MBA from Pepperdine University with a concentration in entrepreneurship, and a doctorate in education from Loyola Marymount University.