My Story, Mr. Gary Lewis, M.Ed.
- As told at the Special Governing Board Meeting, April 6, 2022
We are going to do just a little audience participation but in a quiet sense before I share some thoughts on the current situation our Tanque Verde Unified school district and community is facing.
Please just answer in your head for now, and we will circle back in a little bit.
I would like for each of you to look at me and tell me what you SEE. remember…keep it in your own heads.
I also need you to Be honest
please do not state the obvious and respond with
"a good looking guy")
I am not going to let you off that easily.
In all seriousness, tell me what you see? Hold that thought…
I have some other things I want you to think about, “how many times have you been called the "N" word in your lifetime?
How many of you have been followed around in a store, from aisle to aisle, by a less than discreet, plain clothes store security person, just watching to see if you are going to shoplift?
We will come back to this in a moment.
I was in a conversation in the not too distant past when I heard the following story...
The year was 1963, in a maternity ward of a hospital in upstate New York, a white lady had just given birth to a baby boy. Everyone was elated, doctors, nurses, and of course the mother... that is…….until the father came in the door.
You see, the father was a black man… The story continues,
the nurse's joy immediately turns to disgust.
Back then, the nurses would bring around the baby formula for the mothers to feed their children at regular scheduled intervals. This particular mother recognized immediately that things were different for her and her newborn. She was being brought maybe half filled bottles to feed her child. There were many occasions where the nurses had conveniently forgotten to even bring a bottle at feeding time, forcing the couple to actually have to raise a ruckus in order to get their child fed.
Fast forward 59 years! I stand before you, this child born in 1963.
This is that couple. (pic) My Father Lloyd from Los Angeles Ca (he passed away on Nov 9, 2021). My Mother Andree from St. Quentin, France.
It is the year 2022 and I am exhausted!
Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Lewis
And that's actually an understatement! I am beyond Exhausted!
I, and many who look like me, have been called the "N" word throughout life. That word holds no power over me.
I, and many who look like me, have been told to “go back to Africa”...never been there. Been to France, Germany, Spain, Italy…never Africa.
I, and many who look like me, with money in our pockets, have been followed around many a department store throughout life
I, and many who look like me, have every reason in the world to be caught up in resentment and consumed with hate.
But we choose not to embrace this path.
There is no progress in hate.
Hate keeps people stuck without room to grow.
Hate requires a lot of energy, energy that is better spent on cultivating the gift of life, and seizing opportunities to lift up others through acts of kindness and compassion.
It is because of the lessons taught by my parents that I am able to stand before you today,
not with anger or malice, but with hope and encouragement,
with intention and the desire to make a difference.
A difference not just for those whose lives have been,
and continue to be
but also for those who still grapple with the concept of
equity, inclusion, and the appreciation of diversity.
I take you back to my original question...what do you SEE when you look at me?
Probably say a bald, black man. You are not wrong, I cannot change the way I look.
I am also not naive to the fact that with the color of my skin comes additional baggage.
Oh….Not my baggage
but the baggage of others who want to pigeon hole me into a space that fits their own narrative
for people of color,
for people from other countries,
for people with cognitive or physical disabilities,
for people with less financial means…
I have a brother who earned a computer science degree from…The United States Air Force Academy, captained the basketball team,
and is a retired fighter pilot.
Another brother retired from the US Air Force, after 20+ years of service, obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Application Technology
and now working as a radar imagery specialist for a government contractor.
A sister who graduated from University of Southern California with a degree in (marketing) also a scholarship volleyball player.
Another brother who has managed an industrial chemical company for over 20 years (He and I also played basketball together in France).
Myself, Texas A&M grad with Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education, Masters degree from Concordia University Irvine in (Coaching and Athletics Administration)
Master of Education Degree in Educational Administration from Grand Canyon University.
Why the family resume?
First…To honor my parents who made it possible for us to thrive in this complicated world even though their struggles far outweighed those of their children.
Teaching us discipline, perseverance and respect for all.
Secondly, we are among those folks of color that do not fit the narrative I spoke of earlier…and that tends to make people uncomfortable.
Which is where we find ourselves today… Uncomfortable.
We need to grow, and growth can be uncomfortable.
I share my heart with you tonight because we are at a crossroads.
TVUSD has been smacked in the face with unwanted attention brought on by the actions of a few, but have reflected on the many.
Many have provided you with their thoughts on how to deal with the missteps that have occurred in this district concerning the past and current racist behavior on display.
Were real solutions brought to the table?
There were calls for the dismissal of personnel.
That was expected.
But is this truly the answer?
The issues we are facing today are not new.
Isn't it time we stop pointing fingers and instead, work together to obtain and employ the tools absolutely necessary in moving this district forward?
It will not happen overnight, and it will be uncomfortable for many.
What do we stand for?
What are the non-negotiable behavioral expectations in this district?
And let us not be so naïve to even begin thinking that the district can take this on by itself. The well-known phrase, "it takes a village to raise a child" comes to mind.
we cannot shield our children from exposure to racism
we cannot move to an area where none exists.
But we CAN…
move to empower our children with the tools that can help when confronted with racism.
We CAN… commit to empowering our teachers, administrators, and coaches
with training on how to have healthy, non-judgmental conversations about treating others with kindness and demonstrating a true appreciation of diversity.
And, we CAN…
communicate, on the front end, what we truly stand for as a district.
This way, people can decide on whether or not this is the place for them.
I have had friends calling me asking why I stay here (at TVUSD)...they have seen the reports…
you know as well as I do, there is always more to the story.
Besides, Where would I go? Do I run away, hoping that it will be better elsewhere? Or do I stay and become part of the solution? I have been to other places…same stuff happening over there.
I also have friends and family ask, “how can we help?”.....they have lived this scenario their entire lives
To not embrace this moment as THE moment we collectively decide to be better and to do better for the sake of ALL, would be disappointing.
We have to start the work now,
and it won't just be with the words that we say,
or the words that we write,
it will be evident in our behavior,
in what we do,
in what we demonstrate.
In what we stand for and against.
Recent District statement
Reaffirming TVUSD's Commitment to Supporting a Diverse and Inclusive School Community
March 29, 2022
Specifically number 2:
We are reviewing proposed revisions to the Code of Conduct to more clearly define and declare our expectations for behavior, especially regarding offensive language and or actions targeting or negatively depicting any person or group of people based on race, nation of origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion or political view.
What role do I as a parent play in this action?
Do I need to revise the code of conduct in my own house?
Am I sending my child to school prepared so that maximum learning can occur? What am I doing as a parent to prepare my child to be a part of a better community?
Isn't it my responsibility as a parent to send my child to school with the most basic life tools of respect and kindness for others?
What are the non-negotiables in my house?
If my child has a problem with behavior at home, what makes me think those same behaviors won’t surface at school?
And, should it really be incumbent on the schools to not only provide high-quality academic opportunities,
but tasked at correcting the very behavior that is not being corrected in my home? By far the most common usage of the term (in loco parentis) relates to teachers and students.
In Loco Parentis basically means: in place of a parent: said of a person acting in a parental capacity.
If I am handling my responsibilities as a parent, do I really need a teacher or administrator stepping in, acting in a parental capacity, to deal with my child? School is not the first place my child should be introduced to the terms, empathy and compassion.
School is not the first place my child should be learning behavioral norms and respect for others…
It takes a village.
Because this is and has always been a very uncomfortable topic.
Some may not have personally witnessed or experienced any of these racist acts…or have they?
I share the all too common scenario I had experienced at my former high school, Tucson High, as well as my current home, Tanque Verde HS, and I am confident in saying, occurs on every campus nationwide, in the workplace, everywhere:
I happen upon a group of students and the foul language is flowing without reservation. F-bombs, “N” word, you name it. So, I stop and say, “Hey! The language!” These students (boys, girls) look at each other with a perplexed expression on their faces. “What did we say?” Unfortunately, that type of language is so mainstream that it has become part of the fabric of our society. These are not bad kids. But somewhere along the line, this type of behavior has been normalized.
I reviewed our course selections, and I can tell you we do not offer a class on swearing, on posting racist material on social media, on how to bully the less fortunate.
That is not taught here!
It takes a village.
Just because it doesn't happen to you, does not mean it's not happening to others..
Now is not the time to retreat to our separate corners.
Now is not the time to point fingers.
There is no immediate fix.
Nothing productive comes from those choices.
Everybody makes mistakes, district leadership, teachers, parents, students.
How do we learn from those mistakes to help us move forward?
It's not about getting rid of people, believing that is the answer to our problems.
It does not work that way.
It's about seizing the moment, putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward in unison, towards a better future for ALL.
Look in the mirror. Are you part of the solution or are you part of the problem?
It takes a village
I wanted to share a video with you at this time but we were not able to make it happen tonight.
I am sure many of you have seen it before,
Two toddlers, one black, one white, running towards each other and hugging!
The purpose of that particular video is this fact:
Our children are brought into this world with not a racist bone in their bodies. According to geneticists, there is no identifiable racist gene...it is taught!
One of my best friends sent me some lyrics from an Earth, Wind, and Fire song titled, "That's the way of the world"....
These are a few of the lyrics…
Child is born, with a heart of Gold,
the way of the world, makes his heart so cold.
We have to find a way so that our children have a fighting chance to keep their hearts warm!
I have been thinking a lot about the purpose of tonight's
Approaching the end of my third year in this district,
I am not sure these life issues have ever been afforded the attention necessary…
inspiring us to attach observable… palpable… heartfelt action to the commitment statements we speak of.
This is not a one and done. We don’t get to walk away from here, rub our hands together, and say, “whew, I am so glad that’s over!”. Don’t get it twisted.
Dr. Hagerman, you are probably thinking,
“this might be the first time I ever heard Gary speak without the use of a sports analogy”…
you are right,
Tonight is not a championship game.
It’s not the end of a 7 game series,
nobody is breaking a ribbon as they cross the finish line.
I am a certified golf nut.
The similarities in my ongoing golf journey, can be superimposed on top of my “life” journey.
Golf is a game I will never perfect, but even with that knowledge, it does not prevent me from trying to get better,
to identify weaknesses,
and to replace those weaknesses with even better skills.
The same holds true for my personal life journey,....
I will never be perfect, but that does not stop me from my quest to be better,....
to identify weaknesses, ….
and to replace those weaknesses with even better skills.
The significance of the gavel hitting the sounding block, typically concluding a session,
has taken on a whole new meaning tonight.
It will signify the START of the greatest relay event you have ever been a part of, the mother of all marathons!
We need to commit to beginning the work that will impact generations to come,
passing the baton to our children,
a baton of action and the promise to stay in the race.
Is there a finish line?
I don’t think there should ever be a finish line.
Why stop doing things that help all people do better and be better?
I do know if we intend to do what is right for our children, we have to start tonight!
(present baton to Anne)
Let us do the work, let us do it now!
Please don’t drop the baton!
Thank you for your time!
Mr. Gary Lewis, M.Ed.