Op-ed: Our extended family: An open letter from Berkeley Unified Superintendent

This letter was first published on Aug. 21 by Berkeley Public Schools website. Read the letter in Spanish.

We should all be savoring the end of summer, looking forward to a new school year together, but right now we are in mourning for four members of our extended family.

We learned that 22 year old Alex Goodwin was murdered Thursday night near San Pablo Park. Alex is now the fourth of our recent Berkeley Unified graduates to be lost to homicide within the past two weeks. Four young lives have been ended brutally, abruptly, and absolutely senselessly.

Our first heart-breaking loss was Marne’e “Max” Causey, shot in the middle of the afternoon after babysitting her younger siblings. Then last week two vibrant young men, Terrence Paul “Mack” McCrary Jr. and Craig Fletcher Cooks were caught in the crossfire when a fight broke out a birthday party. Along with these four lost to violence, we continue to mourn Efejon Ustenci, class of ‘16, who drowned at the beginning of summer.

The devastating sorrow that the families and friends of these young people are confronting is incalculable, and our deepest sympathies are with them. Many of you knew them, but if you did not, please take a moment to read about each of them: they are not statistics, they are not the same old story, they each had their own story to be told, they were beloved by family and friends, and their loss is unacceptable.

As educators and community members our sympathies will be insufficient if not accompanied by a renewed commitment to disrupt the patterns, problems, and perspectives that lead to shattering outcomes for so many of our young people, and particularly our black youth, with appalling frequency.

I am asking all of us to commit to a year wherein our efforts and our work are more conscious and focused than ever. Let us regularly remind ourselves and each other of how critical our work is to teach, empower, and support our students. These young lives mattered, and our hearts go out to the families and friends devastated by their loss. In their honor, as a plea and a prayer, the good people at Youth Speaks shared this spoken word poem by Dennis Kim, and asked that we “re-dedicate ourselves to creating a world where young people are honored, protected and held.”  Let us begin this year with that firm intention.

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Donald Evans is Superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District.