In July 2020, Stephanie Long, the school superintendent in Leland, Mich., wrote a heartfelt letter to her students and their families after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers. Haunted by the images she’d seen in the media, she wrote: “Why be in a position of leadership,” she asked herself, “and not lead?”
“All people of color,” Ms. Long typed, “need us to stand with them to clearly state that we condemn acts of systematic and systemic racism and intolerance.” She envisioned profound pedagogical changes in her school; she imagined creating illuminating discussions within classrooms and searching, transformative conversations in the community beyond. She hit send. A degree of support came in reply. A letter of praise signed by 200 Leland alumni was published in a peninsula newspaper.
But angry emails, phone calls and letters poured in from within the district and, because Long’s message made the local news and spread over the internet, from across the country. They labeled her “a disgrace,” “a Marxist,” “a traitor.”
Daniel Bergner, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, wrote about what happened when a superintendent in northern Michigan raised the issue of systemic racism.
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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Saskia Solomon, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Margaret Willison, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.