A Message from Head of School Paul A. Burke


Nightingale families,

It was from the isolation of a jail cell in Birmingham that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of the "interrelatedness of all communities and states." On the surface a counter notion, it appears that being apart actually reinforces the "inescapable network of mutuality" that ties us "in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." Remote learning this spring has reinforced our own firm belief that together is the only way.

It is in King's spirit, and on behalf of girls and boys everywhere, that Nightingale joins with others in condemning in no uncertain terms the racist violence that has continued to lead to profound injustices, including most horrendously in the needless loss of life for people of color in 2020 America. In this time and always, we stand in solidarity with our families of color.

The killing of George Floyd most recently, but also Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed and Tony McDade adds to our nation's most shameful history, commencing with slavery and persisting for centuries. Off-camera, but no less tragic, the consequences of COVID-19 have impacted families of color at a starkly disproportionate rate. As I said at Friday's PA coffee, the pandemic has laid bare for all to see the injustices and inequities of our country and our city. These separate tragedies happening at the same time add layers of pain and loss; when viewed together, they clearly speak to the need for meaningful and long-lasting change.

Make no mistake Nightingale exists to advance humanity. Today's mission, approved by our Board in 2017 makes this clear: "Nightingale educates girls' hearts and minds by teaching them to value difference as a source of strength and means of growth. In doing so, we advance equity for the betterment of all." This moment reminds us why we need to do more than profess those values. We need to live them.

This spring we have wondered about the unique way that our children are being socialized amidst distancing. At a talk a few years ago, Beverly Daniel Tatum, the President of Spelman College and author of the groundbreaking Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, said "It is the nature of the socialization process: we tend to repeat what we learn." This reality, as much as any, can impede progress.

Adults, too often, take false comfort in our own understanding regardless of how limited it might be. The adults of Nightingale—especially those of us who, like me, identify as white—would do well in this moment to embrace our need to learn so that we can more fully lead and more fully love. As Dr. Tatum said, "a little bit of learning only leads to discomfort and pain. Hang in there with it and you will experience joy."

Today, our nation is in pain. The losses are too great. The inequities are too apparent. In this sad moment, Nightingale, let's use our commitment to meaningful relationships as a source for true learning and from there, a more promising tomorrow.

Sincere regards,

Paul A. Burke
Head of School