NA For Change Releases A Statement Condemning The Politicization of Their Cause, Rebukes “Radical” Label

On October 15, 2020, NA For Change was notified of our petition, Letter to North Allegheny on Anti-racism, being cited in a local political campaign’s material as evidence of a “radical liberal curriculum change.” After visiting the Facebook page “Rob Mercuri for State House” and confirming the material’s existence, we reached out to Mr. Mercuri’s campaign  asking for the post to be removed due to the harmful misinformation represented in the material concerning NA For Change and our cause. We are saddened that our goals of making North Allegheny a more welcoming and innovative school district have been weaponized for political gain, especially because we, as a coalition, are not aligned with any political party.

“You Have A Choice To Make”, October 15th Facebook Post from Rob Mercuri for State House (cropped for relevancy)

Once again, we must be absolutely clear: our mission is to educate and empower–not campaign for one party or another. We are a coalition of students, alumni, parents, educators, and community members who are committed to “liberty and justice for all” and who want our school to address and amend the racism that is evident in its classrooms and hallways. Learning about this country’s history and potential as the generation set to inherit it is not indoctrination, it is education. Cultivating a culture where racism has no place is not Marxist, it is common sense. A holistic education enables all members of our community to build a better future. Our coalition relies on religious, ethnic, racial, sexual, and political diversity because the fight against hate, prejudice, and racism does not fall on the shoulders of any singular demographic. Many, including the conservative elected officials we have worked with, understand this. We have welcomed everyone who has wanted to work with us and will continue to do so.

Upon seeing this inaccurate and alarming Facebook post, we immediately contacted Mr. Mercuri’s campaign manager and expressed our concern. He responded by telling a member of our team that the campaign was not directly responsible for the material, but that he would pass on our message to the campaign and send us a contact for the creators of the material. In his conversation with our team member, Mr. Mercuri’s campaign manager repeated to our team member that NA For Change is, in his words, “apolitical.” However, after 24 hours, we were saddened to see a lack of action. We contacted Mr. Mercuri himself, left a message expressing our disappointment, and respectfully asked him to address the issue in a timely and transparent manner. Since then, the post has been shared 43 times as of the time of this letter’s publication, and our efforts to resolve this issue have been met with radio silence. 

Since our inception in June, we have remained focused on improving the North Allegheny School District and the community–not electoral politics. Although we do not plan to change our course, we do want to take a moment to condemn this (and any) dishonest political rhetoric that instills fear and division. We have written the following letter to Mr. Mercuri and his entire campaign on behalf of NA For Change:


Mr. Mercuri,

Our community is one that values honesty and progress, and we are where we are today because many of your potential constituents have recognized that NA For Change embodies those same values.

We would like to express our sincere disappointment with your campaign’s use of our cause and petition to fear-monger and divide our community. Citing our Letter to North Allegheny on Anti-racism, which advocates for addressing and amending racism and prejudice at the North Allegheny School District, as “radical” is not only dishonest–it is also dangerous. 

Words matter. Rhetoric matters. It is the responsibility of a leader to unite, not divide; to encourage open, honest, and public discussions; to represent their community and their constituents in nuanced and truthful ways. 

We are respectfully asking you, once again, to:

  1. Immediately remove the October 15 post from your Facebook page citing NA For Change’s petition as evidence of your political opponent’s support of “radical liberal curriculum change”,
  2. Reflect on the false message this material sends to the community,
  3. Reflect on the harm it especially causes to people of color, students, and people who look up to your message,
  4. Reconsider the allegation that our letter and petition argue for a “radical, liberal curriculum change.” 

We would also appreciate a public statement condemning the falsehood tied to the aforementioned campaign material and denouncing comments labeling NA For Change as radical. We would like to highlight a few of the testimonies shared with us:

This testimony was submitted to our petition and reflects the facts that racism is not an issue of the past, and still affects local families in heinous ways: 

“My family was just getting gas from Costco and my father accidentally cut someone off in line; then, the lady came over and started yelling nasty, disgusting things at us and told us to go back to our country, etc. The cops came and the lady sped off …”

Letter to north allegheny on anti-racism, submitted testimony

This is an excerpt of the testimony of a supportive North Allegheny graduate at a recent North Allegheny school board meeting, who voiced her frustration at her repeated experiences with racism in the community and at North Allegheny:

“‘I am not a n****r!’, the fellow white student echoed at me on the bus while playing with my hair. This was in 2015. A white boy called me a n****r. There were more than 20 people on the bus that were privy to what happened. And no one defended me. They all laughed and howled because I was playing a part that continued a stereotype on black women: getting angry over nothing.”

JUNE 24 NORTH ALLEGHENY SCHOOL BOARD MEETING, PUBLIC COMMENTER

This testimony was submitted to our petition and touches on the importance of diversity education, highlighting the benefit of the introduction of these important topics to school curriculum (especially in North Allegheny):

“[After graduating from North Allegheny, ]… I was so shocked about the wide variety of Diversity courses. I could learn about the Black Community, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and so much more. Plus, it was a graduation requirement for me to take a Diversity course. I took an Asian American Literature course, and it was so amazing for me because the assignments really forced me to revisit my experiences with racism, and how those experiences impacted how I viewed myself…. All these things helped me grow into a more educated person, and it also allowed me to feel accepted and safe for the color of my skin and the background I come from.”

LETTER TO NORTH ALLEGHENY ON ANTI-RACISM, SUBMITTED TESTIMONY

Mr. Mercuri, what is “radical” about wanting to be treated with dignity and respect? About wanting to see the diversity of the world reflected in your education? Even if you may not be NA For Change’s greatest cheerleader, the prevalence of racism and the need to fix it cannot be denied. Invoking fear to create a non-existent threat is downright shameful.

While your campaign may call our supporters and their hopes radical, we call them brave. There is a trauma attached to these heartbreaking stories, and students deserve better than being used as political pawns. It is unacceptable that these experiences keep recurring, and until the issues that cause them are adequately addressed, we will continue to be here. As students and alumni at the forefront of this coalition, it is disheartening that adults in our community resort to vitriol to undermine our calls for anti-racism for their own gain. 

Racism is pervasive in our community. As students of color and their families know too well, this is an unavoidable fact; we must also make it an unacceptable one. Injustice can only be overcome by confronting it head-on and by innovating ways to move forward and upward. We want our school district to consistently and meaningfully work towards an education that does not accept racism and instead fosters an anti-racist culture through various means. This is an outlook that any candidate, especially one running for state representative, should share. 

In fact, we provided an opportunity for your campaign to prove this. Soon after NA For Change began, we reached out to your campaign to introduce ourselves and hear your thoughts on how we can make this community stronger. We never received a response and were confused as our coalition is–and always has been–tied together by a shared commitment to dismantling prejudice, hate, and racism. This is a cause that transcends party lines.

We are optimists and believe in the transformative power of change. We know that you, your campaign, and the parties involved in the creation of the material mentioned can all aspire to do better. Other public figures have proudly stood by our cause, and we hope that you will too. As always, we are open to continuing a conversation with you and other community members about who we are and who we are not. We hope that in the future, you use your influence and power to repair, instead of leverage, social inequalities.

Sincerely,

NA For Change

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