Dear friends:

It is with a heavy heart that I reach out to you all today. Over the last two weeks, painful events have unfolded across the U.S. that bring to the surface the deep racism and historic wounds of our country’s past and present. Heartbreakingly, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — and over the last week alone, fatal shootings of David McAtee and Tony McDade — are the latest in a pattern of violence and police brutality against Black people rooted in systemic racism and prejudice. Meanwhile, these tragedies play out amid a backdrop of grief and hardship from a pandemic that is disproportionately harming people of color. 

Like many of you, I am sad and angry and find myself grappling with the right role for me and for SMART Reading to play as we seek lasting change in the systems and institutions that don’t serve us all equally. 

Racial inequality impacts SMART Reading directly. Our work is anchored in the belief that reading is a fundamental right. As the gateway to learning and opportunity, reading has the power to level the playing field of inequitable systems. Yet, not all kids have the same access to acquiring this essential skill and the opportunities it provides. As an organization committed to serving Oregon’s children, we cannot be silent in the face of injustice; silence allows harmful systems to persist. The values that guide our work dictate that we speak up and out against racism and do right by the children we serve and our fellow Oregonians. 

Here are some thoughts on how SMART Reading — both as individuals and as a collective community — can take action in the path forward: 

  • For my fellow white people: We need to take control of our own learning and be actively anti-racist. The painful patterns of our past and present won’t change unless white people confront and accept the ugly truths of our history. As the late Maya Angelou said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Let’s do better. Here is a helpful compilation of resources:
  • Advocate for fair and equitable policies. Data show a persistent education gap between white students and children of color, students from economically disadvantaged homes and English language learners.  To attain our vision of an Oregon where all children can realize their full potential through reading, we must end the education gap in our state. We’re committed to examining and interrupting racism and inequality in the systems where we operate.   
  • Partner with organizations that support Black children and families. Oregon is fortunate to have a robust nonprofit community of organizations supporting and strengthening historically marginalized communities. We partner with many organizations throughout Oregon to provide programming together; I urge you to learn about who’s doing this important work in your community and support them. 
  • Harness the power of books as tools for understanding and learning. We believe in the power of books to open our hearts and minds, to teach us about our history, and to help us imagine a brighter future. Here are a few kids’ book-focused resources from our staff team that we’ve found valuable in this time:

This won’t be a perfect process, but taking steps forward — together — is what matters. We will continue to evaluate and adjust our work as we go, knowing the path to progress may not always be clear. But, what is clear is that it’s past time for a change, and it’s time to use our voices to support and lift one another up. Our future generations demand it of us. 

Thank you for reading, and for joining us in the critical work of inspiring a child’s next chapter. 

Chris Otis

SMART Reading Executive Director