Black Lives Matter: A Message From Our Chief Education Officer

Dear Education Family, 

Black lives matter. 

We have witnessed ongoing injustice, violence, and deeply ingrained racism with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and many others — the gravity and weight of which are heartbreaking. Racism, violence, and hate have no place in our world. At the National Geographic Society, we stand in support of human dignity, equity, and justice. And we stand in solidarity with Indigenous, Black, and People of Color (IBPoC) educators, learners, explorers, storytellers, colleagues and staff. We see you, we hear you, and we support you.

National Geographic has long told the story of the human journey, documenting triumphs and despair. This has been a core part of our mission for 132 years as we strive to help people better understand the world and their role in it, and that includes exploring our own past. In 2018, National Geographic Magazine devoted its April issue as well as a discussion guide for teachers and parents about the topic of race, which acknowledged decades of racist coverage that perpetuated stereotypes ingrained in white American culture. These parts of our own history are painful to read, but as Michele Norris wrote in the 2018 issue, “It’s hard for an individual—or a country—to evolve past discomfort if the source of the anxiety is only discussed in hushed tones.” We are committed to doing better. I believe, as a global organization, we not only have the opportunity to help advance meaningful change, we have a responsibility to do it. This is particularly important in the learning environment.

A recurrent theme is inequity, both in our communities and in education. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to highlight equity gaps and recent events underscore the pervasive racism and injustices against communities of color, and Black communities most acutely. Championing equity has been my life’s work, and it is our collective work at National Geographic Education to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education. It is urgent that we support Indigenous, Black, and People of Color as we grapple with a complex history of marginalization, racism, and silenced voices. This has to be the cornerstone of all the work that we do. Traditional education resources have omitted critical parts of our world’s history, and rarely afford teachers with the resources they need to teach sensitive, emotional topics. Working together, we can change that. 

  • We are committed to elevating resources for educators and youth, ensuring that we tell these untold stories. 
  • We are committed to connecting young learners with IBPoC explorers, experts and other real-world role models to empower students to explore opportunities beyond what they thought was possible.
  • We are committed to conducting a full audit of our resources to ensure that the language we use in our education materials is inclusive, and that we are elevating a diversity of voices, stories, and experiences. 

Last week, the National Geographic Society’s President and COO Michael Ulica, working alongside the incoming CEO, the Society’s senior leadership team, and our employee-led Diversity and Inclusion Council, outlined several steps that the organization will take:

  • We will do more to develop and support a diverse community of grantees and educators. We will identify, support and elevate the work and voices of Black Explorers, educators and storytellers.
  • The Society will actively seek out partnerships with organizations — including those in Washington, D.C. — that can assist us with our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and also help us achieve our mission.
  • Internally, we will provide additional resources to accelerate the implementation of a strategic plan created by our Diversity and Inclusion Council. 

Our efforts do not stop here. There is even more we can and should do. We need to hold ourselves to a high bar for excellence and inclusivity. We need to be vulnerable, look inward, and address our own biases. We need to have the courage to change the status quo – to do things differently than the way we did them before. And we need to lead by standing with and supporting the IBPoC community in all that we do.

Across the divides of distance, language, and cultures—and despite the isolation and stress of a pandemic—you have shared your stories, experiences, learning materials, resources, and feedback with us. Your stories teach us, push our ways of thinking, and help to deconstruct harmful rhetoric and stereotypes. Thank you for challenging all of us to deepen our understanding, to use our voices to advocate for equity, and to enable learning across the globe. In our commitment to do better, we want to continue the conversation. We encourage you to share your reflections and thoughts by emailing education@ngs.org.

To our educators, we are proud to stand with you, and we continue to welcome your stories, experiences, thoughts, and reflections as we work together to make meaningful change.

In solidarity,

Vicki Phillips

Feature image by Mark Thiessen

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