Inside SFS

Headspace: Moving Beyond Empathy

“Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.”

― John Lewis in Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America

I am tired of writing about this. During my twelve years as Head of School, this is one of the topics I post about most frequently – hands down. I could easily reuse a previous post rather than try to say the same thing differently. The reality is that for many, keeping this topic front and center is not a choice. Therefore, this is not a time for me to lament writing about it, but a time to double down on it. Jacob Blake’s shooting, the protests, and the vigilantism in Kenosha this week weigh heavily on my mind and heart. 

There is much work our SFS community has to do in an effort to dismantle systemic racism. And, it must be in the form of action. This past summer, I reached out to SFS families with a parent, guardian, or child who identifies as Black/African-American to start a conversation, to be sure that they felt listened to and supported within our school community, and to continue to build a partnership as we move forward. Our first action step is to create a safe affinity space for further discourse and to examine the Black/African-American experience at The San Francisco School, and this is happening early next month.

Although I don’t think racism and fear-mongering is a partisan issue, I share LA Clipper Coach Doc Rivers’s opinion, “You don’t need to be Black to be outraged.” The SFS mission instructs us to cultivate the humanitarian promise of each one of our students. Our staff, and especially our faculty who engage our children daily, are determined to teach anti-racism and empathy so that each of our students will be a champion for social justice in their own way. 

And I repeat, it’s not enough to have empathy. We need action, not words. Today, at the middle school Town Meeting, we engaged with our oldest students about the recent Jacob Blake shooting. We briefly discussed what it means to take action in a moment like this, and I asked our students to join our adult community in figuring out a way forward. While there was a part of me that felt torn calling upon our children to help us make this right, I believe that we adults have much to learn from our youth. Although in a virtual setting, I promise you, I saw what I can only describe as determination on the faces of many of our students. It gave me hope.

We are in a community that values respect and compassion for all, and as staff and families of SFS, we are partners in teaching our students to be anti-racists. Division heads Nancy Nagramada (Upper School) and Kate McElvaney (Lower School) and I strive to partner with all of you in this historic time. Below, we share resources compiled by Kate to provide you the means to take action in educating your children in age-appropriate ways.

In partnership,




  • The Virtual March on Washington 2020 (in progress). Channeling the energy from this national moment of reckoning, hear the call for reforms of the systems, structures, policies, and attitudes that enable police brutality, racial discrimination. 
  • The Conscious Kid (staff/parents/guardians) an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth that supports organizations, families, and educators in taking action to disrupt racism in young children.
  • TV Shows With Diverse Characters (all ages) by Common Sense Media
  • Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices (preschool/all ages) On September 1, Netflix is launching a new series featuring Black celebrities reading children’s books from Black authors, talking about the message of the book, and sharing their connection with it.
  • TV Shows that help explain racism to kids and aim to spur conversations
    • Nick News Presents: Kids, Race, and Unity | Hosted By Alicia Keys (age 8 and older). Featuring the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, tools to have constructive conversations about race, and teen activists who are fighting racial injustice.
    • CNN/Sesame Street racism town hall (preschool). CNN partners with “Sesame Street” in a town hall for kids and families. 
    • PBS: Talking About Racism (staff/parents/guardians, and preschool). Tips and resources to help you have a meaningful conversation with young children about race, racism, and being anti-racist.

Posted August 28, 2020