This letter from the Black Student Union was shared with the NEC community on June 2, 2020 and is reprinted here for reference and transparency. View the original
Dear NEC Community,
We write this statement in deep solemnity for our community and strong vexation towards a system that continues to unjustly keep out and perpetuate long standing systems of oppression towards Black People.
The NEC Black Students Union stands firm in the belief that above all, human life and the right to be treated fairly and equally must be upheld in all aspects of society. We believe that a critical consciousness amongst members of our school community is imperative to upholding a high standard of musicianship and citizenry. We believe that it is our duty to interact and contribute positively to our surrounding communities as this not only informs our music, but also the roles we will be upholding when we leave the school.
“It's an artist's duty to reflect the times in which we live.” - Nina Simone
It would be irresponsible of us as an artist community to remain silent on issues which plague our society, and more especially deeply inform our practices as observants and reflectors of the times in which we live. The truth is, The United States of America was built on the backs of black slaves who were grossly mistreated and abused for centuries. 401 years later, and the narrative seems to bear only a new face, but not a new story. Do not be misled by the fact that in our school of 800+ students, 4% of the population is black and has assimilated into the fabric of historically white structures. Do not be misled by the fact that the Black American Music Department (aka “Jazz”) exists in a structure where less than 2% of its fabric is Black students and faculty. Do not be misled by this statement which might allude that Blackness exists openly and freely in this space.
The deaths of Black Americans, more recently including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are no new phenomena to the African American community. Black history is inundated with instances of violence, false narratives, gatekeeping and ultimately the destruction to the fabric of our communities. Through art and love, we have found means of reclaiming our narrative and creating ideals of a society we would like to see. However, without reforms in the socio-political structures that exist, these will remain just ideals.
The time for diplomatic discussion and patience as we learn and unlearn, has long been over. We have seen black people put in the work, day-in-day out to survive in a system built to keep us out. Whether that meant actively creating platforms for learning, as is with the BSU, or merely ensuring that we look presentable and responsible enough to not be targeted walking down the street. It is now time for anyone who believes in the right to life, who believes in equality and who cares about anything that may be associated with black lives and black art, to step up and help carry the load. Black students can no longer take the time we need to use to learn how to survive, teaching people how to live.
Silence is just as damaging as oppression. Ask yourself, how am I contributing to these structures? What am I doing differently? Where is my voice needed, and when should I just listen? Can I be comfortable with the uncomfortable?
Black lives are valuable. Black lives matter. Black lives are endangered.
We hope that in these times, the institution as well as the community that makes it up will act towards the future we would like to see. We are firm in the belief that this time is to remind us of the bold truth about where we stand as a society and our individual contributions to the safety and wellbeing of our most marginalized groups. Plans on paper and whispers in corridors are no longer sufficient. Action must begin now.
- We demand that mental wellness resources that are tailored for the black experience be made available at an institutional level.
- We demand that NEC recognize black culture and music through creating virtual programming and future programming that fortifies and highlights black artists' contribution to both classical and contemporary music.
- We demand institutional support for economically and socially at risk black students.
Finally, we request that the school community go out and contribute positively to actions towards a fair and equal future...furthermore we request that we be given time to mourn and space to heal.
There shouldn’t have to be a tragedy to recognize that black lives do matter. The headlines in the media are much closer than we think. These issues directly affect students who we sit in class/orchestra/ensembles with every day.
Our very own Coretta Scott King reminds us that “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members”. We care about NEC and we would love to see it stand out as a musical community that is truly representative of diverse, thoughtful and inclusive musicianship. Let us uphold our values as a community to expand the position of music in society to ignite consciousness, compassion and action.
And lastly, to our Black community: We stand with you...all of you. You are invaluable. You matter. We see you. We love you.
Your BSU Board
Naledi Masilo (President)
Robyn Smith (VP and Secretary)
Paul Mardy (Marketing Director)