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Reflections from a ‘son of San Francisco’

This week, I would like to share with you an excerpt from a speech made by Landon Dickey, a special assistant who oversees the San Francisco Unified School District’s African-American Achievement and Leadership initiative.

A native of San Francisco, Mr. Dickey was invited to speak at City Hall to kick-off Black History Month:

‘I am a son of San Francisco’

This City Hall has always had significance to me. It’s the place my parents were married, the location of my high school senior prom and the spot where I’ll get married soon.

It’s the seat of democracy in our city. And democracy is forever tied to my commitment to education.

As I see it, democracy is meant to be an ongoing debate. As John Stuart Mill wrote in “On Liberty,” it’s meant to be a competition of ideas; the stronger against the weaker, over and over again until, finally you reach the world heavyweight championship, Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston.

I am an educator and an employee of the public schools system because I want our black children to be world-class fighters in the intellectual ring — in the political arena and at the tables surrounded by decision-makers in our country.

But we shoulder an incredible burden as black people. In a land that we were brought to as prisoners, in a nation that we made the down-payment on, we are also called upon to be the conscience, the moral compass, the north star.

From Frederick Douglass to Mary McLeod Bethune to Martin Luther King Jr., we’ve seized the tools of liberation, the pen, the paper and the books, and we’ve used it to force the arc of the universe toward justice.

As a fourth grader, I remember reading a biography of Colin Powell and was transfixed by it. Outside of my family, he was one of the first black men I saw dreaming big and excelling.

At that point, I was a dreamer.

‘When you see a flickering flame’

Let me just say, with respect to the national theme of the crisis of black education, let’s be clear, there is no crisis of black genius. It is in our schools. I see it every day.

When you see a flickering flame, you instinctively rush to protect it from the wind, to add more kindling, help it grow. Our black children deserve the same rallying around their interests.

Years ago, my teachers encouraged my Colin Powell biography project. They encouraged my creative stories. They encouraged my public speaking. Thank God, they encouraged me to stay in geometry, to run for student government, to apply to and attend Harvard University.

When black families feel frustrated with us as educators, we can’t turn away from them — that’s the time to bring them closer and work with them.


Finally, as black people, we have to remain competitors. I put this challenge to myself as well. We have to strive to be the best. We must tell our children, “Yes, your hand belongs up in the classroom. Yes, you do know the answer to that question. Yes, your opinions are valid.”

This is just a fraction of Mr. Dickey’s inspiring speech. Find the whole speech on demand at SFGOVTV:

Myong Leigh is interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

Myong Leigh
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Myong Leigh

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