A Letter From Dave Levin to KIPP Alumni

By Dave Levin, KIPP Co-Founder

This letter is long overdue. Over the years, many of you from all different KIPP schools and regions have talked with me about your reflections on your KIPP experiences. About all the ways KIPP did and did not meet your needs. About how we did and did not always live up to our promises to see, celebrate, and support each of you, individually and collectively, for who you are and who you want to be. KIPP has and continues to change as a result of these conversations. I should have shared the thoughts in this letter with our entire community of KIPP alums long ago. It shouldn’t have taken the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and countless others; another wave of violence against Black people; nor the pain of Black and Latinx students, alumni, colleagues and friends for me to write to all of you.

When KIPP started over twenty-five years ago, all of us who worked here made a promise to do whatever it takes for each of you and to build a better tomorrow. This promise challenged us to think differently about what schools mean and how schools work. This promise inspired us to seek to build strong relationships with you and families where we hoped everyone felt like teachers and leaders were always accessible. This is why we always aspired to be more than a team — a team and a family. For me, these relationships, some of which now span two and a half decades, are among the things I am most grateful for in my life.

At the same time, however,  as a white man, I did not do enough as we built KIPP to fully understand how systemic and inter-personal racism, and specifically anti-Blackness, impacts you and your families – both inside of KIPP and beyond. It is clear that I, and others, came up short in fully acknowledging the ways in which the school and organizational culture we built and how some of our practices perpetuated white supremacy and anti-Blackness. In recent years, I have come face to face with the understanding that white supremacy doesn’t just mean the public and hateful displays of racism; it applies to all aspects of the world that are set up for the benefit of and perpetuation of power for white people at the expense of Black, Latinx, and other People of Color.

The most common example of this is discipline practices that center on compliance and control and have not consistently and constructively affirmed, uplifted, and celebrated your identities, your families, your communities, and our Black and Latinx staff. Another way this played out over time is the way in which our emphasis on college became a “college or failure” message. I also know that for some alums who have returned to work at KIPP, what should have been such a powerful and rewarding experience has been a frustrating and hurtful one where you felt unable to authentically be yourselves, unable to receive professional development designed for your needs, and haven’t had your career aspirations met. I have heard so clearly from some of you the pain, hurt, and anger caused by these and other dispiriting practices, mindsets, and experiences.

I deeply apologize that I did not do more as a co-founder of KIPP to ensure that every day all KIPP students go to a school and all KIPP staff work at a school in which they feel seen, heard, and valued. I will not accept any practice at KIPP that in any way furthers systemic racism, inequities, and anti-Blackness.

Your courage and authenticity in sharing your reflections pushed me and all of KIPP to learn and evolve in many ways over the past twenty-five years. And for this, I am grateful. Many of you have also reminded me of the words you heard as students, “Actions speak louder than words.” You‘ve asked to hear more about what KIPP is doing today.

Over the past several years, our school cultures center restorative practices more than ever; we created a leading for racial equity program that is integrated into all of our leadership development training; and our teachers, school leaders, and regional and national boards are more racially representative of your identities. We are working to be more inclusive in how we support each of you on the paths of your choice — through college and career. We want all of you to feel at home and supported by KIPP regardless of the path you follow after high school. KIPP’s 25th anniversary celebration in 2019 was designed and led by KIPP alumni. Your peers set the agenda and created space for discussing where KIPP has and has not lived up to its promises. This event also marked the launch of the National KIPP Alumni Network, which will support alumni in their careers, in staying in touch with each other, and in ensuring alumni have a voice in KIPP’s future. In each of these areas, as well as others, we’ve heard so clearly that we are still moving too slowly and have not fully invested either in terms of time, resources, or mindsets in the work that needs to be done for KIPP to be a fully inclusive organization. And too often, the labor and leadership of working toward anti-racism is spearheaded by Black and Brown people. I whole-heartedly agree, and I will make sure that all of KIPP takes responsibility for this work.

We need to do more, faster. Throughout this summer and fall, you will hear more from us about specific actions KIPP is taking to bring the words in our mission to life. In the meantime, please know that I, and all KIPP leaders, would welcome the chance to continue to connect with each of you – whether individually or in small or large groups. I will be working with our alumni teams to set up times for us to talk in July and August and as always, please feel free to email me directly.

Twenty-five years ago, and in the years since, each of you in your own KIPP school helped us re-think what school means. Next fall there will be over 36,000 KIPP alums. One of the most inspiring and hopeful things to me is that so many of you now work here, are getting engaged in regional or national alumni associations, are serving on KIPP boards, or have your own kids enrolled at a KIPP school. Together, along with our current students, families, and broader team and family, we can re-think school yet again so that each word of our vision and mission rings true for all KIPPsters.

With the deepest respect and gratitude.

One love,

Dave

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