An open letter to the Montgomery County Board of Education and the greater community at large:
You have done an incredibly unique and wonderful thing in naming your elementary school in Rockville for Bayard Rustin. You have indeed made a conscious choice to right a tragic cultural wrong and to be on the right side of history.
Naming your school in honor of Bayard Rustin is truly not only an inspirational symbol but a recognition and an affirmation of not only Bayard Rustin but of so many students and adult community members who have been ignored and marginalized for far too long.
I am the chief activist for the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, a newly formed community activist center and educational enclave I founded after having taught for almost 25 years at the same school I attended as a student. I have served as the “Champion of Equality” for the state of New Jersey, on the world stage as a Fulbright MF Scholar to Japan and most recently as the NEA’s “Social Justice Activist of the Year,” the first person to be recognized as such for works primarily in the LGBTQIA arena.
Bayard Rustin has long been an inspirational figure to me in my life’s work to be a friend to the friendless and a voice to the voiceless, but sadly his name and his great works have been lost to history. Even more tragically, this is not a case of oversight; it is indeed an act of homophobia and fear. Bayard Rustin was, hyperbole aside, the very essence of the Civil Rights Movement, but his contributions therein were ignored simply because of whom he loved.
History shows that he was the primary architect of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. He inspired the Freedom Riders to venture forth on their great journey. He helped bring the principle of non-violence to the Civil Rights Movement, directly from his studies in India with Mahatma Gandhi. But many folks do not know who Bayard Rustin is or was. He was forcibly erased from the story of the Civil Rights Movement because of a simple heartbreaking truth: He was a gay man and he would not disavow who he was or who he loved so he had to work in the shadows, shunned by the very folks to whom he gave so much.
He was not only not given his due respect, but he was not given the basic kindness that we all deserve. This cannot and will not happen again. We need to recognize and love and respect each and every one of us, regardless of personal, philosophical, religious or any other differences that separate us and allow us to see anyone as “other.” Bayard Rustin’s story really is a great microcosm of what inclusivity, or in his case, the lack thereof, can mean, and how much inclusivity can help or harm a movement or an individual therein.
You have now done your part to right a tremendous and devastating historical wrong. You have indeed inspired your students and your community by naming this school after this incredibly important man and you actively and unequivocally show how your district, your schools, you as a people, can come together and not only accept each other’s differences but indeed respect and embrace them. This honor will also serve as catalyst for what the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice now hopes to achieve and will work passionately toward: Creating a nationwide drive to name other schools for important and inspirational figures in the LGBTQIA community. If any readers of the Blade would like to be of service in this endeavor, please feel free to contact us at centerforsocialjustice.blogspot.com.
We need to show these kids that we stand for them and with them. Remember that arc of justice will bend only if we do the good works to make it so.
You have done that in your support of your students who need it in so many ways by having done this simple thing: naming their school in honor of a man who stood up for them at a pivotal time in our history and got nothing in return but being knocked down for doing it.
You showed them (and us all) where you stand now by standing up for Bayard Rustin and in turn for them as well.
Robt Seda-Schreiber is chief activist for the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice.