Currently, the U.S. earns low marks when it comes to voter turnout: nearly half of all eligible voters didn’t vote in the previous presidential election. For many, not having time off from class or work limits the time window of getting to the polls, coupled with the fact that our electoral process can feel like an intimidating maze to navigate — for first-time voters and experienced voters alike.
As a global education company with a community of learners 1-million strong, General Assembly is committed to showing up as a voice for positive change during this historic election cycle and beyond.
That’s why we decided to giveall U.S. staff and students the day off on November 3, 2020. And that’s why we’ve created the Make A Plan Resource Guide for our students, staff, and broader GA community. We want everyone to have helpful tools and resources at their fingertips to make a plan to vote and get involved in the political process.
We understand it’s a lot: checking your registration status, downloading a preview ballot in advance, seeking free rides to get to the polls… However, have no fear — our guide incorporates a wide breadth of resources and organizations that help simplify everything so you can focus on what you need to do (vote!).
Our guide in no way captures every last detail, but we hope it can serve as a useful resource, and that you’ll commit to making a voting plan — in whatever way, shape, or form that you can.
As General Assembly embarks on a new chapter within a new world, we’ve turned to Lisa Lewin for CEO leadership at this shifted moment — and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
On her first day as CEO at General Assembly, Lisa Lewin sat down with Co-Founder and outgoing GA CEO Jake Schwartz to share more about her journey and passion for education in a Zoom fireside chat with our global GA team.
An Excerpt From Their Conversation:
Jake: Tell us more about your background!
Lisa: I have spent the better part of my career in education, art, science, and the business of education. I have always been deeply dedicated to impact — that’s the thing that ties everything together in my career. I’m a believer that the way to be happy in this life is to try to help others flourish, and I think education is a place to do that. I have spent time at big companies like McGraw Hill and Pearson, and I also built my own tech company that created curriculums for post-secondary institutions.
Jake: How did you end up at GA? What was your first introduction to GA?
Lisa: GA is kind of sprinkled throughout my career and has inserted itself into my life in random ways over the past few years. And I’ll just give a couple of examples. When I launched my own tech company, I was the first employee, so I literally had to build everything, including doing the code myself on our first products. I needed to learn and refine my skills in product development and design and took a GA course to do just that. It was an incredible experience, and so I became a fan way back then in the early days of GA.
Then, at Pearson, I ran the global technology and product team with over 1,000 people across every continent. I always had great faith if I was sending one of my staff to GA — engineers, UX experts, data scientists — that they were going to come back with immediately applicable skills. If you’re going to invest like that, you’ve got to believe there’s an ROI, and there was always an ROI when I would send people to GA.
And then lastly, just this year, I needed something fixed so I called a handyman I used to call all the time for help. I sent him a text, and he was like, “Actually, I don’t do that anymore.” He went on to explain how he had launched an entirely new, amazing career in web development by getting a certificate at a place called GA. So as someone who has dedicated her career to education and deeply believes in impact, that is a long-winded way of saying I’m super excited to be here and have been a fan for a very long time.
Jake: One question we always ask our employees when they join the company at our “team lunch” gatherings, is who was your favorite teacher you ever had, and why?
Lisa: My mother was a teacher who actually taught me how to read at home. And that was marvelous. She’s definitely the teacher that has had the biggest influence on my life. Outside of her, it’s a tie between my music teacher and history teacher. The music teacher, because he created the model that I hope I use now, which is giving feedback with kindness, understanding how to help people get better, and giving critical feedback in a humane way. And then, the history teacher helped form my brain’s ability to recognize patterns. History is about pattern recognition. How do you balance between applying what you know to be true and successful, while also staying open to new input, new information, and being agile?
Jake: I don’t know how many CEO transitions have happened during a worldwide pandemic. At GA, we’ve had quite a journey converting everything from offline to online in a matter of days. It’s such a unique moment, and I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the opportunity for GA, and how we think about our role at this moment where everything seems in flux.
Lisa: There is a genuine, legitimate need for what we’re doing right now. Yet, there are businesses out there trying to figure out what to push into the universe. I don’t want to be in that kind of business in a world where there is no shortage of needs. Why bother producing things where you have to invent or create demand?
In a world where there is no shortage of needs, particularly for people who are trying to get a rung on the economic ladder, for people who recently lost their employment or are in industries that have completely collapsed, our core mission to help people find meaningful work is legitimately useful and in need right now.
I also want to say one other thing about this moment, and about business in general. I just don’t see the point in coming to work and ignoring that the world is on fire. I’ve got to believe I’m not the only person in the universe who wakes up in the morning and starts “doom-scrolling” through the news. There’s no point (in) trying to shut that off for the workday. What I say all the time is that business leaders have a choice in “a world on fire”: we have a choice to be arsonists, bystanders or firefighters, and only one of those is the right choice. Businesses won’t solve all the universe’s problems, but we need to acknowledge that we are in a moment where the communities and customers we serve are experiencing a public health crisis, layered on top of a climate crisis, layered on top of inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity. We need to ask ourselves how we can be thoughtfully and strategically helpful.
We need to ask ourselves how we can ensure that the world is getting better as we get bigger and better. That’s a healthy question all businesses should be asking right now.
We are excited to launch The 2030 Movement — a week-long festival of free workshops and panel events focused on coding, data, design, marketing, and career development — in effort to build a better world through tech by 2030.
Whether you’re looking to dive deeper into data, code your way into a new career, or simply make meaningful professional connections, our robust lineup of workshops and panel events offers something for everyone . Discover what’s coming up!
Monday, September 14: Career-Proof Skills of 2030
Hear from thought leaders and industry experts about how you can stay in demand in your career — no matter what 2030 throws at you.
Today marks an important new chapter in the General Assembly story. We’ve had a lot of these big milestones since we started as a team of four almost ten years ago. In that time, we raised five rounds of venture capital, expanded to nearly forty markets in seven countries, launched hundreds of new programs and courses, worked with over 400 companies on large-scale digital transformation initiatives, and were acquired by the largest human capital solutions company in the world.
All of these chapters had a few common threads. Our mission, our vision, our approach to the world — and, me as CEO. So this new chapter is going to be different, which will involve me stepping away from my role as CEO of General Assembly after ten amazing years.
As with any big change, I feel some uncertainty and a level of trepidation (a feeling I know that our students experience every single day as they gain new skills and transform their careers). But I’m also really, really happy, because we’ve found a really dynamic and talented executive to step into the CEO role. Over the past six months, we’ve run a robust and intensive search, with a lot of deliberation and consideration of many talented and qualified candidates.
So: I am excited to announce Lisa Lewin as our new Chief Executive Officer, starting August 17. I have absolute confidence that Lisa is the leader who will ensure that General Assembly reaches its ambitious growth goals, while also contributing to the culture that will ensure its continued success. I am also looking forward to being a part of this process — I’ve told Lisa I’m here for whatever support she wants or needs (while of course not getting in the way.)
At the start of GA, I was just coming out of the painful anxious experience of graduating college into a recession, feeling lost and lonely in the world of work. Being able to translate that experience into an ever expanding pathway for others in the same predicament has been incredibly meaningful to me personally. But to be able to build this among a brilliant cast of thousands — team members, students, alumni, partners, investors — has been the greatest honor of my working life. I cannot think of a better steward for the next phase of this company’s development than Lisa Lewin, and I cannot wait to see what comes next for General Assembly.
To learn more about General Assembly’s new CEO, Lisa Lewin, read our press release here.
“Interactive,” “Engaging,” “Hands-on,” “Relevant,” “Practical,” “Digestible,” “Clear and easy to understand,” or “Fun!”
We’ve asked this question hundreds of times, and the answers are rarely surprising. Yet, when we ask another question, “How many of the classes you’ve taken actually fit these descriptions?” sadly, the percentage is often quite low — but not for our students.
At GA, we’ve mastered the magic of delivering great learning experiences for each student and client.
Interested in what this means? Read on.
Principles of Andragogy
Andragogy is an esoteric term meaning the method or practice of teaching adult learners. If this is the first time you’re seeing the word “andragogy,” you’re not alone.
The reason we mention this term is that we’re often asked about our “pedagogy”, in reference to our learning theory. Considering that the word most commonly used to discuss learning theory (pedagogy) has a prefix that means “relating to children” (ped) says something about the way society thinks about education. Namely, that learning is primarily for children. This has never been less true than it is today, where even successful professionals with years of post-graduate education and executive experience need to continuously upskill to keep pace with our rapidly changing world — now more than ever.
The distinction between andragogy, the adult learning methodology, and pedagogy, the children’s learning methodology, is important because while many good learning experience qualities such as engagement and interaction apply to both adults and children, there are some key contextual differences.
In both cases, excellent educators reference Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy to ground their courses in observable learning outcomes, and aim for active, hands-on learning with multiple opportunities to check for understanding and provide feedback along the way.
However, we all understand that adulthood differs from childhood. As adults, we have an abundance of two things children typically have less of: choice and responsibility.
What does this have to do with learning design? When you start thinking about taking a course or changing your career as an adult, you are plagued with different considerations than you had in grade school:
Is this worth my time and money?
Will I be successful in learning this?
What kind of people are going to be in my class?
Will this be useful for my unique set of circumstances?
Should I just Google it?
Designing for the Adult Learner
Six key actions tend to assuage adult learning anxieties, and help learners construct individualized meaning from a shared learning experience:
We know that adults learn best when they are active in the learning experience, when they are working toward solving a realistic, relevant, and interesting problem, and when they can show up as a whole person with individual experiences, goals, and preferences. Adults are not empty vessels… they are fully developed and experienced individuals.
So how does this knowledge impact our approach to learning? We design classes where the instructor does not just push information to the students; the instructor creates space where students can share their perspectives, be social, build connections, hear from other people, stretch their minds, and enjoy the process.
If you’re having trouble picturing a unique GA learning experience, here is an example of what it looks like in practice:
As a warm-up activity, we ask groups of participants to “be the search engine.” We give them printouts of five different Google search results from a previous search we conducted, such as “lunch.” We then ask them to arrange those printouts in the order they should be returned to the searcher in response to a few rapid-fire search queries, such as:
“Best Restaurant to Take Clients”
“Vegan Lunch Downtown”
This succession of questions leads students to look at the details of the pages — their titles, contents, references to location, date published, etc. — to make and discuss these decisions. These details are factors of how search algorithms work and factors they will need to optimize for in their SEO strategies.
The exercise illustrated above takes about ten minutes, roughly the same amount of time it would take the instructor to explain how search engines work. However, the exercise primes the students with decision-making, real-life engagement, and meaningful, useful information that can later be built upon. Most importantly, the students have not just heard the information; they have processed it — and had fun along the way.
Instructional Design in the Digital Age
At GA, we deliver learning across two spectrums: the experience spectrum, which ranges from absolute beginners to field professionals seeking to remain current, and the duration spectrum, which ranges from 20-minute eLearning modules to 12-week, 480-hour immersive courses.
Designing a relevant and active learning experience across these spectrums is not easy, but it’s core to our proven success in digital skills education over the last nine years. Our instructional design practices are rooted in:
Modern Digital Design Practices
Learning Theory and Sciences
Understanding each of these fields helps us to better utilize the other.
Modern digital design practices include user research, design thinking, agile development, data analysis, and rapid iteration. These practices are typically core drivers of the last 30 years of technology innovation, yet too many educational institutions have been slow to embrace them. By leveraging these more modern practices into our instructional design process, we can make better use of learning theories and sciences that largely emerged in the 20th century, including the behaviorist learning theory and constructivist learning theory.
For example, Nir Eyal’s book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” elaborates on a behaviorist learning theory used by UX designers and product teams to keep users coming back to their platforms. Think of that addictive social media feed, or how you can’t resist tapping an app with a big red notification bubble…
This behaviorist strategy is also well-suited for learning beginners just starting in a field, or those independently working through material on a digital learning platform. Through data analysis, we’ve seen this user need come through in myGA (eLearning) lessons via requests for “more knowledge checks,” and we’ve added them accordingly. Those frequent checks help learners gain confidence and validate their understanding, which is particularly important in the absence of a live instructor.
As a learner “climbs” Bloom’s taxonomy into greater depths of knowledge in a field, frequent, short exercises start to become irritating, and gamification attempts can feel juvenile. We’ve seen this in students’ feedback on long-form courses where they’d prefer fewer activities. This feedback led us to consolidate those activities into select, more robust exercises.
Meaningful, more robust exercises are examples of the constructivist learning theory, which suggests no singular “truth,” and each individual will derive a personal meaning through action and reflection. At GA, this shows up in all of our long-form courses, where in the end, students solve real-world business problems of their choice in a capstone project.
Guiding learners to make their own meaning through project work is great when you are leading a classroom of professionals in solving a business problem using new digital skills. Still, it can leave people lost in certain scenarios, i.e., if applied in a room full of first-time programmers trying to understand what a Python loop is. That’s why both constructivism and behaviorism strategies are effective for different purposes.
Through user research and data analysis of the thousands of learners collected over the years, we know how to deploy the right strategy at the right time, and iterate in rapid cycles based on continuous feedback from our instructors and learners.
Bringing Everything Together
We’re passionate about delivering best-in-class education, and hope a deep dive into our approach to learning has provided some helpful insights as you explore an upskilling journey that will ensure both personal and professional growth for your teams.
Alison Kashin is the Director of Instructional Design at General Assembly.
Since 2011, General Assembly has trained individuals and teams online and on-campus through experiential education in the fields of technology, data, marketing, design, and product. Learn more about how we can transform your talent, and our solutions to upskill and reskill teams across the globe.
General Assembly’s mission is to empower people to pursue the work they love, and we recognize that not all individuals have the same level of access and opportunity. That’s why we launched the Social Impact initiative five years ago to create pathways for students from underserved and underrepresented communities into tech, marketing, and data design.
Our newest Social Impact program is a partnership that combines student-friendly financing with additional coaching, mentorship, referrals to local and community resources, as well as access to emergency funds.
The program launched in fall 2019, and I joined the team in late December of 2019 as the Social Impact Program Services Lead, tasked with leading the supportive service programming for students enrolled via our Catalyst Income Share Agreements. Within my first 90 days on the job, the world as we know it changed, and we found ourselves in the epicenter of a global pandemic.
This post was originally scheduled to be released in response to the global health crisis. However, the recent murders of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Abery, and Breonna Taylor have not only shaken us to our core, but have also triggered an immediate response to gather and circulate self care and mental health resources for our entire GA community, but most importantly, our black students and staff members. We recognized the necessity to share information and create supportive spaces; to gather and form communities of healing and strength during this time.
The Social Impact 2020 Global Resource Guide was created to provide real-time support to individuals looking for resources right now. This Resource Guide consists of an expansive list of supports covering categories such as:
Bill and Payment Relief
Mental Health and Wellness
Emergency Cash Assistance
The resources are provided by local nonprofits, government agencies, grassroots organizations, private foundations, and corporations. We’ve also included anything that might be useful to our community: from where to find free diapers, tips for indoor socializing at any age, and where to find free storage for students who may be displaced and need to leave their college campuses. We did our best to take into account the unique needs of everyone who may have been affected by the recent events, with support catered to people of diverse races and ethnicities, specific industry/professional backgrounds, various age ranges, all gender identities, and people who identify as LGBTQIA+.
We are committed to standing with our black students and staff members as we fight racism and work to build a more equitable and just society for all. This work is demanding, nonstop, and at times, overwhelming. Knowing this, we have to remember to take care of ourselves. This guide highlights a comprehensive list of black mental health and self care resources that include online directories for black therapists and licensed mental health practitioners, pro bono services, virtual healing spaces, town halls, as well as fact sheets to manage emotions and create opportunities for safe spaces and important ongoing conversations.
As we focus on developing coping strategies, building resiliency, and looking towards a better tomorrow, regional mental health and wellness resources are also highlighted, focusing on providing comfort to anyone who may be experiencing feelings of anxiety, anger, loss, grief, and even confusion. A variety of helplines, on demand or text-based counseling services, meditation resources, and wellness apps are also showcased, offering something for everyone at any time.
The guide covers 14 individual regions, comprising five countries across four continents.
United States: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Washington DC, Los Angeles,NYC, San Francisco, and Seattle
United Kingdom: London
Asia Pacific: Singapore
The Global Resource Guide originally grew out of a call to action responding to the needs of our General Assembly community during a time of crisis. It has blossomed into a comprehensive document that not only supports the needs of the GA community, but a larger global community.
I’m sharing this guide with you because there is a resource in this document for everyone. I encourage you to take the time to take a look, and continue to pass it on.
Black life and Black lives matter. Silence and idleness in the face of systemic oppression are complicity, and we are not complicit. General Assembly stands with those across the U.S. and around the world1 fighting against racism, police brutality, and the widespread, systemic violence against Black people that has taken place throughout our global history. We know that the lives we lost can never be replaced, and we stand with the anger and bravery of protestors and activists risking their lives in the pursuit of justice.
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Rayshard Brooks, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Michelle Cusseaux, Dominique Fells, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tony McDade, Riah Milton, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor — and countless others whose many names we may never know — continue to shake us to our cores.
Over the past few weeks, we have taken important internal steps to accelerate the work we need to do as a company to truly create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable GA environment for our employees, students, clients, and alumni. We have a lot of work to do. Still, as a company, we are committed to educating ourselves, supporting racial justice organizations, and engaging in activism and the political process. We have also pushed ourselves to ask: “How can we take more responsibility as a GA community to build a just and equitable world?”
GA helps people find meaningful work by training them with digital, technological skills, but most importantly, we view our work and advocacy within a broader movement towards social justice. That said, we know that we are also a part of an education and workforce ecosystem that often perpetuates the systemic racism that exists in every facet of American — and global — societies.
This work begins at home. We commit to increasing the diversity of our leadership and executive teams and developing professional growth pathways for our Black staff. We are also making a company-wide commitment to hiring more Black talent, and to using our platform to educate employers and other training providers on building inclusive talent pipelines.
In the weeks and months to come, we will speak up and take action to elevate ideas, norms, and values that can dismantle white supremacy2 and move the needle towards justice. Below are three spaces that we believe GA can work within to drive change.
1. Increase access to high-quality education and training for Black students in underserved communities.
The U.S. education system is set up to offer nearly limitless opportunity to those in positions of privilege and far less to those without any. Our responsibility as an education provider is to create pathways to social and economic mobility for communities who have been historically locked out.
We need to be intentional and proactive about building partnerships with community organizations to support students from underserved communities and those who have been incarcerated. This will require further investment in financing alternatives that can reduce the cost of education, and shift the risk away from learners by holding providers accountable for ensuring successful job outcomes. GA must expand comprehensive support for students with wraparound services (such as childcare, transportation, and mental health) that help remove the roadblocks that often prevent people from pursuing or completing their education.
GA’s commitment: We will seek out employers to partner with on the expansion of our impactful Digital Academy and Managed Service Provider Partner Models to attract, nurture, and actively promote Black talent. We will donate our educational products to nonprofit organizations focused on fostering Black talent. We will deepen the support we offer students, such as emergency funds, case management, referrals, and tech equipment. We will formalize the work we are doing to leverage our students’ talents and alumni to support nonprofits and small businesses, focusing on racial justice organizations and Black-owned businesses.
2. Work with hiring partners to end biased hiring and enable new practices that get more Black talent into jobs.
For most people, getting a good job is the ultimate goal of their education and training experience. That makes it easy for employers to blame labor market inequality on the mythical “pipeline problem” and shift responsibility onto education providers, rather than making investments in existing talent or new pipelines of talent.
Employers must do better. To start, that means concrete actions such as removing college degree requirements from job postings and implementing skills-based hiring practices that recognize performance rather than pedigree. It includes practices like “Banning the Box” to open doors for formerly incarcerated job seekers, and eliminating unpaid internships that favor those with the means to support themselves to work without pay. Employers must recognize the incredible potential of their people already employed and create talent pivots and pathways for new roles and functions.
GA’s commitment: We will urge our hiring partners and clients to make public commitments to hiring Black talent and to make investments in upskilling or reskilling existing talent. We will direct Talent Acquisition, Career Coaches, and Local Campus Partnerships to use our voice and position to publicly call attention to biased hiring practices that disproportionately affect Black applicants. We will hold partners who want to hire our students accountable for making these changes.
3. Advocate for policies that boost access and affordability of high-quality education and training for Black people, and mobilize our community to participate in the political process.
From the U.S. Department of Education’s revocation of nondiscrimination guidelines to the outright provocations of violence from the President and his surrogates, it’s clear that we cannot rely on federal policymakers to make meaningful advancements when it comes to equity and racial justice.
Policies can be a lever for change in an election year — they’re more important than ever. We know there’s bipartisan support for ideas at the federal level such as job training tax credits or apprenticeships that can expand access to education. There’s momentum at the state and local level for ideas such as portable benefits that can better protect workers in a changing labor market. It’s also encouraging to see signs of collaboration and movement over the past weeks on urgent issues that aren’t directly related to education, like reinvesting police funding.
As 2020 candidates’ platforms evolve in the coming months, we all have an opportunity to raise our voices to advocate for federal, state, and local policies that can begin to chip away at America’s legacy of systemic racism. We can ensure that incoming elected officials make good on their responsibility to implement those necessary policies.
GA’s commitment: We will increase our efforts to advocate for legislation at the federal, state, and local levels to create pathways into high-skill, high-wage jobs for members of underserved communities. We will amplify amicus briefs in support of social justice issues, and take on external pro bono legal work. We will continue to push for a new social contract to strengthen the social safety net. We will educate our community on ways toget more involved in the political process while boosting voter registration deadlines, and local and federal election dates. We will close our U.S. offices on November 3, 2020, to allow our entire community to vote.
We take our commitments seriously, and understand that sincere and meaningful allyship is an ongoing journey. The truth is, we have many things to learn, so we will continue educating ourselves, speaking up, and embracing challenges to continue our growth process. We also appreciate ideas we may not have thought of that can help us create a more just and equitable world.
1General Assembly is a global education company with campuses in seven countries. We know that the current measures to dismantle systemic racism in the United States are not the same measures to address injustices in other parts of the world. The above statement focuses on the language, context, and our actions in the United States, and we look forward to sharing additional commitments across our other locations that are aligned with their regional political, social, and cultural realities.
“As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration.”
— Marsha P. Johnson, gay liberation activist and central figure in the Stonewall riots
With its iconic marches and vibrant colors, Pride is both a time of celebration, as well as a recognition of the Stonewall Rebellion’s anniversary, which birthed the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. Today — a world of unrest that echoes the very Stonewall riots that gave us the Pride we know — is the time to focus on the spirit of that uprising and save the celebrations for another day.
Marsha P. Johnson, the Black trans woman who catalyzed the Stonewall Rebellion, said it best: “As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration.” As protests across the nation respond to systemic police brutality against the Black community, there is a bright, necessary light on violence against People of Color — including LGBTQ+ People of Color, who experience these injustices differently.
Today, in the United States:
Data shows that Black people who identify as LGBTQ+ have the highest rates of unemployment, lack of insurance coverage, food insecurity, and income below the poverty level than both non-Black LGBTQ+ people and non-LGBTQ+ Black people.
Young LGBT People of Color are at higher risk of homelessness. An estimated 20–40% of homeless youth in the U.S. identify as LGBT or believe they may be LGBTQ+. One study found that among homeless youth who identify as gay or lesbian, 44% identified as Black and 26% as Latino.
Black transgender women are disproportionately victims of harassment and violence; last year, there were 26 reported deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States caused by acts of violence. Black trans women accounted for the majority of these losses.
The path forward is paved with solidarity. We hope these injustices are rectified soon so that all of us can celebrate and heal — not just a privileged few. In the meantime, we’re here to support you with resources and workshops focused on LGBTQ+ topics. For more information on how you can stand with People of Color, read our post, Why We Should All Be Angry, by our very own Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, James Page.
General Assembly (GA) is a community committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We aim to provide a welcoming environment for everyone at GA: students, staff, instructors, clients, and anyone who walks through our doors, physical or virtual. No matter what, we strive to uphold our work value to “Keep Getting Better” in our diversity journey.
In the United States, where many in our community are located, there is a long history of violence and harassment against People of Color. Now that many people carry cameras with them and have instant access to social media, these acts of violence and harassment are more likely to be swiftly and readily exposed. In recent weeks, we have experienced a shared sense of grief and horror over the untimely deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the harassment of Christian Cooper.
We stand with Black and Brown People and are fully committed to creating physically and emotionally safe spaces for our entire GA community. Black lives matter. We do not tolerate racism or racial harassment of any kind — and we never will. In that spirit, we share this reflection by James Page, General Assembly’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:
As a Black man in America, I’ve been aware since my teen years that others’ fears are closely linked to my skin color. While I found some humor when a White woman would clutch her purse as I walked by, there was also significant frustration. I was a nerdy Catholic school kid who liked to crack a joke. However, my identity as a Black man was perceived as dangerous and threatening in a way that superseded anything else about me.
In 2016, I took a trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture with my 13-year-old son. I will never forget the Emmett Till exhibit, where an open casket holds a photo of Emmett’s beaten and deformed face. I was frozen. I held my son’s hand, and without any real awareness, tears began to roll down my face.
My son asked me what was wrong. I explained that Emmett was a 14-year-old African-American boy who was visiting family in Mississippi in 1955. A White woman accused him of whistling at her, and he was brutally beaten and murdered by two White men. The killers were found not guilty, even though they admitted to killing him one year later. They were confident that the American legal system would protect them. Sixty-two years later, Emmett’s accuser admitted she lied — he never whistled at her. Her false accusation was enough to end that young man’s life with no recourse to his accuser or his murderers.
Fair-minded people can agree that taking another human life is wrong, and share the sense of outrage at the senseless, recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. However, the story of Emmett Till and its connection to the story of Amy Cooper speaks to a much deeper pattern of racism, exploitation, and injustice that is pervasive and prevalent in our society.
Why am I angry at the justice system and our police force? Why am I angry at Amy Cooper? Why should we all be angry? Because she shared the same sense of privilege and entitlement as Emmett’s accuser when she called the police on Christian Cooper. She knew that if she called 911 and expressed fear as a White woman threatened by a Black man, she would be believed, and a Black man would be punished, regardless of what actually happened. She weaponized her racial advantage and it could have been lethal to Christian Cooper: just as it was when Carolyn Bryant lied about Emmett Till, when Eleanor Strubing accused Joseph Spell of rape, and when Tom Robinson was accused of raping Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Black men have been conditioned to fear the police, the U.S. justice system, and White women. It is well known that when the cops, or “the posse” show up, the Black man — a 14-year-old Black boy visiting family, a Black man in a consensual relationship with a White woman, a Black character in one of the greatest novels of all time, or a Black Harvard grad birdwatching in a park — can be arrested, beaten, jailed, abused, and subjected to extreme acts of violence. His Black body can be deemed disposable, be made an example of, and deemed unimportant, a piece of property for the public; another piece of “strange fruit – blood on the leaves, blood at the root.”
While fear is closely linked to my identity, passed on from generation to generation, it is a fear that I must submit to — unbelievable in 2020. I must learn and follow the unspoken rules. I must fear the police, the justice system, bank lenders, the President of the United States, and the White woman clutching her purse — innocuous people or protectors under any other circumstance. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, “It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be Black.”
The only way to end this ongoing cycle is to educate ourselves, show up for People of Color, and get involved in the political process. This is not a new moment in our nation’s history, but part of the ongoing suffering, injustice, and inhumane treatment of minorities; these acts of aggression, violence, and unequal rights we are experiencing right now create real trauma for communities of color who have to live every day in fear. All of us have a role to play in dismantling institutional racism in this country; all of us must help address — and heal — that trauma. Now is the time to stand together and say, “No. More.”
If you are looking for ways to show up as an ally in this time, here are some places to get started — we share a handful of resources and it is by no means exhaustive:
Spend time reading and learning. Read the work of James Baldwin, Ta-Nahesi Coates, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Richard Wright, and Malcolm X. More recent books like How to be Antiracist, White Fragility, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, and White Rage provide contemporary insight on how to show up for communities of color. Purchase them from your local bookstore, and check out more resources here. They are truly eye-opening.
Support organizations that are moving the needle on racial justice. Color of Change, Campaign Zero, the Anti-Racism Project, the NAACP, UnidosUS, and the ACLU are but a handful of the organizations working nationally and locally for social justice issues facing communities of color. Sign up for their mailing lists, donate, respond to their calls to action, and find other ways to get involved.
Stand up for People of Color.When you see wrong, stand up for what is right. Call out racist actions — explicit or implicit — when you see them. When justice is compromised, protest, and challenge it until it creates change. You can learn more about how to be an ally here and here.
Get involved in the political process. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, demand accountability from your elected officials and advocate and support candidates who share your values. Most importantly, vote (register here) – and encourage others in your community to do the same.
At General Assembly, we will never compromise on ensuring that everyone within our community gets treated with dignity and respect. In the spirit of our shared commitment to learning, we urge all of you to engage on these issues with curiosity, humility, empathy, and self-awareness in service of active dialogue, brave allyship, and the human goodness that can be brought out by all of us.