USA: Education unions reaffirm role of education in addressing racial violence

published 17 August 2017 updated 22 August 2017

Reacting to racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States’ education unions have strongly vowed to stand up for diversity and to promote tolerance and justice for all.

Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have voiced their concerns about the racially motivated violence at a right wing rally and have called for action to protect the rights and safety of all Americans.

NEA: Powerful in diversity

“Hate, violence, and racism have no place on our campuses or in our cities,” stressed NEA President and Education International (EI) Vice-President Lily Eskelsen García. “We are powerful in our diversity.”

On 14 August, Eskelsen García and Jim Livingston, President of the Virginia Education Association (VEA), issued a statement that read: “Hate-filled bigots again descended on Charlottesville in a contemptible attempt to evoke fear and terror. In their wake, three were dead, many more injured, and the community left traumatised.”

One young woman was killed when a man drove a car into the crowd of protestors, and two police officers lost their lives when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the events.


The VEA and NEA have developed resources for students, educators, and families to address and engage in the national dialogue about racism, hate, and bias, which can be used in the wake of recent events in Charlottesville.

AFT: Stronger when embracing diversity

Meanwhile, AFT President Randi Weingarten also expressed her union’s concerns about the events in Charlottesville. “The atrocious display of racist hate in this march is antithetical to our values as Americans,” she said.

In a statement dated 13 August, Weingarten, AFT Secretary Treasurer Lorretta Johnson and AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker explained that “what happened in Charlottesville exposed a dark turning point in America. It is not just a sobering reminder of the very real racism and anti-Semitism running through the veins of Americans, but a call to stand up to the forces of hate and division in this country that feel emboldened today.”

Action required

They are also adamant that “this moment requires more than simply denouncing hatred; it requires action to protect the basic rights and safety of American families from those who peddle terror and hate”.

They further call on the US President, the Justice Department and the FBI to conduct “real, transparent investigations into terrorism from white supremacists”, and for elected officials and law enforcement from all 50 states to use all of the resources at their disposal to keep communities safe.

The AFT co-sponsored vigils around the country on 13 August with Indivisible and other organisations committed to safety, tolerance and justice for all Americans.

Its free Share My Lesson class plans on civil rights, bullying and helping students to cope with traumatic events, and supporting families and educators talk to children about these kinds of events can be downloaded here.