The Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) held its 37th annual membership drive on Martin Luther King Jr. Day via Zoom. The guest speaker of the event was Milton Public Schools Superintendent James Jette.
Jette told the audience of more than 100 participants that his mother was born on Martha’s Vineyard, and he also has Chappaquiddick Wampanoag ties, during his opening remarks.
“My path in this journey of education hasn’t been one that was of ease,” Jette continued. “We came down to the Vineyard a little more than a year after my sisters, and it was a struggle for me.”
Jette also said before he settled in with his family on the Vineyard, he was homeless for a period of time. “I share that because it doesn’t matter where you start, it matters where you land. Where I landed, I feel proud, and it’s a combination of many, many, many mentors in my life.”
Leading the public education system in Milton, Jette sees the town as a “microcosm of the world as a whole” because of the diversity. His job is to advocate for students in his district from all backgrounds, but Jette has faced resistance in attempting to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion in Milton. Part of it was a misunderstanding between equality and equity, but others tried to hijack the narrative, he said.
“There are some people who have tried to steal that narrative, and talk about critical race theory. It’s not critical race theory, it’s culturally responsive teaching implemented into [an] individual teacher’s craft,” Jette said. This allows students to feel represented and for the teachers to better understand whom they are teaching:. “When you talk about diversity, we need a variety of people at the table and hear their voices.”
Schools need to work harder to increase a diverse faculty and provide voices for diverse people for the benefit of their students, according to Jette, whether this be ethnic groups, disability communities, socioeconomic, and others. During his time at MVRHS, Jette said, there were no teachers that “looked like me” in his classes. “I’ll preface by saying this is not a negative, it’s just how it was,” he said. Even in college, he was often the only person from a minority group pursuing a career in education.
“Having people of color work in your school or your business is not just serving as a role model for students of color, it’s also serving as a role model for their Caucasian counterparts to see the individual of color leading the district or being part of that is inspirational,” Jette said. “I will be remiss if I don’t say it will be challenging.”
Jette also told the audience what Martin Luther King Jr. Day meant to him. “Today is a day of service … and it doesn’t always mean going somewhere and physically volunteering your time to work for an organization or a group. A day of service can be exactly what I am doing right now: having a conversation and sharing my own experiences in knowledge, and hopefully somebody walks away with a piece of something I said that resonated with them and share it with someone else,” Jette said.
Jette commended King’s efforts in seeking voting rights for all Americans and to make changes for minority and marginalized communities. He said more needs to be done for equity in education and other issues.
“People need to vote, and we can’t look at politics as the Olympics that comes every four years during the presidential campaign,” Jette said.
After Jette’s speech, a question and answer session was held. Attendees asked about how to implement equitable school systems, and asked Jette about his experiences.
According to NAACP Martha’s Vineyard president Arthur Hardy-Doubleday, 110 people registered for the webinar.
“Hopefully, this will be the last year we do this virtually. While it’s good to have some presence, it doesn’t replace breaking bread in -person,” Hardy-Doubleday said.
After a program introduction by event chair Grace Robinson, Rabbi Caryn Broitman from the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center led a prayer.
“May the God who blessed our ancestors bless us who are present today, who have come together in commitment to end the sin of racism, the sin of anti-Semitism, and all hatred, to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality and rights of all persons,” Broitman said.
Beth Jennings, a student from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), read the “Give Us the Ballot” speech by King. Hardy-Doubleday said this was an NCAAP tradition to have young people speak to help them “practice public speaking and give us an introduction into future leaders of this organization.”
“We picked that piece … because the King family has made the point this year voter suppression, voter rights, have to be a central issue to Martin Luther King Jr. this year,” Hardy-Doubleday said, referencing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.
Hardy-Doubleday led a presidential address, thanking all of the people involved in organizing NAACP Martha’s Vineyard’s activities on the Island.
A moment of silence was also held for Mikayla Miller, a young lady found dead in the woods of Hopkinton last spring.
The event concluded with a playing of a video performance of “Lift Every Voice,” which Hardy-Doubleday described as “the Negro national anthem.”