Commit to Antiracism as Essential to SEL

SEL4Newton is a pilot project of SEL4MA

Antiracism Book List from Newton Free Library. See “Talking about Racism and Justice: A Booklist for Parents and Caregivers”.

June 16, 2020

At this pivotal moment in time, many are urgently seeking ways to respond to the chilling police murder of George Floyd, and now of Rayshard Brooks. Their murders are within a long list of murders, both recent — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, DJ Henry — and over years, decades, centuries. Police and other white people have treated the bodies and minds of Black and Brown people as disposable.

What direct, effective actions, as members of the Social and Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts (over 3,600 members strong) can we take now? How can we clearly hold antiracism as essential to the core of our work to champion effective social and emotional learning (SEL)?

As the Board of Directors of SEL4MA, we acknowledge that we have been complicit in the culture of racism by not making a shared commitment to self-reflection and meaningful action.

Some voices — particularly the voices of people of color — within our own Steering Committee have called on us repeatedly to take stronger action around antiracism. A focus on social justice was present at the founding of our organization. Several members have worked to advance antiracism in their own SEL work, and over the past 9 years within SEL4MA. But many others on our mostly white Steering Committee are only now recognizing that we have allowed our own white privilege to blind us to the impact of systemic racism. That same privilege offered those of us who are white a comfortable way to avoid action.

The Social-Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts commits to hold antiracism as essential to the core of effective SEL in all of our work moving forward.

For those of us who are white, we will be accountable to: 

  • Recognize and name our own white privilege and use it—or relinquish it, where possible — to advance antiracism
  • Hold ourselves and other white people accountable for our racism, recognizing microaggressions we and others commit and challenging ourselves and others to name and stop them
  • Educate ourselves about the history of Black and Brown people that white privilege has rendered invisible—especially their vital role in building this country and the long history of physical, social, and emotional violence inflicted against them in our nation, state, and local communities
  • Learn to be true allies — including listening deeply to and honoring the leadership of Black and Brown people

We urge all members of SEL4MA, composed of both people of color and white people, to commit to:

  • Intentionally partner with Black and Brown leaders, educators, and practitioners working in communities of color, doing community-based and culturally grounded work that uplifts and furthers SEL ideals
  • More deeply identify structural racism and work individually and collectively to dismantle those structures within schools and out-of-school time organizations, and across other related domains such as law enforcement, child welfare, public health, etc.
  • Confront superficial and distorted expressions of SEL that attempt to make young people, specifically young people of color, more passive and compliant and to force all young people to enact white, middle class cultural norms
  • Revise commonly-accepted definitions of SEL to include competencies that promote antiracism, such as self-advocacy, understanding of power structures, and collective action for social change

Join us in committing to antiracism as essential to the core of effective SEL.

What can you do right now?

  • Reflect on your own level of awareness and action around antiracism and commit to do more.
  • Let us know what you have to offer to our collective work — through your lived experience and your work around antiracism, equity, and inclusion.
  • Tell us what you may need to support you in your work to hold antiracism at the core of effective SEL.

In making this public statement, we as the Board of Directors are taking one important step. But only through sustained action will we demonstrate our commitment. Expect to hear more from us in the coming days and weeks, as we develop and launch aligned activities in areas such as public awareness, policy, professional development, and communities of practice.

Reach out to us at any time at or (617) 431-6607 to offer your ideas, suggestions, support, and involvement.

And where we fail to live up to our commitment, call us to account.

We believe that in working together, we can promote effective SEL in a way that makes a difference in creating a more just and equitable world.

SEL4MA Board of Directors

  • Mitch Lyons, President
  • Jim Vetter, Executive Director
  • Ellen Gibson, Director of Policy and Advocacy
  • Nova Biro, Treasurer
  • Fern Shamis, Secretary
  • Rachel Poliner, Director

We recognize and appreciate substantial contributions to this statement from the following people:

  • Karen Craddock
  • Deborah Donahue-Keegan
  • Kamilah Drummond-Forrester
  • Margaret Kiwanuka
  • Randy Ross
  • Khari Roulhac
  • Catherine Wong