Curry to students: Connect the dots of history

Curry to students: Connect the dots of history

Curry's talk kicked off the weeklong Tiger Unity Summit     

When Michael Curry was young, he knew, but he didn’t understand. 

Growing up in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Curry knew that many of the nearby housing developments had trash incinerators right in the hallways, but he didn’t understand why so many of his neighbors, almost all people of color like himself, suffered from asthma. He knew that police beatings of residents were frequent, but he didn’t understand why his neighborhood was so highly policed compared to other parts of the city and other parts of Massachusetts. He knew friends and family members were battling drug addiction, depression, diabetes, and other illnesses, but he didn’t understand why such maladies occurred so disproportionately near his home. And he knew that visiting relatives often meant visiting prisons filled with young men who looked just like him, but he didn’t understand the failures of the nation’s criminal justice system or its dependence upon mass incarceration. 

“When you’re a child, you don’t have context for all that,” Curry told Upper School students Feb. 25 in the CFA’s Hale Theater, “so you internalize it.” 

Curry, president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and a current member of the Thayer Academy Board of Trustees, addressed the Upper School to kick off the inaugural Tiger Unity Summit, a weeklong series of events and workshops across both divisions organized by Thayer’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) Office. His talk, entitled “Quantum Leap: The Case for Reparations,” shared many insights, but one theme running throughout his remarks was that Black history — and, by extension, the histories of other marginalized groups — is just as central a part of United States history as the stories of Bunker Hill, the Louisiana Purchase, or the Model T. 

Curry discussed significant events in Black history, connecting
the dots to civil rights and equity issues affecting communities today

“It’s American history you were robbed of,” said Curry, referring specifically at that point in his remarks to the nation’s incomplete historical understanding of slavery, an institution which lasted well over 200 years and underpinned much of the nation’s economic growth. To prove his point, Curry challenged the audience to name five Black Americans from that period who were instrumental in combating slavery. Segueing into a discussion of Nat Turner, an enslaved preacher who led a violent rebellion against white authority in 1831 and was hanged as a consequence, Curry asked: “What makes this story less relevant than the story of the American Revolution?” 

Calling it a cultural failure to “connect the dots,” Curry told students that he didn’t personally begin to connect the dots — i.e., understand the context of a situation rather than internalize it — until he attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

“Then I got to college,” said Curry, who later earned his law degree from New England Law. “Then I got the history.” 

An attorney and a frequent commentator on National Public Radio (NPR), Curry is also the immediate past president of the Boston branch of the NAACP. In recent years he has presented his case for reparations numerous times — roughly twice per week, he said, including a recent presentation to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office — but said the work dovetails with three decades of advocating for civil rights and equity in boardrooms, hospitals, schools, government offices, and elsewhere. 

“Equity always matters,” he said. 

Armed with passion and information, Curry acknowledged that conversations about the nation’s past, present, and future are difficult, but he said more and more people are willing to have those conversations. He urged students to take ownership of their own educational journey rather than trust others to think for them. And he advised students to take a deep interest in history and in politics because they both impact one’s daily life. 

“You are born with a responsibility to make things better for the children you will someday have,” Curry told his audience. “And it doesn’t start when you’re 30. It starts now.” 


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