By JOSH RESNEK
Cory McCarthy is the vice-principal of Everett High School. He is bright, articulate, energetic, and to the point about what needs to be done for the benefit of the Everett High School students whose racial, social, and economic well-being he feels he is responsible for.
He has come to his position at a time when 82% of the EHS student body are students of color and ethnicity; when the city of Everett is dealing with the tell-tale signs of racism and exclusion.
Color and racism as a city issue have never been more pronounced in recent years than it is today. McCarthy’s job, as he sees it, is to confront racism, to empower all EHS students and those who are Black and Brown, not just as individuals but as a group – to instill in the kids, all the kids, the way to advance their lives, to go on to college and to wrestle, always, the racist monster which divides and troubles so many people in cities like Everett all over the nation.
Q. You have caused a bit of stir among some Everett residents recently because you tend to speak your mind concisely, always tending to express the truth, which is a terrible weapon of aggression. Wearing a Che Guevara sweatshirt in a Tweet that has made the rounds on social media, has caused some to question whether you are a communist or a revolutionary or both. Some have reached out to the Leader Herald about some of your Tweets and wondered if you are a racist. What do you say about such claims?
Che was big on literacy and its ability to liberate folks. There is a reason slaves were murdered for sneaking off and learning how to read. I may not agree with many of his ideologies, but the grit and grind of a revolution is a real thing. Real toughness. I spend very little energy on those who that shirt offend- ed. I wonder if they would stop wearing Nikes made in sweatshops. Also, racism is built and constructed on the ability to control power dynamics that influences systems and governance. If I had that power, I would be the first black man in history to ever defeat Euro-Centrism. You either ignore my words or give it the truth. Personal decision.
Q. You see yourself as wanting to empower young Black excellence. What exactly does that mean in a city public school system now 82% Black and Brown? How do the non- Blacks and Browns fit into your scheme?
Not just them, Special ED students who are marginalized, English Language Learners who don’t feel we are being inclusive enough, and students who don’t feel heard. Weaponizing my belief in equity for black and brown students is as counterproductive as smoking a cigarette on a motorcycle. I treat every student the same. I take zero shortcuts when it comes to their trajectory. I want them to have all the top- pings in the ice cream shop, not just jimmies. I empower black and brown students by helping them see themselves as being leaders, winners, visionaries, creators. Many people who are unqualified to identify with their struggles so I’m glad to assist in their journey.
Q. You are a key player in Superintendent Priya Tahiliani’s effort to “integrate” many of the key positions of administration throughout the school system. Again, many Everett residents wanting and expecting nothing to change, are fearful about the changes being made. People naturally fear change. How would you tell those who are concerned how to deal with such thoughts?
Anyone who fears change will always struggle with race, equity, and representation. I ask those people to join in the conversation. We should not make Superintendent Tahiliani’s vision an adult problem. Everything her administration has done so far is student-centered. With adult problems always comes politics, I have zero interest in that, I’m here to help scholars navigate their journey and for their parents to have institutional confidence in Everett High School. Our next step is to come to the table with a growth mindset. The scholars are watching.
Q. What do you believe to be the most difficult challenges facing Black and Brown students as well as white students at Everett High School? Can you help to change their world and to make their transitions easier and more seamless as it is for masses of white kids in the suburbs?
The most difficult challenge our students face is the lack of responsibility schools take in telling all students the truth. Education is life or death in urban towns like the “E.” We must tell the truth about politics, we must tell the truth about history, we must tell the truth about establishments that are upheld to be divisive instead of cohesive but nothing can bring a family together better than escaping the struggle of discomfort. Once students are told the truth, they believe differently in the system. White and black students. I don’t want any student of color coming back to me and saying “Mr. McCarthy, why didn’t you warn me, or prepare me.” I don’t want white students to be disappointed in me for not helping them navigate and develop empathy and amplify their voice in support of their black and brown peers. This is called justice. I want justice for our scholars. Their world will change as long as we continue to search for their curiosity. I sometimes ask kids to talk about themselves for 30 seconds, I’m always in awe cause the third and 4th time around you can feel their confidence growing.
Q. Do Black and Brown students at Everett High School feel they’ve gotten the short end of the stick? What do you do with the students under your super- vision to keep track of their feelings, their desires, and their needs? How are you reaching out to them – all of them?
Let me say this when in the history of racism and injustice can you name a time when an empowered young black and brown students have not benefited white folks? See that’s the key, there is not a short end of the stick, there is just an opportunity gap that must be addressed and not seen as an elephant in the room. The elevation of black and brown students must be seen as a superpower that lifts the economy, diversifies power structures, and inspires generations to change the eco- system segregated practices. These students can do it. I’ve met them, EHS students are Marvel Super Heroes to me. They just want to be seen. I will see them every time. As far as how our kids feel, I visit some of them, I Zoom with them. Some text me for advice. You can’t ask me to be a role model for only 8 hours a day, that’s hypocritical.
Q. You quite often talk about bringing equity to Black and Brown students. Can you explain to Everett parents of high school-age children how you are attempting to do this and whether or not it is possible in the present politically and racially charged atmosphere?
Dear parents, I’m here to fight for students and families the same way teachers expect their unions to fight for them, and with the same energy, politicians fight for votes. People claim they are ready for change, but they are not ready to see and feel it. The best way to implement equitable practices is to help students believe they are eligible and qualified for every opportunity we have. Eligible for SAT prep, qualified to take a tough AP class, eligible for financial literacy, qualified to be scientists, stockbrokers, and social activists. Urban students can’t afford to dream, they need objectives and must-see themselves at the table and in those seats as change agents.
Q. What is it about the color of a person’s skin that sets off racist responses in so many people? How do you plan to teach EHS kids to get beyond color, beyond racism, beyond the harsh reality of the inequality that impacts so many Black and Brown lives?
I honestly think it is an avoidance of being around strong, confident black folks. People don’t trust themselves to take on the challenge of not to be biased or stereotypical. It’s like witnessing a bank robbery and the police catches the robbers with bags full of money and the criminals say, “I’m not a thief.” The witness who didn’t rob the bank is not yelling at the police saying they aren’t thieves. Nothing I say should not offend anyone who is not racist. Race triggers people because it is a lot of work to unpack hundreds of years of DNA-sponsored dislike for liberation of non-white people. I am showing our students to navigate through and around racism and constructs designed to detour their path to a good quality of life by being truthful. Staff for the most part is doing a great job being present for our kids and helping them be seen and asking tremendous questions that improve their very large role as allies. If we model our coexistence in an organic and genuine way, we can stand on the shoulders of giants who have paved the way for true equity.
Q. Do you feel you are making progress with the students at EHS? How would you define the progress? Has your outreach to the students been matched by the students returning the effort and gaining from it? How can you measure this?
Ask them, they feel heard, seen, and protected. Not just by me, but by EHS staff members who have stepped up tremendously in a pandemic. There are some gold star educators here. Many see a path for our kids. If you want to engage a student, show them a path and don’t just aim to inspire them to be well behaved, challenge them with strength-based motivation. Focus on what they can do because much of what we do focuses on what they can’t do. That’s not fair. We must leverage what kids have and are willing to master. Listen, I meet with kids as early as 5:45 am. Every student has my personal cell number. I meet with kids on a Sunday, and I’m not the only one. I want that sort of culture to go viral here. Kids have taught me more than any book can ever teach me about education.
Q. Do you fear alienating the Everett old-line residents and parents who don’t believe that racism is alive and well in Everett and in the public schools? Is the road you are traveling down meeting with the approval of the EHS teaching staff? The teaching staff is largely white. The student population is 82%, Black and Brown. What do the teachers think of you? Do you have their support?
Anyone who is opposed to my practices as an educator is working against kids. The level of diversity here has created a richness that other schools should be envious of because people should feel cheated without the true presence of diversity. Most schools hire Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Directors to achieve what we are building. Momentum is there within the very cultures we have at EHS. If anyone feels alienated I can share some racist emails and death threats I’ve gotten in the past week by people who end their emails by saying “I’m not racist.” You can’t say racism isn’t a thing and you have spent 98% of your life not being around people who look like me. We all learn to love things we don’t initially like, but that can just be a neurological fight or flight mode, in time you start to appreciate the qualities that make us the same human. As far as how the teaching staff feels, I keep it real with them. I think the majority of them are great and I’m not here to monitor their beliefs. I just make it clear; I work for the scholars of EHS and if anyone intentionally operates against student growth and opportunity, then we may have a professional practice issue. I’ve met some amazing people here. Principal Erick Naumann is really a great, genuine leader.
Q. You claim Everett is a great school district, an exciting incubator for ideas and new programs. How will you take that scenario to the next level?
We are in progress daily but I’m proud of what we did for Black History Awareness Month. We are going to have Ethnic Studies next year and the History of Hip Hop. We are having an Academic Recovery Academy during April vacation to support students who struggled early in the school year. We brought in LIVIUS Prep, one of the best college and standardized test preparation programs on the East Coast. We are also looking to work with our educators to make sure we are all sharing the best practices including a large effort to include Social Emotional Learning as an anchor that helps our students feel that they are the center of the work and finally making sure we know what every single scholar at EHS is doing in the summer whether it is a job, an internship, skill acquisition and college and career-related activities. We have our Academy models which have so much promise and potential and I’m super excited to be a part of that growth. We will be the best urban HS in Massachusetts. Quote me.