In 2020, Jamaal Bowman was the principal of the public Cornerstone Academy for Social Action, a middle school he founded in the Bronx, when he surprised New York’s political world by defeating a 16-term incumbent who was expected to win the Democratic primary and then going on to become a member of Congress.
Since becoming a U.S. legislator, Bowman has focused on social justice issues, with his work grounded in his experiences as an educator.
He wrote an open letter to students across the country who are returning to school, with advice and an unusual offer to help any of them — not just those from his New York district — who reach out to his office.
Here’s his letter:
Welcome back! I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones in good health and good spirits, and that your summer was enjoyable with time to rest and rejuvenate. As you return to school this fall I know you are filled with many powerful emotions: excitement, anxiety, joy, and frustration are all normal and understandable. Balancing these emotions and channeling them in the right direction will be critical to your well being, happiness, and success this school year.
As the school year begins I want to remind you to always seek out trusted adults and peers who will provide the support you need to deal with all the decisions you have to make. Life can sometimes feel lonely and even helpless, but I promise you there is always someone available to support you.
I want to personally offer my office and myself as a resource for you. I am an educator and a Congressman, and I worked in public schools with kids for over twenty years. I worked in an elementary, middle, and high school, and serving children is what I have dedicated my life to. I also remember clearly what it was like to be a student and the power and importance of friendships. My friends were everything to me and I wouldn’t have survived school without them. Making friends was sometimes hard, and my friends and I ain’t always get along. I went through times of deep sadness and depression, and what helped me was talking to a favorite teacher or counselor or participating in sports, theater, and the arts.
Unfortunately, there will be times when people will say and do mean things. I beg you not to internalize those things. Their meanness is about them. Not you. Instead, seek out and embrace the joy and positivity that is abundant around you.
School and the world can feel like an overwhelming space that moves too fast. Trust me, I know. Always remember to move at your own pace, find your voice, space, and be yourself. That makes it easier to find and follow your passions however “weird” or different they may be, and to find the courage to express yourself in the healthiest of ways.
When times got tough for me I would explore new books, write in a journal, and seek out my favorite teacher or counselor. When you do this, it helps to keep you and everyone safe while making the school experience as enjoyable as possible.
School is hard, from homework to relationships, but it can be enjoyable for everyone. I ask you to trust this advice and all the positive resources that are out there for you. No matter the challenges, there is always a powerful solution that can help move you and all of us forward. You are not alone. No matter how dark things can feel and be, there is always a light somewhere. Let us work together and help each other continue to move toward the light and beauty the world has to offer. We are and will remain here for you and each other.
Have an amazing first day of school and school year!
Peace and love!