The Conversation Circle Series is an opportunity for Park School faculty and staff to come together and discuss a current event related to diversity, equity and inclusion. These topics tend to be the ones that are “trending” on social media or in the news, and these conversation circles allow us some time and space to talk about these issues face to face.
Born out of the frustration that there simply is not enough time in the day to talk about important and relevant current events, this group gathers from 2:05pm-2:25pm (the time between dismissal and the start of faculty meetings) on Tuesdays in rotating rooms. It’s amazing what you can discuss in 20 minutes!
Last week, Steve Locke, a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (Mass Art), was stopped in Jamaica Plain by police who believed he fit the description of a man who had allegedly attempted to break into a home. Professor Locke posted a blog shortly after in an effort to raise awareness of his experience and to give public voice to an ongoing issue in our Black and Brown communities. Both moving, difficult, and insightful, Professor Locke’s experience sparked nationwide discussion. However, so close to home here at Park School, our faculty came together to discuss what happens in our own backyard.
For the past three weeks, I have been listening to the audio book, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. While I love the feel of a hardcover book in my hands, the act of creasing the top corner of a page to mark my place, and the contrast of my blue scribbled notes against the crisp, white pages, it was important for me to hear the voice of Mr. Coates as he read this penned letter to his son. As a parent, I felt the anger, pain, and fear as he both educates, and warns, his son of a world that has racialized him. As a person who is not Black, I will never understand the daily anger, pain and fear that is unique to his community, one that has been racialized as dangerous, criminal, and to be feared. Though my own people, Asian Americans, have experienced racialization in different ways in this country, I will never know the feeling of wondering if my light-skinned, multiracial children will come home or have to build a distrust in the powers that were supposedly built to protect them. Though my children are also from Latino and African heritage, their racialized identities are different from those who experience our world with their Black identities at the forefront.
Our caring, socially just, and mindful community at Park has been talking about what has been happening across the country — Staten Island, Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore, University of Missouri, and more. And, yet, when I posted this article, I received responses from faculty and staff like, “I live on that street” or “I know exactly where this is” or “I can trace his exact footsteps in this article” or “I go to that burrito place all the time.” Of course, this is not the first time someone who identifies as Black has been stopped, harassed, misidentified, or humiliated in our communities. And, yet the proximity of his location, his identity as an educator, his hometown of Dedham, his uneventful routine of getting something to eat, and the location of his parked car became something we understood. We could see him. We could see ourselves on those streets. We could see ourselves with him. But, for few of us at Park School, we could see him as our son. Our godchild. Our family member. Our blood relative.
What angers some teachers is that we realize that education does not always protect us. In this conversation circle, we thought about the protected community of Park School — that our children, especially our children of color, are loved and honored here. And, yet, what happens when they get on the train (“the T”) to go home? Do strangers see them for the strong scholars who attend an elite private school? Do strangers see our brilliant Black and Brown students as future doctors, lawyers, educators, change agents, CEOs, artists, and community leaders? Do strangers know that our Black and Brown students are shaping lives of hope, of peace, and of love?
Mrs. Penna, the facilitator of our conversation circle asked, “What should I have done if I was there? What could I have done if I walked on that street that day?”
My response? Stand witness. Bear witness. Communicate that you are standing on the side of fair treatment, of respect, and of dignity. Re-read Professor Locke’s words — what did he notice about the woman who spoke to the police? How did her words signal that he deserved to be stopped? What did he notice about the woman in the red coat? What did she do when it was happening? What did she do when it was over? What was he expected to do after he left?
Social research has affirmed that our beliefs are made visible through our actions. In this scenario, do you believe that a Black man could be innocent? Do you believe that a Black man should be treated with respect, dignity, and humanity regardless of innocence or guilt? If so, your beliefs will be made visible through your actions.
And, that’s how we make the difference.
Peace and Park,