There seems to be a fair warning going around school these days: “If you walk into Ms. Talusan’s office with an idea, be prepared to follow through and put that idea into action!”
A few months ago, Ms. Siverls (K teacher), peeked into the office and asked if I had read the book, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Indeed, I had. And, just a week prior, I had a conversation with Mr. Porter (library) about the book. And, the week before that, I had a conversation with a few teachers and parents about the book.
“I was just wondering,” she began, “if this would be a good book for people to talk about at Park School.”
Before Ms. Siverls left, we had all but set a date for the book discussion.
This evening, amidst the delicious smells of home-cooked food, 17 faculty and staff gathered in the conference room to talk about their experiences with race, with reading the book, and with their hopes and aspirations.
“It was both beautiful and difficult,” said one participant. “Coates juxtaposes this brutality of body with the ethereal nature of the mind,” commented another.
In just four chapters, Coates creates not just a letter to his own son, but he creates a dialogue outside of the two covers of the book.
How do you feel in conversations about race? “I guess it depends on where I am.”
In a group of people who had chosen to read a book as provocative and honest as Between the World and Me, there are some short cuts that we can take. We can trust that people there had read the book out of interest. They had read the book because they already had a curiosity about issues of race. And, they had read the book because they were prepared to engage in a conversation. Yet, as we shared our own feelings about conversations about race, participants noted that the conversation about race was largely informed by the conversations within and between race. “I feel some discomfort when having conversations about race not with my own people,” shared one participant which prompted a great deal of affirmation. “So, how do you feel here, right now, in this mixed group of people?” A little uncomfortable.
Over the course of the evening, participants chose key quotes or passages that struck them in a particular way. And, as each person shared, each quote seemed familiar to others in the room.
As we closed, the group was asked to respond to the question: “If YOU were to write a letter to someone, who would you write that letter to?” Family. My children. My son. My students. My daughter’s teacher. My mother. My friends. My self.
One person responded, “I don’t think I would write a letter. Instead, I think this needs to be a conversation. I need to talk with people and go back and forth about these issues.”
Curious about the book? Check out this piece in The Atlantic.
I continue to be in such gratitude for the Park community and for the people who choose to walk bravely towards these difficult conversations.
Peace and Park,