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Recap: “Asking For Courage” Day of discussion on race and racism

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Facilitators and juniors Noam Wizel and Shams Mohajerani sit with speakers and juniors Nawal Wasif, Alicia Landry and Isaiah Milton, sophomore Eric Lee, and junior Kerimal Suriel during C-block’s “Tell Your Story” assembly. Photo by Conor Amrien.

Tell Your Story – A and C-block

These assemblies gave students, mainly students of color, a platform to share their stories about racial identity and racism. The speakers, who spoke in one or both of the blocks, were junior Alicia Landry, senior Elijah Goodman, junior Kerimal Suriel, junior Nawal Wasif, junior Isaiah Milton, senior Allie Gregoire, senior Tanisha De Leon, sophomore Eric Lee and senior Mattie O’kelley-Bangsberg.

Landry’s story was about how she and her biological father are Black, while her mother, younger siblings and the man who raised her, who she considers her real father, are white. She talked about struggling with not feeling like a part of her family, and said she hopes people will come away wanting to keep talking about race.

“I want people to know that race is not something that dictates a family and for people to stop assuming things about people based on their race until they know their story,” Landry said.

Goodman, who is white, spoke of an experience he had with an elderly woman, and the way she belittled his relationship to his Black girlfriend, senior Taylor James. Goodman, who had grown close to the woman, felt that her reaction was both shocking and disturbing.

Junior Kerimal Suriel spoke of her experience as a Dominican, and how her identity has been misconstrued by many who view her as African American. She feels as though she is constantly viewed as standing in for the Black minority, and that her achievements are never quite her own.

Junior Nawal Wasif spoke of her experience as a Pakistani-American, and the discrimination and racism she has been exposed to, including being bullied by students in elementary school who called her Osama Bin Laden and threw trash at her. Wasif said she wanted to bring awareness to things that happen in the world.

“I hope that people can see that everybody is important and not just Black and white, but Pakistani-Americans and Muslims,” Wasif said. “Everybody is important, lives lost of anybody is important, and that we shouldn’t judge anybody based on what we hear on TV.”

Milton spoke about attending school in Brookline for the first time, and not paying much attention at first to the fact that he was one of the only Black students there. He also narrated how, when he entered the grade in which report cards are first distributed, his parents told him that he would need to work much harder than his peers to achieve the same results.

Gregoire spoke about her adoption from China by white parents and her challenges in feeling like she fit in and in answering questions about her family from peers.

De Leon spoke of the standards of beauty and just how tarnished by racism they really are. She talked about how, for years as a young adolescent, she straightened her hair and squeezed herself into the “white” standards of beauty. By now, by accepting her natural hair texture, she is no longer hiding behind the racial misconceptions about beauty.

Lee spoke of the intense pressure forced upon him by his family, and how torn he feels between his Korean heritage and the modern American ideals he is now living amongst. According to Lee, his father’s expectations have led him to resent the Korean aspect of his life, but he nevertheless refuses to leave his background behind.

O’Kelley-Bangsberg spoke about white privilege, and the necessity of white members in discussions of race. According to O’Kelley-Bangsberg, standing by is not enough, and white allies need to take more of an active approach against racism.

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Boston Police Officer Winston De Leon, the father of Tell Your Story speaker Tanisha De Leon, speaks during G-block’s “Racial Profiling: Telling It Like It Is” assembly. Photo by Sofia Tong.

Racial Profiling: Telling It Like It Is – G-block

A panel comprised of both students and Brookline and Boston police officers discussed racial profiling. English teacher Jenee Ramos, who facilitated the panel, started off by defining racial profiling as the use of race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of an offense. Then the police officers and students spoke of their thoughts on and experiences with racial profiling.

Each of the 11 speakers said they had been racially profiled. Many of the police officers said that negative experiences with the police as youths led them to become police officers, so that they could make a difference.

Boston Police Officer Winston De Leon, the father of Tell Your Story speaker Tanisha De Leon, recalled a time when he was 17 years old and the police pulled him over, and asked him “Where are the drugs?”

He said a police officer threw him on the ground and proceeded to search his car, almost prying out his stereo.

The conversation also included criminal versus racial profiling and the difficulties of having to make split-second decisions on the job as a policeman. The student panelists ended the panel by thanking the officers for serving the town and neighboring communities.

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Seniors Judy Liu and Maya Chan speak during D-Block’s “Beyond Black & White” assembly. Photo by Conor Amrien.

Beyond Black & White – D-block

This assembly was intended to give Asian-American students a space to speak about their experiences and observations. Senior Allie Gregoire facilitated the assembly, which began with a video and a presentation by seniors Maya Chan and Judy Liu about the school curriculum lacking representation of Asian-American history.

The video, which was a compilation of responses from various students and staff members to the question “Do you know what the Yellow Power Movement was?” got a strong response from the members of the audience as they recognized familiar faces. Most of the responses indicated that no, the individuals were not familiar with the movement, an important part of Asian-American history.

Then senior Gavin Hui showed a clip from the new ABC comedy series Fresh Off the Boat, and talked about how, while it had met some opposition and accusations of racism, the show was not itself racist because it showed the experience of a single Asian-American family and did not try to speak for a larger population.

The format of the presentation then switched to a panel style, in which seniors JK Suh and Kenny Szeto and sophomore Jeanine Nasser spoke about their personal experiences.

Suh spoke about trying to fit in with white friends and finding himself at the end of many racially themed jokes. Szeto spoke about the many benefits and drawbacks to being biracial. Nasser talked about the issues related to the categorization of her identity. Her family is from Jordan. While Jordan is in Asia, Nasser is in some situations expected to choose the category of “white,” which she feels does not correctly describe her identity.

 

Racial Reconciliation Work – E-block

A panel of four teachers and three students discussed what it means to be white and what white members of the community can do to combat racism.

English teacher Jennifer Breen Rose-Wood spoke about the relationship between power and responsibility, suggesting that white people are given special privileges and need to be aware of the responsibilities which come with them.

Associate Dean Lisa Redding spoke next, recounting her experiences growing up with friends of different races, and how it opened her eyes to white privilege.

Then senior Maya Margolis spoke, describing an activity she did with a social justice program in which the inherent biases of the participants were revealed.

Senior Suzanna Jack followed, describing an experience in which she was asked to be less involved in a conversation so youth of color could have a more role.

Sophomore Sam Pollack spoke as well, pointing out that many white people were able to feel angry about the events in Ferguson instead of feeling unsafe or fearful, a privilege that many failed to recognize. He urged white students to confront their biases and privileges.

Following a video, English teacher Eric Colburn spoke about how he struggled as a child and adolescent and did not realize how privileged he was to be white.

Closing out the assembly, English teacher Nicholas Rothstein spoke about his experiences and opinions with race in Brookline.

 

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Juniors Isabella Zutrau-Pell, Alyssa Loessi, and Lea Churchill participate in an affinity group during E-block. Photo by Izzy Meyers.

Time for Reflection – E-block

Students were given the opportunity to reflect on the day in groups consisting of the race or races they identify as, called affinity groups. These groups included “White Ally,” “Asian,” “Mixed Race,” “African-American/Black,” “Students of color raised by white parents,” “Latino,” “Children of immigrant parents” and “Middle Eastern.”

Once organized into the groups, student facilitators asked questions for the group to discuss, addressing how the day went overall and the specific challenges that the group faces.

De Leon, who was in the African-American/Black affinity group, said her group primarily discussed how being a student of color affects daily life, especially the hostility she said she often faces.

“We talked about how frustrating it was to go through the day while hearing negative things from white people,” De Leon said.

Junior Alyssa Loessi, who was in the Mixed Race affinity group, said that her group focused on the feeling of not belonging in any racial category.

“The sense of not being ‘valid’ or a strong pull to either race, not feeling like you belong in either place was something we talked about a lot,” Loessi said. “Understanding the challenges that minorities face, but not really feeling affected by it personally, because our skin didn’t match.”

De Leon said the affinity groups were productive because they gave students the chance to dig even deeper in the topic of race than if they were in mixed race groups.
“It’s really hard for people to talk about race in a mixed race setting,” she said. “Affinity groups just provide comfort and assurance. It’s nice to have people in your group connect to something you went through or for you to connect with something another person went through.”

 

Race Reel “Shorts”

Films and excerpts of film were shown during G, D, and E-Block in the MLK room. The first was an excerpt from Far From Home, a documentary filmed by a young METCO student from Weston High School. The videos in the following two blocks were TED talks which examined race and poverty, and how to overcome biases.

 

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A workshop was held to highlight the importance of voting, and volunteers helped seniors of age register to vote in the atrium.

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Recap: “Asking For Courage” Day of discussion on race and racism