Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Coolidge Corner Theater serves as reflection on community progress towards racial equality
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Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Coolidge Corner Theater serves as reflection on community progress towards racial equalityThe annual Martin Luther King Jr. at the Coolidge Corner Theater created an opportunity to reflect on Brookline’s progress with race relations and how to continue the fight for racial equity.
Board of Selectmen member Bernard Greene welcomed the audience and spoke about the MLK committee. Greene encouraged everyone to visit the MLK committee website for any and all future events and to continue this conversation throughout the whole year and not just on certain days.
The sold-out theater stood and sang along to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which is known as the “Black National Anthem.” It was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson and put to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson.
Afterwards Jan Schreiber read When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou.
Poet Regie Gibson shared an original poem titled “An Open Letter to Dr. King,” which developed powerful comparisons between the fights we must fight in contemporary society and the fights King fought more than fifty years ago.
Schreiber then shared a selection from Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama, a book he wrote before he became a senator. Greene followed by saying, “We’re really going to miss Obama’s ability to understand what our country is and what we need to be.”
Director of Programs and Senior Consultant at Visions, Inc. Rick Pinderhughes gave the keynote address and began by saying, “These issues don’t take a day off, and it’s important that we don’t either.” He spoke about how being a sociologist has taught him that 95% of experiences are outside of people’s awareness, and that bias is picked up by the subconscious.
“These messages are caught from the environment, messages of bias and prejudice,” Pinderhughes said. “They lead to behaviors that are outside of our awareness. They are behaviors that good people do all the time.”
Pinderhughes used two examples of behaviors that good people do all the time as a result of bias: helping when help is not needed and avoiding contact.
According to Pinderhughes, giving help when it’s not helpful is a form of prejudice because it happens when people think they know more and assume other people’s inability to comprehend their situation.
Pinderhughes also said that avoiding contact does not help combat racism.
“It’s important to understand the stake of ending racism for Whites, the state of ending sexism for males,” Pinderhughes said. “We can not just let the people who are affected deal with the issues.”
Police Chief Daniel O’Leary spoke as well, giving an update on the police department’s progress in combating bias by offering classes and training to all officers.
“Everybody has a bias and that is a key thing that we have to get our officers to acknowledge,” O’Leary said. “We are in a position where we are the only organization that can take a person’s freedom away, by taking them into custody, and we have to get it right.”
O’Leary said that the Brookline Police department has been keeping statistics about everyone they arrest and keep in custody and have released these statistics to the public since 1997.
O’Leary brought in a consultant, Dr. Gerard Cox, a couple of years ago to help the police department do a culture survey with everyone in the department; the results can be found on their website. http://www.brooklinepolice.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/803
Superintendent Andrew Bott spoke about the achievement gap between students of color and White and Asian students irrelevant to their income status. The distribution of A.P. class enrollment is different than the distribution of races in the general population. According to Bott, the answer that Black or Latino students give when asked why this happens is that they don’t want to be in a class where they are the only Black or Latino student.
“What are the biases in our education that have impacted students equitable access and therefore equitable outcomes?” Bott said.
Bott pointed out that the two schools that have the most diverse staff are the ones that have students, parents and teachers all involved in hiring committees.
Director of the Racial Justice Program ACLU of Massachusetts Rahsaan Hall started off by saying that, “until the story is told by the lion, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Hall said there is ‘another’ reason to explain why things are the way they look and to explain why disparity exists without getting to the real truth.
“We can have conversations about diversity and inclusion because they make us feel good,” Hall said. “We can take all of these initiatives to outreach and to try to bring more people in, but at what levels are we bringing them in?”
Hall encourages Brookline to hold up a mirror to itself and to look at the mostly white audience that attended the MLK celebration and to acknowledge the persistent inequities here.
At the end of the celebration audience members were encouraged to ask questions to any of the speakers.
One question towards the police department and the town in general was why there were no speakers at the celebration who face racism in Brookline everyday and when the town is going to stop congratulating themselves while hurting minorities at the same time.
Another question for Bott asked how important he thought teacher and counselor expectations, which are biased due to race, affect enrollment in A.P. classes. Bott answered by saying that the gap begins a lot earlier, in elementary school. He said that the answer is complex because of the combination of structures and beliefs. He also said that it is not just about enrolling more students but also about what supports are going to be put in place to ensure equitable outcomes. Bott also believes that communication among principals of schools and cross dialogue is a good way to help all schools close their achievement gaps.