Moving forward

June 18, 2020

Across the country and around the world, people have taken to the streets as well as social media to fight against racial injustice in all its forms. At the high school, one aspect of the surging anti-racism movement is an upcoming Juneteenth celebration, which was organized by students and faculty and will take place over Zoom on Friday, June 19. Associate Dean of Students Summer Williams, who is coordinating the planning, said the team is working to ensure a positive experience despite the distance barrier.

“One of the things I thought was beautiful about the vigil was that it didn’t just reach the Brookline High School community, it reached the Brookline community,” Williams said. “So I’m thoughtful about how it could be the same with this Juneteenth celebration.”

Juneteenth is a celebration of the day the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas, the last of the Confederate states to free its slaves, on June 19, 1865. The holiday is gaining popularity across the country as a celebration of Black freedom and history.

According to Williams, the celebration will be tangentially related to Floyd and the protests, but the importance is still there.

“It’s definitely related to other current events, but not in a reactionary manner,” Williams said. “One protest is not going to change the world. We need a long, sustained effort. And I think this is part of that move towards a longer, more sustained effort for us as a school community to make sure we’re highlighting and speaking about the things that need to be addressed.”

MIRA DONAHUE Students gathered on June 8 at the high school to pay respect to George Floyd and to show support for Black Lives Matter.

The high school has also held a Black Lives Matter protest, and many educators are encouraging students to attend larger Brookline and Boston protests as well. Meyer said that protesting fits into the larger puzzle of allyship for white students and their families, making it important for all to take part in.

“We need to think about how best to be allies, and how best to educate ourselves about these issues of institutional racism and police violence. So I do encourage students and families to attend protests,” Meyer said. “But there can be dangers in that, at nightfall, when it might devolve into violence and looting. So I’m always mindful of student safety.”

Meyer agreed, however, with many teachers that the necessary work is not just in the streets, and there is much to be done within the school itself, combating institutionalized issues. Uttaro mentioned enrollment in high-level classes as one such issue.

“We’ve got a lot of discrepancies throughout the schools. There isn’t enough representation of students of color in AP classes, or in many cases, honors-level classes,“Uttaro said. “And I think we as a district need to look at that data and move to make changes and take action steps. Not just observe the problem, but take action steps to change our classrooms and our interactions. Because we know these realities. It hits you in the face when you see them.”

Cawthorne said that self-education is some of the most important work to do in this time, particularly for white students.

“There’s a learning process to understand what people are feeling. In that learning process, it’s really important for white kids to challenge those subconscious reminders of being ‘better,’ and to constantly be challenging that within yourself and others,” Cawthorne said. “Talking about race is seen as really taboo. Most people are told that we don’t talk about it. So confronting that scariness is important.”

Once you have gotten comfortable with hard conversations, Williams recommends starting to integrate small actions into your life, whether by thinking about the messages in your music or challenging something on social media.

“There are all these little steps, these everyday actions that people can take to really find their place in racial justice and anti-racist work,” Williams said. “It’s hard to do and it’s confrontational and it’s uncomfortable, but it still has to happen. So getting yourself to a place where you’re okay with all of that feels like a really good first step.”

Williams added that only after getting past the discomfort can the school community connect as a whole, talk about the difficult topics and work on making change.

“Students need to take it upon themselves to de-silo and reach out to each other,” Williams said. “We need to work on fostering a school community that really looks out for one another, supports one another and continues to value being asked to think about points of view that don’t match our own. Because that’s the work that’s going to prevent things like this from happening.”

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