Asking for Courage 2021

Students+spent+much+of+the+day+discussing+issues+of+racial+injustice+in+their+classrooms.+The+World+Language+department+encouraged+students+to+have+these+discussions+in+their+target+language.+

PHOEBE KALLAHER/SAGAMORE STAFF

Students spent much of the day discussing issues of racial injustice in their classrooms. The World Language department encouraged students to have these discussions in their target language.

The high school held the annual Asking for Courage Day on Monday, May 10, beginning a week with Day of Dialogue on Wednesday, May 12 and the new Day of Change on Friday, May 14. Below is a detailed coverage of the Telling our Stories assembly and teacher-led lessons created by various departments.

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Telling Our Stories Assembly, Alejandro Gonzalez and Caleb Weldon, Staff Writers

The “Telling Our Stories” assembly took place as part of the Asking for Courage Day on Monday, May 10, featuring speeches delivered by a variety of students and a faculty member as they described their personal experiences regarding their racial identities.

Many of the Asian-American speakers addressed the rising number of hate crimes towards Asian-Americans due to COVID-19, as well as the microaggressions they have faced at the high school and even from their own friends.

Jean Hur, a junior, said racist remarks against Asian-Americans are common and need to be minimized.

“These jokes that people assume are harmless can lead to violent racism,” Hur said.

One powerful speech came from Josue Anselme, a junior, which was formatted as a letter to his future children. In this letter, he described how as an African-American student he has faced discrimination and has had peers make harmful remarks to him.

“How can I be the whitest black guy if I had to have ‘the talk’ with my father? How can I be the whitest black guy if everytime I leave my home I put my life at risk?” Anselme said.

A personal narrative, “Being Asian” was told by junior Elliot Lazarova-Weng, in which he spoke upon his experience with Anti-Asian Racism throughout his life and the harm of silence.

“It is the environment that they grow up in that leads to violence. It is the ignorant and insensitive jokes that are made so casual to make hate seem so normal. It is looking the other way when you know something is wrong that gets someone killed. Your silence determines if someone gets to go home to their families or if their existence is reduced to a statistic, ” Lazarova-Weng said.

The assembly ended with a Q&A segment where the speakers answered student submitted questions. When asked about what should change about the high school’s curriculum, a common response was that learning more about the histories of POC would be a great improvement.

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Science Department, Eleanor Bergstein, Staff Writer

Science teachers that participated in the Asking For Courage curriculum ran lessons about environmental racism on Mon. May 10

Students watched a 12 minute interview with Dr. Tamarra James-Todd, an epidemiologist and environmental reproductive health scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health. Junior Shadeh Okoudjou conducted the interview via Zoom.

James-Todd spoke about environmental injustice, focusing on the disparity between consumer products found in stores in different areas. According to James-Todd, stores in Boston area communities such as Wellesley do not have products with as many harmful chemicals as in communities like Chelsea, which are at a different socioeconomic level.

James-Todd said that she hopes high-schoolers educate themselves by reading about environmental inequality and “retail redlining.” She hopes her work impacts people and brings about change in communities in need.

Students had an opportunity to reflect and discuss after watching the pre-recorded video interview.

Chemistry teacher Jason Kramer said that it is important for his students to be aware of environmental racism and to notice injustices in the science topics they study.

“When they see issues in water quality or air quality, they will have a little bit of background about what is going on,” Kramer said. “They’ll know that it’s an issue and can make some noise.”

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Math Department, Taj Horowitz, Staff Writer

In math classes during this year’s Day of Asking for Courage on May 10, students focused on both the subtle and blatant ways that discrimination has made its impact on the technology and computer science scene.

The lesson consisted of a slideshow with multiple videos, quotes and statistics. Overall, the lesson demonstrated that discrimination can be seen in both the lack of diversity of the technological workforce and in the technology itself.

The first half of the slideshow focused on the inequities in underprivileged communities that prevent people of different minorities from being able to have a presence on the tech scene.

A video compiled by the math department showed a wide range of teachers speaking to the lack of diversity that they have experienced in the computer science field, including inspiring words from teachers such as freshmen physics teacher Graciela Mohamedi, who urged students interested in the field to pursue their goals despite being underrepresented.

“Do it anyway; do it because you love it; do it because you belong; do it because even though there are people that don’t look like you, it doesn’t change your abilities; do it anyway,” Mohamedi said.

The video was followed by a TED Talk by Kimberly Bryant from 2013, who founded the popular program Black Girls Code. She spoke about how crucial it was for her to deliver opportunities to the next generation that she didn’t have as a child.

The lesson then went on to examine technology’s unintentional, yet harmful, biases. One of the examples shown that has a pertinent effect on today’s world is the inability of facial recognition systems to correctly identify Black individuals.

They showed how Kodak color film cameras were originally made to capture white skin pigment, but shades of reds and brown were not captured as well. Math teacher Julie Padgett said that Kodak cameras only changed after people realized it couldn’t capture the differences between wood color and types of chocolate as accurately.

“They didn’t fix their cameras because it was discriminating against people, they only fixed it because of the consumerism of white people, which was both shocking and upsetting,” Padgett said.

Padgett said she wants students to have a better understanding of the discrimination intertwined with the technology they so often use.

“I hope students are aware of the current issues of who’s in the current tech workforce and making the decisions and are aware of the implications of that,” Padgett said.

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Social Studies Department, Rowan Roudebush, Longform Editor

Students watched the screen closely in Social Studies classes on May 10th as videos and slides illustrated the deeply rooted legacy of racism.

Social studies teachers were given two lessons to choose from for the Day of Courage. Some students were taught about Asian American history and microaggressions and others were shown the legacy of voting rights and modern voter suppression laws.

The lessons began with a clip of Junior Josue Anselme explaining his decision to use the N-word in his story during the Sharing Our Stories assembly.

Social studies teacher Marcie Miller said that a few social studies teachers planned the lessons and gave teachers the choice between two lessons.

“When they presented it, I knew they were going to be good lessons because they’re by our colleagues who I trust and respect,” Miller said. “I had a hard time deciding.”

Social studies classes that focused on voter suppression learned about the history of voter suppression and the new restrictive voting laws following the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court decision. The decision nullified the most powerful clause of the Voting Rights Act and now allows states to pass more restrictive voting laws that target Black and Latinx communities.

Miller, who ultimately decided to teach about Asian American history and microaggressions, said that creating the space to discuss the issue was valuable.

“It went well. I mean, a lot of kids were really quiet, but there were some that definitely had a lot to say, which was good, and I think they needed the space to say it,” said Miller.

Junior James Burnard said that he learned about anti-Asian laws throughout American history, and the anti-Asian violence that accompanied them.

Burnard said he felt that he understood his peer’s experiences better after the lesson.

“I took away that even in schools like this, which are supposedly racially woke, there’s still lots and lots of unfair acts of discrimination that happen in the school and how (AAPI students) are forced between chosing fitting into Asian stereotypes or conforming to American society and neglecting accomplishments,” Burnard said.

The anti-Asian racism lesson featured a video from 2016, and Burnard said he was struck by how little has changed.

“I understand their frustration and what they are dealing with. it’s just extremely unfair,” Burnard said. “Things haven’t really improved at all, in all honesty.”

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World Language Department, Phoebe Kallaher, Arts Managing Editor

As part of the annual Asking For Courage day that took place on Monday, May 10, World Language teachers instructed classes with a lesson designed specifically to promote discussion on multiculturalism. The lesson specifically focused on the importance of individual stories in an understanding of America.

The lesson began with a clip from Spanish teacher Marta Fuertes explaining the norms of the discussion.

Pair discussions followed, as students discussed the lessons they’d already received that dayand the A-block Telling Our Stories assembly.

This was followed by a 2017 TED talk video by Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo. The two recent high-school graduates presented their research and efforts to interview people all across the country to broaden their own racial education. The talk outlined the gap they had observed both in compassion for one another and in understanding of each other’s experiences.

Teachers then explained that while resources for the lesson would be in English, all discussion should be done in the subject language, as a way of keeping the material tied into the regular curriculum.

The video was followed by a small group discussion of the gaps students had observed in their own racial education. The acknowledgement of the achievements of people of color as separate from their white counterparts came up in many instances, as well as the lack of diversity in various history and English classes and curricula.

Finally, students watched a series of three short video clips of their choosing from the PBS series Hyphen-Nation. The videos explored individual’s identities as Americans, and students followed up with a discussion of the “windows” and “mirrors” offered by the clips.

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After School Race Reels, Kyla Frey, Staff Writer

Community members came together virtually after Asking for Courage Day on May 10 for the first Race Reels event of the year, a screening of film teacher Thato Mwosa’s first feature film, “Memories of a Black Girl.”

Set in Roxbury, the film tells the coming-of-age story of high school student Aisha Johnson as she and her friends navigate numerous social issues affecting her community.

Aisha, a young Black girl with a promising future, tells on fellow classmates for smoking weed in the bathroom. The label of a “snitch” leads to a series of events that spiral out of Aisha’s control, threatening her chances at receiving a scholarship.

Following the film, actors Khai Tyler, Alexandra Cruz, Alexia Etienne, BHS alum Juliette Estime and stylist U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo joined the webinar for a Q&A session along with Mwosa.

The panelists addressed a variety of questions from the process of making the film to advice to their high school selves.

Mwosa said that the inspiration for the film came from her experiences teaching at a vocational school in Roxbury.

“Because I was teaching film, I had opportunities to explore a lot of films. I found that coming-of-age movies that feature Black girls were very rare at the time. I just wanted to write and direct something that my students could connect to,” Mwosa said. “Aisha is a composite of many students I have seen, especially at the school I was teaching at in Roxbury. I just wanted to honor their stories because I also felt like there was a stereotype of Black girls and it was not my experience at all.”

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