Connor Quigley/ STAFF WRITER
On the third Thursday of every month, the Race Reels program meets to show a film focused on racial identity and racial issues. The goal is to promote discussions about race in a safe space at the high school.
Over the past few years, Race Reels has created opportunities for students, teachers and the greater Brookline community to come together and share their thoughts about films that focus on racial activism and empowerment, which include a moderated conversation with a speaker.
Malcolm Cawthorne, the METCO coordinator and an organizer of the Race Reels program, said the focus of the program was to create dedicated space for discussions around race in school.
“It started with the idea of trying to give more space and opportunities to have discussions around race in school where they don’t feel so potentially volatile or charged. Race Reels is one of the few venues where we can push some ideas out in a pretty safe way, and considering school credit doesn’t hinge on it, it allows for a much more open discussion,” Cawthorne said.
This November, a documentary entitled “More Than a Word” was shown by the Race Reels committee. It explored the complicated history of the Washington football team’s name and mascot. The film highlights cultural appropriation and racism towards indigenous communities.
“The film is really well done in terms of exploring the history of the names but also people who really agree and disagree with the proposed change,” Cawthorne said.
Race Reels tries to show films that explore relevant topics surrounding holidays and various heritage months. “More Than a Word” was chosen because of its timeliness surrounding Thanksgiving and the annual football game against Newton North High School.
“We felt particularly surrounding Thanksgiving and football that we could link the two and also talk about recognizing problematic sport team names,” Cawthorne said. “Even in our local history, like when I was a student here, the mascot was the Brookline Indians, but we have come a long way since then.”
Race Reels always incorporates a speaker who provides a perspective that further enhances the discussion around the film.
Following “More Than a Word,” Harvey Young, Dean of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, answered questions from students about progress made since the documentary was filmed.
Student questions prompted Young to discuss local sports and mascots, like Boston University’s (BU’s) mascot called Rhett the Boston Terrier, in addition to the results and reasons behind a national team name change.
During the question and answer period, Young said that the BU mascot acquired the name Rhett from the character named Rhett Butler in the film “Gone with the Wind” which contains ethnic and racist prejudices toward minority groups.
Lindsay Davis, a Spanish teacher and co-coordinator of Race Reels, said student engagement is a key part of the program and a turn out of 30-50 students, family and faculty members is typical for a screening.
“Student engagement is the most powerful part of the program. It is particularly powerful when students are sharing their experiences and ideas afterward and also asking great questions like ‘Why haven’t we ever learned about this at BHS?’ and ‘Why did I never know about this?’” Davis said.
According to Davis, she and Cawthorne hope to offer a space where attendees can explore racial identity.
“We talk a lot about windows and mirrors and how you are offering a window into a different experience but also seeing mirrors for your own racial identity and experience,” Davis said.
The Race Reels program has been running virtually since the pandemic hit and although this affects community engagement, Davis said that it has widened the accessibility of the program to the broader Brookline community.
“That has actually been great because these K-8 teachers who we never saw before are popping into the Zoom. So all these other people are coming in, including some families. My hope would be that if something came up in Race Reels then maybe that conversation would go home through students and faculty,” Davis said.
Davis also said that it is important for there to be a wide spectrum of student engagement in the program and that people feel safe having challenging discussions around race.
“Students and faculty can make connections to the curriculum through Race Reels and can feel more comfortable making mistakes and being proactively anti-racist in school. It is also important that students of color see white folks in the community trying, in a majority white school, so it is important that white folks show up and speak up,” Davis said.
Julia James, a math teacher and frequent attendee of Race Reels, said that she appreciates the experience the program provides for the high school to discuss race and a variety of other topics.
“I appreciate the opportunity to have different people across ages and from different parts of the school come together in the same place and discuss an important topic,” James said. “They do such a good job of picking from topics that are celebrating a particular community or presenting an issue that is important to the community which allows you to see that diversity is really a mosaic.”
James said she likes how more students are able to attend virtually but also said that this has impacted discussion and engagement in the program.
“In the new format, it is harder to build a community that is able to support each other and increase self examination, self awareness and community awareness. It is hard to do that when you don’t know who was there and who from the community engaged by asking questions,” James said.
Cawthorne said that he hopes that Race Reels can have a lasting impact on students and their views of race in the world and in their own lives.
“I always say in high school, if we do our job right, you graduate in four years and move on,” said Cawthorne. “That’s true, but I hope that Race Reels will be able to have an impact beyond high school and allow for more thoughtful and influential discussions around race.”