s.t.a.r.t. Fired Up for Racial Equity:
On Friday, May 17, 2013, s.t.a.r.t. leaders attended the Annual Dare 2 Be Real Youth Summit at Barton Open School in Minneapolis.
The keynote speaker was rapper and activist Brother Ali who taught the students about three myths that give white privilege its teeth:
1) That the Civil Rights Movement was in the past;
2) That the Movement was geared toward somebody else; and
3) That some leader will solve it.
Brother Ali compared our country’s journey for civil rights to a 24-hour schedule with the time of slavery being from midnight to 3:00 p.m.; the battle for legal rights and desegregation as a period from 3:00-9:00 pm.; and the “time of post-racial” as 9:00pm to 4:00 a.m. He asked us to put the timeframe in perspective–rights have been in place for a very short period of time, and huge disparities still exist.
“We live in a nation built on systems,” said Brother Ali–”systems that continue to benefit one group of people over others.” Because of these systems, African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be born in poverty. “The idea of whiteness is a lie,” he said. “It has lowered the stock in our minds on humanity. We’ve gotta get back to being a human being and break our colonial mind,” he said. He cautioned white students that they do not need to provide charity, but to be allies in the struggle, which is “not just right, but we have a duty to do that.”
Brother Ali spoke of the recent Lincoln movie and how Lincoln was portrayed as the hero, with no mention of Frederick Douglass’ counsel to Lincoln. “And Mrs. Lincoln was portrayed as crazy,” said Brother Ali. “She wasn’t crazy. She advised her husband to do the right thing.”
He encouraged students to read books, such as the following: Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the U.S.; Tim Wise’s White Like Me; James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time; and Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow.
Following inspiring presentations by Dare 2 Be Real Co-Creators Patrick Duffy and Anthony Galloway, with Patrick reminding the audience that “No Child is Born Racist,” students proceeded to workshops that included: Art as a Tool for Change; SPEAK! Using Poetry for Change; Finding Your Voice; Lies My Teacher Taught Me, Owning Your Audience; Fired Up: Managing Disagreement and Reliving the Movement.
In the “Fired Up” session, students listened to 2Pac’s song Changes, with one student team debating that the world will never change; and the other arguing that the world will change for the better. A third student team identified debate criteria, such as control, evidence, confidence and audience engagement. The team asserting that the world is not changing received the most points!
In “Reliving the Movement,” high school seniors Korlu Borsay and Jennifer Afamefune from Armstrong High School in Plymouth led a session on their retracing the Civil Rights journey through Selma to Memphis. Along with showing sites of their trip, including the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, they quizzed their fellow students on Civil Rights history through a Civil Rights Research Tour Quiz. Questions included: “What is Jacqueline Smith’s personal dream for the Lorraine Hotel?” and “In what city did the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education originate?”*
In their description of places visited, they also told the story of how Martin Luther King Jr. would always buy fresh flowers for Coretta when he traveled. However, as he prepared to leave for Memphis, he gave her synthetic flowers instead, which made her angry. Coretta King knew something was up when Martin Luther King told her, “Plastic flowers will last forever.” The flowers still sit at the historic home of the King family in Atlanta, Georgia.
Korlu said that something she was never taught was that “It wasn’t just African Americans fighting for Civil Rights, because it’s not just called African American’s right to vote. It’s called the Civil Rights Movement,” and there were a lot of ethnic groups, Latinos and Native Americans, that were fighting for the course…and if you were a white citizen sympathetic to the cause, you got terrorized that night…your house was bombed.”
The evening ended with Open Mic and students sharing their reflections of the day. They were asked to share a six-word reflection on race such as “Race silences the truth we know,” and their R.E.P. (or racial equity purpose), such as “Raising the Youth Voice.” Students shared their hopes and dreams for the future, including “breaking down this horrible illusion called race.”
*Jacqueline’s personal dream has been to convert the Lorraine Motel into sheltered housing or community center for the poor and displaced instead of a National Museum. She has actively protested for over fourteen years to make this a reality .
On May 17, 1954, the United States supreme court stated the “segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon colored children.” Brown v. Board of Education originated in Topeka, Kansas, where Linda Brown, a black 3rd grade student, had to attend a segregated elementary school located a mile from her home, even though she lived only a few blocks from a white elementary school.
On May 11th, s.t.a.r.t students attended the Solutions Not Suspensions Youth Summit co-hosted by the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership and the African American Males in Education Advisory. Students from all over the metro area attended.
Students listened to a keynote by Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds, Professor of Law at the College of St. Thomas, who tied the suspension gaps to the school-to-prison pipeline and the disproportionate number of Black men in prison (also described in Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking work The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration Rates in the Age of Colorblindness (2010). Students also listened to inspiring presentations by Brandon Royce-Diop (activist and member of the MN Minority Education Partnership (MMEP), Anthony Galloway, Creator of the Dare 2 Be Real framework for student leadership and Leonel Dorville from the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), who taught us how his organization is reducing annual admissions to detention by race.
After the thought-provoking presentations, students attended breakout sessions, for students and by students, to discuss their experiences with school discipline. The event ended with a student collective brainstorming session, in which students imagined a perfect school and talked about what they would change about their schools’ discipline policies. Students came up with such innovative ideas as student courts, where students help decide what discipline a peer will receive, and having their peers play an active role in mediation processes. They also talked about importance for training in cultural competence for staff at all levels in a school building from those in charge of discipline to teachers and educational aides.
The students came away very inspired and eager to teach their peers of new ways to foster awareness about ways to develop restorative discipline practices that break patterns through which Black men account for nearly 40% of the prison population.
On Thursday, May 9th, South s.t.a.r.t.’s story was one of 15 shared at Macalester College’s Social Innovation Lab, with the guiding question, “What enables intentional community conversations to make a transformative difference?” Storytellers Sara Osman and Saida Mahamud shared the history of s.t.a.r.t. in one circle, as other members listened to stories by organizations like Heartland and the Native American Somali Friendship Association.
In the story circles themselves, “thread harvesters” took notes on key aspects of building transformation: 1) the container; 2) ripple effects; 3) lessons learned; 4) the invitation and 5) the process of inclusion.
After Sara and Saida shared their story, harvesters gave feedback on st.a.r.t.’s process of transformation.
For the Container feature of transformation, s.t.a.r.t. was noted as getting validation from school staff; securing a regular meeting space; face-to-face conversations and relationship-building; clear group norms and applying the lessons through important social events, like a student dinner and a community dinner with Diane Wilson, the author of Spirit Car.
s.t.a.r.t’s ripple effects were that it was collaborative, cross-generational, able to share results through many methods, as well as reflective of the students and community member’s experiences and that it honored integration of the body, heart and mind in the work.
Lessons and ideas learned from s.t.a.r.t. included: 1) the importance of adult cheerleaders (allies); 2) the importance of creating safe space and pathways for healing to occur and for leaders to emerge; 3) a commitment to our own identity.
We also reflected on how an invitation to participation occurred within s.t.a.r.t. s.t.a.r.t. was lauded for being an open network, driven by a real need in the community, hospitality and persistent engagement through action.
Finally, inclusion occurred through a sense of urgency in the work, incidents in our environment that sparked awareness, the intentional use of social media; and also engaging new students and a broader community through auditoriums, dinners, workshops, community dialogues and important conferences or summits.
The students were excited to hear feedback, but also to learn about challenges and successes that other organizations face as they move from dialogue to action. In the broader group, change agents who were part of successful movements highlighted the following themes:
- the importance of creating a strong common vision;
- “a will for alignment”–deep caring that allows for connectedness to inform any systems or structures;
- using storytelling to convey the growth of the work;
- being able to navigate complexity;
- educate the broader community on what is needed to sustain the work; and finally,
- reaching out continuously to those not in the dialogue.
It was a beautiful day of learning. We all learned that creating “action” organizations is vulnerable for everyone, and that once we start, we can’t go back. However, that leap of faith that gets us off the front porch is precisely what is needed for generative healing in our communities.
The new textbook Talking about Race: Alleviating the Fear is now available for order. Talking about Race features writing by three South High graduates and founders of s.t.a.r.t., Eva Mitchell, Carlo Balleria and Fardousa Ahmed, in addition to my own story about “Making a s.t.a.r.t.” Please keep the book in mind for teacher development and also for summer book club reading! South High will make the national stage through this book, which features our collaborative work with high schools in Lakeville and Farmington, Minnesota.
The book will be promoted at the upcoming 2013 AERA (American Educational Research Association) Conference. It is also featured in the Stylus Publishing Higher Education catalog with outreach to 40,000 individuals. Finally, Talking about Race will be promoted to schools of education and progressive educational organizations as well as in the Journal of Teacher Education, Teacher Education Quarterly and ReThinking Schools.
There is a 20% discount through July 31, 2013 for any order. The Source Code is: Source Code: REAL13.
Rep. Keith Ellison visited s.t.a.r.t. on Wednesday, May 1st, to review the Civil Rights Movement and to help students discern what problems s.t.a.r.t. might solve. He began with a thoughtful review of history, reminding students that when our country began, only white, Protestant males were allowed to own property. He went through many milestones of human rights, including the 15th Amendment guaranteeing (male) citizens the right to vote, and the 20th Amendment securing the right to vote for women.
He also spoke to how youth essentially launched the the Civil Rights Movement in 1960, with youth demanding service at segregated, whites-only lunch counters, beginning in Greensboro, N.C. Not only did students stay the course in the sit-in movement, but they also played a critical role in the “Freedom Rides” to desegregate public transportation throughout the South.
Rep. Ellison told s.t.a.r.t. that they will play an important role too. He praised the s.t.a.r.t. students for their courage, but reminded them that there would be work ahead. One example, he said, was that in a school district where only 200 of our 3,200 teachers are African American (and reflect our majority students of color), it is crucial to keep that history alive.
Students talked with Rep. Ellison about their concerns, including continued segregation in the hallways and little interaction with adult elders of color in our schools. They also talked with him about how they wanted to see more of their cultures reflected in school curriculum.
Rep. Ellison reminded students that their unity across cultures and races was their strength. He encouraged them to keep that in mind when times get tough.
He thanked students for their work, while promising them that he was their “adult ally” and would advocate for s.t.a.r.t. amidst his own efforts. He lauded them for their Creed, which states that “we are not born prejudiced. We learn prejudice and can unlearn it,” that “all students are capable of success,” and that “we deserve safe places to learn about our cultural identity and that of others.”
s.t.a.r.t. leaders met on Thursday, April 4th with emerging leaders from Kyrgyzstan to discuss ways to reduce ethnic tensions in our countries. Our visitors had careers in sports, the media and international diplomacy. The meeting, held at the Lake Street Library in South Minneapolis, was organized by the Minnesota International Center and the State Department.
Students were very curious about Kyrgyzstan, a country located in Central Asia, bordered by China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and separated from Afghanistan only by Tajikistan to its south. Our guests have experienced many ethnic conflicts and came to the United States to explore ways to reduce such tensions. They became interested in s.t.a.r.t. after s.t.a.r.t. was in the news for its efforts to develop students as intercultural leaders.
We agreed that such meetings are very important to introduce students to struggles experienced by leaders in other countries and to validate the sensitivity and skills required in intercultural bridging.
Students spoke about how they have engaged the broader community in their efforts to close opportunity gaps created by cultural patterns that have favored certain ethnic groups over others. They have also held events, dinners and dialogues to create greater awareness of their peers’ cultural assets.
We talked together about the role of past events in conflict resolution. Our visitors asked why we do not leave the 1862 Dakota War, which we have been studying, and the legacy of slavery of African Americans in the past. This led to a poignant discussion of historical trauma and its impact on communities and cultures. One of our guests said he believed that the struggle for resources is at the heart of violence. We agreed that the past is an informant of present tensions and can teach us to re-create patterns that allow for a better distribution of resources. We also talked about how it is important to honor our cultures, while also taking leadership to move beyond our comfort zones and to hear stories from people who are not like us.
In a light-hearted moment, one of our students asked a Kyrgyz guest who his favorite basketball player is. ”Michael Jordan,” our guest responded, a choice met with many smiles around the room.
At the end of our time together, the s.t.a.r.t. students presented our Kyrgyz guests with small jar candles as gifts to remind them that when we take time to understand one another, we are spreading light throughout the world. ”Light–and warmth,” added one of our guests.
South s.t.a.r.t. Students and Community Members in a Smudging Circle
On Wednesday, March 27th, s.t.a.r.t. joined co-hosts South High Foundation, South All Nations, Discussions that Encounter and the One Minneapolis One Read for a circle, dinner and dialogue to honor the work of Diane Wilson, author of Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past. The book was this year’s selection for the One Minneapolis One Read community read. At the event, 280 students and community members joined together for prayer, a traditional meal and reflections on the Dakota Way of Life. Chef Austin Bartold of Waite House through the Pillsbury United Communities prepared the wild rice soup, fry bread and cracked corn salad. Discussions that Encounter provided brownies and other desserts and beverages were served by the Brotherhood Brew (see: http://brotherhoodmn.org/brotherhood_brew).
As student Amira Elhuraibi led the smudging ceremony, Sheldon Wolfchild (great great grandson of Medicine Bottle, one of two Dakota men hung at Fort Snelling), blessed both the large community and our meal.
Students Amira Elhuraibi, Winona Vizenor, Sara Osman, Saida Mahamud, Elek Harris-Szabo, Haley DeParde, Shira Breen and Lamia Abukhadra all made statements about their own work and studies inspired by Ms. Wilson’s two books, “Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past” and “Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life.” Haley DeParde spoke about her article for the South High newspaper The Southerner, “Unresolved Conflicts Remain 150 Years after the U.S.-Dakota War.” (See: http://www.shsoutherner.net/features/2012/10/26/unresolved-conflicts-remain-150-years-after-the-us-dakota-war/.) s.t.a.r.t. student Elek Harris-Szabo presented Ms. Wilson with a framed photograph of their own South High mural in addition to the textbook used by s.t.a.r.t., To Be Free: Understanding and Eliminating Racism by Dr. Thomas Peacock. Students also gave Ms. Wilson a donation for the farm she manages, Dream of Wild Health.
Diane Wilson thanked the students for honoring her Dakota heritage through their extensive studies of the War that so strongly impacted her own mother’s life. She told the students that she was there as a Grandmother, wanting to listen to their ideas. She asked us how we might find ways to be good relatives to one another in the Dakota tradition and to learn how to transform our anger about what happened into a loving commitment to justice.
Following Ms. Wilson’s talk, there were table dialogues to reflect upon how we can return to honoring the Dakota Way of Life and how students can play an important role in that process. The evening ended with an open mic period during which students and community members shared their questions and ideas: ways to repatriate museum items that belong to the Dakota people, how to restore sacred land to our Native American Minnesotans, and how can we join together to visit and honor sacred sites. We were asked the question, “How can we tell that we are making progress in this work?” In addition, we were asked to reflect upon the true history of Fort Snelling, where nearly 1,600 Dakota people and “mixed-bloods” (mostly women, children and elders) spent the winter of 1862-63 in a concentration camp, before being forced to relocate to reservations–and where Sheldon Wolfchild’s great-great-grandfather Medicine Bottle was hung alongside Chief Little Six, also known as Chief Shakopee III.
Student Shira Breen, who leads South High’s environmental group, The Green Tigers, spoke of her plans for a collaboration with South’s neighborhood Corcoran Community, to cultivate a community garden. The garden offers the possibility of growing produce for neighborhood residents, while also acting as a sister garden to the Dream of Wild Health farm (see: http://www.dreamofwildhealth.org/mission.html).
Community members and students who participated agreed that having this opportunity to learn and reflect together was a healing moment, allowing us to return to the Dakota Way of being good relatives both to each other and to the land.