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s.t.a.r.t.: A Steady Presence for Students

February 23, 2013

Since unrest that disrupted in South High’s cafeteria on Valentine’s Day 2013, much has been in the news about s.t.a.r.t.  As s.t.a.r.t. members know, s.t.a.r.t. hasn’t always made the news, but our group has been a steady and active voice to increase intercultural awareness among students since s.t.a.r.t. was founded by South High students in 2009, led by the brave efforts of Freesia Towle, Eva Mitchell and Fardousa Ahmed.  The students saw demographics in their school shifting more rapidly than they were being supported to deal with those shifts.  See Freesia Towle talk about what prompted her to create s.t.a.r.t.:

As a result of their work and the courageous young women, Sara Osman and Saida Ahmed, who stepped up to lead s.t.a.r.t. before our group became a news item, s.t.a.r.t. already had a dinner hosted for students to talk about race when the Valentines Day conflict occurred.  Also, s.t.a.r.t. has had strong partnerships with community elders, who have taught us about our true cultural and racial history–and have supported us all along.

Here is a reflection on our February 20th student dinner by community elder and convener of the group Discussions that Encounter, Bill Keatts:

I was a listening adult at a student forum at South High last evening. The spaghetti dinner and discussion was the idea of students and organized by students in the s.t.a.r.t. program (students together as allies for racial trust.) The library room was filled to capacity with many standing the entire evening. Adults could only listen. Students did all the speaking, in answer to a set of student questions designed to bring out emotions, feelings and ideas for change. There was enough time for almost all of the students to say something and all the comments clearly came from the heart! It was an amazing evening!

I was there as one who has been on a long journey to overcome a life of enjoying “white” privilege and being neutral (as whites can be) or even negative to those we call “black” in our society. I now spend much of my life facilitating discussions on race, as I continue to journey from a very different world view from which I used to operate. Facilitation by adults was not needed; the students themselves were very capable through their training in the s.t.a.r.t. program. So I could just listen with the other adults, which included the principal, some teachers, and some community members and activists.

The racial incident which occurred last week at South High certainly enabled the students to open up about issues that they live with every day. Many white students and community members were not even aware of the unrest and the damage done to a number of individuals. Most viewed it as just “a thing between the African Americans and Somalis.” But as the evening discussion clearly showed, unrest exists at South High as it does in many of our schools. Our American schools need to be integrated because of the expanding diversity of the populations they serve and because our students need a learning environment that reflects the world in which they will live and work.

To the students of South high: the work you did last evening was an awesome start (excuse the pun!) but realize it was only a start. Your commitment to the open conversation and ideas about race displayed so well must continue and grow as you move through life. In our schools, our media, and almost every part of our society, we are continually indoctrinated by myths about how great is our American society, while being quiet about the real struggles that many have lived and are still living, that truly make our American experience great. Discovering the life experiences that each person lives, what makes them the person they are, and deep education about our many cultures and how they can interact to complement each other – this is the education for life that is needed in our schools. You are the hope we all have for achieving the real greatness our society can achieve, where systemic racism is removed as a barrier, institutions operate equitably for the good of all, and individuals live respecting the differences among us. You’ve made a great beginning – the work is for a lifetime. Let your s.t.a.r.t. spread to the whole school and outside to your communities!

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