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S.t.a.r.t. Unity Dinner 2014

March 6, 2014

S.t.a.r.t. Unity Dinner 2014

(In the photo, Mekhi Taylor proudly displays his s.t.a.r.t. t-shirt.)

South s.t.a.r.t. hosted a Unity Dinner for about 80 students, staff, parents and community members on Thursday, February 27th at South High. South s.t.a.r.t. was joined by students from the Minneapolis Youth Congress and from Southwest High School. Food was provided by Fat Lorenzo’s with a generous donation from the Rail Station in South Minneapolis. The South High Foundation paid for all of the dinner expenses through a grant to s.t.a.r.t. Amirah Ellison greeted everyone and shared the s.t.a.r.t. philosophy, to mobilize students to play their own role in closing equity gaps. Eva Shellabarger reviewed the student’s conversation guidelines with our guests.

Neil Cook opened our program a poignant dramatization of an untitled poem by the late American rap artist, Tupac Shakur:
“Please wake me when I’m free
I cannot bear captivity
Where my culture I’m told holds no significance
I’ll wither and die in ignorance
But my inner eye can c a race
Who reigned as kings in another place
The green of trees were rich and full
And every man spoke of beautiful
Men and women together as equals
War was gone because all was peaceful
But now like a nightmare I wake 2 c
That I live like a prisoner of poverty
Please wake me when I’m free
I cannot bear captivity
4 I would rather be stricken blind
Than 2 live without expression of mind.”

Kyra hood led an activity where dinner guests paired with someone they did not know to discuss what works and our opportunities at South High. The pairs wrote their reflections on Post-It Notes for our Wall of Opportunity. Reflections included that “South is a place where people can talk about race, privilege and institutional racism” and that “South student groups are strong and reflect a variety of interests.”

The students then shared two videos with their guests: the first, in which Australian comedian Aamer Rahman, in his YouTube Fear of a Brown Planet challenges why it is problematic to consider people of color as racists; and a YouTube with actor and comedian Chris Rock thoughtfully explaining how he has experienced white supremacy firsthand in his career.

Prior to discussing the videos, students Sophie Downey, Nila Brooks and Lamia Abukhadra reviewed a list of terms and definitions from critical race theory, including “critical race theory” itself, which refers to a theory that racism is pervasive, permanent and must be challenged; and the term “racism” itself, a belief system that upholds white supremacy, suggesting that physical traits mental abilities and creativity are genetically related, fixed and unchangeable.

Dinner guests then had table discussions about their own experiences with discrimination, what they would like to see changed at South, and how students (and the community) can play an active role in that change. Following the dialogue, individuals and groups shared highlights of their conversations, guided by Fatuma Abdi, Amirah Ellison and Lamia Abukhadra. Some of the ideas and solutions they discussed included:
• Not all ignorance is your fault—our systems can be designed to keep us unaware. Be aware of where you have influence and don’t take no for an answer.
• We need to use proper language to describe our immigrant populations. Somalian is not a word—we need to refer to immigrants from Somalia as Somali.
• We must be open to what we don’t know. White peers are afraid to offend people with what they don’t know. But there’s much research available, and we can be pro-active to learn beyond our comfort zones. We can all take time out of our busy schedules to learn new sides to this discussion.
• LISTEN—none of us know everything.
• White students often take offense to being called racist, because they don’t understand the depth to these issues and legacy institutional racism. As white people, we have to get over ourselves and commit to learning.
• Challenge our instructors and our teachers by sharing culturally-relevant literature that can open their eyes.
• There is a difference between equality and equity. We’re really after equity, where we provide structural supports for people’s needs to be met according to their needs. Whites have literally been given a pedestal to stand on, so they have been allowed to aim higher. We need to build those blocks of structural support for people of color to stand on.
• There are few systems of encouragement for people of color to be successful. We provide resources, before we provide incentives. We need to provide more incentives.
• We need to get rid of the notion that Black students can’t achieve. Period.
• There are many who say, “I don’t want to hang with white people.” But you have to hang with people to know them.

S.t.a.r.t. leader Kyra Hood wrapped up the dinner and thanked everyone for joining us. Following the event, restorative justice circle keeper Jamie Williams wrote a follow up note saying that “the dinner was one of the most heart warming and well-attended events I have ever participated in with MPS..it was a cold icy night and was still well-attended.” She thanked the students for their phenomenal work.

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