Racial Justice Team Brings Training To Public Schools

3/1/2018
By Drew Page

McKenna (front left) and Monts (front right) with youth during a Racial Justice Training event
SOUTHINGTON -- Faculty, staff, and a group of students at Southington High School departed from their usual focus on instruction and assessment to take a hard look at racism in the school. Led by Isaac Monts, Associate for Justice and Leadership for the Connecticut Conference, UCC, and Emily McKenna, Office Manager for the conference and one of the conference’s Racial Justice Facilitators, the teachers and staff of the public school took a rare step in identifying racism and learning to engage in racial justice.
 
In early January, Monts facilitated Racial Justice Training for 25 youth from the high school’s Multi-Cultural Club. The students visited First Congregational Church of Southington to engage in a 2-hour training designed to help them learn common language, unmask racism in everyday life, and encourage long-term participation in racial justice efforts. The program, adapted from the standard training to offer something more secular for a school setting, covered the four realms of racism — personal, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional racism — as well concepts of micro-aggressions and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
 
Monts said the reactions of these students mirror the reactions he has observed in other trainings.
 
“They’re unaware,” said Monts.
 
During the training, Monts reviews the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” (Italics added for emphasis). After learning that slavery was not actually abolished, but rather changed into an aspect of the prison systems, the youth are incredulous.
 
“They’re shocked, they’re sad, they’re confused,” said Monts, “and they’re asking why is it like this and saying ‘I didn’t know it was like this’.”
 
The lack of awareness is not reserved for youth.
Part of the List
These are actual comments from students of color at the school:
“I’m always left out of group projects. They think that I don’t know anything.”
“People constantly assume I will not attend college.”
“A classmate whispered to me that she wanted to run in Hartford with a KKK mask for fun.”
“People said that I did drugs because of the way my hair looks.”
“When teachers shut off the light, people ask where the black kids are.”
 
On January 20th, Monts and McKenna facilitated a professional development training for the faculty and staff of the high school. After discussing the four realms of racism, Monts and McKenna showed everyone a list of “real life interpersonal examples.” The list contained comments and anecdotes from youth of color. Then Monts let the teachers and staff know the truth — that particular list came from students at Southington High School. He’d been given the list by Christina Simms, Director of Youth Services for the town.
 
“As soon as Isaac told them the list was from their students, there was silence in the room,” said McKenna.
 
Monts ended with a charge to all staff to go forward with deeper awareness of “what they have or have not done or said to either perpetuate or stop this behavior,” reemphasizing the fact that racism is both action and inaction that sustains and perpetuates racial prejudice plus power.
 
After the training, several people thanked McKenna and told her they had no idea that the racism they had just been exposed to was the reality in their school. One staff member, the only person of color in the training, approached McKenna and told her that whenever the topic of racism is discussed, people try to make the audience feel good.  He thanked McKenna and Monts for not doing that, for not “sugar-coating it.”
 
“That was worth it,” said McKenna. She said during the day at times groups of people were chatting distractedly, or would roll their eyes at some of the discussion. But she felt the frustration she felt at the lack of attention of some was “all worth it just for that one teacher to say ‘thank you’.”
 
Monts hopes to bring Racial Justice Training to more schools in the future, perhaps addressing students in middle and elementary grades, a process that has already begun. Racial Justice Associate TJ Harper has completed a training session for students and parents in one elementary school in West Hartford and has another scheduled for faculty and staff in March. Monts would also like to see schools change their curriculum to include legitimate black history studies in order to deepen understanding of the impacts of our past on today’s society. This, too, is already happening in some schools. (See related article: Parent Fights Racism In School Curriculum, Nov. 28, 2017)
 
Churches, schools, and other groups who wish to learn more about these trainings can visit the Racial Justice page of the CT Conference website.