In-Depth Updates on Recent Conversations with Community Leaders

Hi Friends!
I have a HUGE number of updates this week, so please bear with me. I have bolded key words below for ease of finding content of interest to you.
Please RSVP to our meeting with the Chair of the School Board on June 20 so we can get a better sense of numbers and confirm a venue by June 11. Please also let me know if you’re coming to the small group discussion meeting tomorrow at 8:00 pm.
I wanted to reiterate my call for interest in helping me out with managing our group. I know this is a crazy busy time of year before school is out, and I know we’re all juggling really busy lives. I also know that this work is worthwhile and while I have some ideas for this coming year, I’m not going to be able to do as much if I’m on my own, especially as my responsibilities are increasing this coming fall. I have noticed in the past few months that there are times when I have dropped the ball on a few things or missed some important opportunities and I’d like for that not to happen as often. Some specific potential responsibilities, just to throw some ideas out there (starting over the summer or fall):
(1) Recruiting — this could be as simple as reaching out to people on FB every few weeks, or as involved as you want it to be.
(2) Meeting Liaison — there are some meetings I’m not as able to attend, and it would be awesome to have a few reps from our group who are able to add a regular monthly meeting to their schedule and then report back to the group.
(3) Event Planning — this could be as involved as you want to make it, but having someone be point person for determining a date and venue, communicating with the speaker and the group, and handling refreshments if needed, would be a HUGE help to me. I don’t anticipate having a large number of these events. We had one in 2017 and have three for 2018.
(4) Schools Liaison — keep the group updated about specific School Board/District actions, meetings, and opportunities for feedback (this info can be obtained from the District website and emails, it doesn’t need to be more involved than that). It could also be something someone aggregates for me on a weekly basis to be included in my weekly emails — you don’t have to email the group yourself.
Please feel free to suggest anything you’d like to do — it doesn’t have to fit into what I have described above!
I also welcome any of our members to email the group anytime when you come across resources, meetings, ideas for consideration. And always feel free to invite people you know to join. The more we talk about these issues together, the better advocates we can be!
Some upcoming calendar items:
(1) In case you missed it (like I did), tonight’s School Board meeting has been canceled. There was an update from the Superintendent on May 17 indicating that all schools will stay where they are and the only changes will occur related to the new schools opening. Option school locations will be considered in the future, supposedly. I am unsure about what this means about how equity issues might move forward in our community. My sense is that the Superintendent heard from so many panicked and angry parents that he backed off the evaluation of all elementary school boundaries. I’d love to hear your thoughts/observations.
(2) Primary voting is taking place on June 12 in our county. If you’re elsewhere in the area, please check to see if you also have primaries in your area and vote vote vote!
(3) A group member let me know about an event opportunity for celebrating immigrants, which takes place this Saturday, June 2.
(4) My husband and I went to a performance of “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies” by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm in DC. Here’s a review. It was a really great show and I highly recommend it. There are still tickets available!
(5) Many of you probably saw the emails go out earlier for the Big Idea Roundtables to talk about “How should [our community] grow?” They all have waiting lists, but I’m hoping they can add more if there are enough people interested in attending. If anyone does get to go, please report back to the group about how it went (I’m on a waitlist currently).
I have some more detailed follow-ups on recent meetings:
(1) I wanted to follow up with more on my meeting with one of our School Board members from last week. She talked about the fact that the achievement gap was removed from the Strategic Plan. She also raised a specific issue about the way the Strategic Plan words the disciplinary recommendations as needing to be “proportionate” which needs to be clarified, especially in light of the disparities we know exist nationwide (see below in the resources section for an article on disparities in our community). There are upcoming Board meetings on May 31 and June 7 when we can still weigh in on that document and it will have an effect on what the school district does for the next six years. She also talked about the importance of the way the CIP and Career Center site are developing and that we need to speak up for the children that site already serves who are generally more students of color and high-risk students. She also encouraged us to continue to attend School Board meetings, to keep these issues at the forefront of the School Board’s minds, to keep it in front of those who attend/watch the meetings, and to create a cohesive show of support for these efforts. If we manage to bring up equity in the context of many different things, then we won’t get tuned out; instead it will sound like the will of the public being expressed across the community.
(2) I had a phone call last week with another School Board member. It was a good conversation about how she’s working to encourage our community to value true diversity and creating opportunities for our children to interact with people from different backgrounds and experiences organically rather than artificially. She emphasized the importance of choice and in all communities being welcoming to all. She is also sensitive to avoiding breaking up communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities. In terms of school boundary conversations, she emphasized evaluating schools by asking what we are offering to that school community, and how those communities would be affected by changes, and what might be happening in that community already that can be supported. She also encouraged us to think about what “equity” means and developing a policy around what we want that to mean to our community. She encouraged our group members to consider applying for a position on the Advisory Committee on the Elimination of the Achievement Gap, which is in the process of deciding what they will work on next year. If you’re interested, let me know or reach out to her directly and she can help get you connected.
(3) I also wanted to follow up with more information about our large group meeting with our Alliance for Housing Solutions. This year is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Fair Housing Act, so that’s informing their event coming up on June 18. We talked a lot about the history of housing segregation in our community, including the three black settlements, which somewhat remain today, including physical walls separating white and black neighborhoods. She advocated getting involved in our civic associations, and with the County Civic Federation, especially because they do not have many young and diverse members right now, and the County and the School Board listen to their input. We will be staying in touch with her to see how our efforts may overlap and complement each other.
(4) I had a call last week with Integrated Schools to share what we’re doing and to learn more about what they do. She had some great ideas about how to use technology (video chatting in particular) to show support for issues at meetings and to include people who might not be able to attend meetings in person. Imagine speaking at a School Board meeting and holding up a device with 50 people logged in and watching and being able to say that you speak on behalf of that group and that they are all “present” for the discussion. It’s a twist on showing up in person with matching t-shirts. It made me think that our group’s meetings could have a video chat log in option, too — thoughts on that? I’ll be staying in touch with her as our group develops.
(5) I had a meeting with our local Unitarian Universalist Church. They’re available to host our large group meeting next month and they wanted to hear more about our group and what we’re doing. As you may know, the Unitarian Church has a social justice arm of its community activity, so there may be further ways we can collaborate with them. I have reached out to our speaker to ask her preference about making this event bigger (including the UU community) or about keeping it smaller. I am committed to keeping the conversation in-depth on a few issues rather than many scattered questions, and I’m mindful of having a small enough group that conversations can take place. Please let me know what you prefer.
And here are some additional resources and news items:
(1) One of our members shared an article from ArlNow about disparities in suspension rates and police referrals.
(2) Another member shared this podcast from On Being, an interview with John A. Powell, “Opening the Question of Race to the Question of Belonging.”
(3) You may have seen the recent NFL changes to how players are allowed to protest (out of sight). If you are a football fan (and even if you’re not), this is a place where you can amplify those voices calling attention to issues of racism and discrimination. Ask the NFL what they are doing to address these issues rather than hiding away the people who would dare to call attention to them.
(4) Virginia’s Governor appointed a new State Superintendent. I’m hopeful that something meaningful will come out of this change and that change might come at the state level. It would be worth writing a congratulations letter to the new Superintendent, encouraging them to act on issues of disparity and systemic racism.
I’d love to hear from each of you about your work in this space, even if you are focusing on self-reflection and identifying your own role in perpetuating systemic racism and not yet doing work outside of that. All of the actions we take on these issues are important and I’d love to learn from you about your challenges, successes, and anything in between. Let’s take the summer to refresh, reorient, and refocus for the coming school year.

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