My last blog post, The Bloody Summer of 2016, recalled the violence we watched unfold this summer. The police killings of unarmed Black people, the slaughter at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the killings of police officers in various cities. On my return to school, our Head of School urged us to gather students to talk about these events. I’m glad he urged us.
We had several different events that brought our students together for some powerful and meaningful conversations. Once again I was taught– that conversation can heal. It doesn’t heal and solve everything, but it is a necessary step on the way to healing.
We have something called a Community Period every month. This is a 40-minute period in which students can choose to go to different events. Some are club events, some goofy and playful. We planned what we call a “Let’s Talk about Race” conversation and it worked out beautifully. In two classrooms, we had more than 60 students who gathered with teachers to talk about what we all saw over the summer. We posted some photographs and asked students how they experienced the events from the summer, how they felt. They told us.
Many of our students of color voiced fears, deep fears. The classrooms were both about equally divided between white students and students of color and mostly, the white students stayed quiet. They listened. They heard their peers, our students of color, talk about fears for their family members, fears for their own lives. It was pretty powerful. I should add that I teach in an all-boys school so this was impressive.
My school’s regular schedule includes one 70-minute period each day. So, a couple of weeks after the first “Let’s Talk about Race” discussions, we took the 3 long lunch periods for more conversation. These were also well-attended, nearly 40-50 students in each of the 3 discussions. We started with images again but let the conversation take its own path. More of the white students spoke during these conversations– they talked about their fears also. Some talked about the fear of being labeled a racist for saying something wrong. Some talked about their fear for their Black friends. It was moving.
We’re taking small steps but these are steps. They matter. In the heart of Washington, D.C. we’re doing our measured part to help heal the fears our students hold. For myself, as a teacher, I’m learning from them.