When Dr. Raygine DiAquoi and Dr. Philip Lee keynoted the Hartford schools’ March 19th conversation on race, racism, and equity, some 700 parents and community reps filled the Bulkeley High School auditorium.  The room grew silent fast, however, when Dr. DiAquoi advised attendees that the practice of unequal funding is a practice of racism – and Dr. Lee cited the differences between what is legal and what is just.  The audience stayed.

In breakout groups, parents, educators, and community representatives looked through the local lens at the keynoters’ commentaries, considering that that there is no biological basis for race; that the same talk upon the death of Travon Martin took place more than 100 years ago in the Jim Crow era; and that it took centuries of intentional creation of law and policy to lead to today’s circumstances.

On the subject of cultural competence, as one student put it, in the context of having teachers not of his race, when his utilities were shut off, he could not tell his teachers.  “I can’t do it, because it just doesn’t feel right,” he said.  But teachers need training to understand that students don’t come to school to wreak havoc, he said.  “Students have things at home that get to them, whether it be abuse or the bills.”

One West Indian American parent put it this way: Latino parents approach him at arms’ length, a not-so subtle sign of racism.

Here are the video highlights of the March 19 conversation on “Race, Racism and Equity”.

“It’s really easy for us to say, ‘Why even try any more,’” Dr. Lee told the crowd.  “If you love the children, you do not have the luxury to give up.”  To reinforce the point, he quoted Dr. Cornel West: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”  Here is his March 19 presentation.

The Bottom Line.  The March 19 listeners wrestled with how to define and confront racism.  They met in large and small groups for a half day on some of the most serious questions our country and city faces.  In considering how to oppose those who maintain and reinforce a racial hierarchy, they received useful guidance from Dr. DiAquoi: It is not enough to be a non-racist; one needs to have an anti-racist stance, taking what you know and speaking truth to power.

Kudos to the Hartford Public Schools and Board of Education for taking on this sensitive and fundamental topic – and for risking thoughtful interchanges.  As the potential for a follow-up conversation is being discussed, the audience feedback – and what people put down on their “commitment cards” as ways to fulfill their goals – will be golden.  As well, it will be fascinating to see what the high school video documentarians from the Journalism and Media Magnet Academy, with CPBN support, come up with.  Overcoming institutional racism requires more than 700 on a Saturday morning … but what a great start.