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Delving Deeper into topic of race

Posted: October 10 2019 at 11:39 AM
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For the last three years, under the aegis of the theme Skin in The Game, United Voices for Children (UVC) has succeeded in creating courageous space and facilitating critical conversations on how race—on both a systemic and individual basis—affects the ways that children and families are served. This year’s workshop held on September 14 and entitled “Delving Deeper; Race and Well-Being,” convened a diverse group of more than 50 people including, faith leaders, educators and social workers who serve children and their families.

The workshop was facilitated by a team from Evanston Township High School (ETS) led by Dr. Marcus Campbell (Assistant Superintended and Principal) along with Aracely Canchola (Department Chair for Student Services) and Taya Kinzie LCSW (Principal for Student Services). They shared how racial bias has historically tracked black and brown students out of honors/advanced placement classes. With a refreshing candor the team shared that Evanston Township School District had a long way to go, but they have begun the journey toward equity in educational opportunities. UVC President Robert Biekman noted that “one of the elements of the workshop I found particularly illuminating was the way the presenters ‘carefronted’ participants by asking them to check in and share their feelings after a challenging subject was addressed.” 

UVC board member Catherine Inserra spoke to the importance of the workshop: “Every day I hear stories in the news about racism and hatred which is so discouraging and scary.  Spending this time together with Marcus, Taya, Aracely and a room filled with people who truly care about others and were vulnerable to delve deeper was so encouraging. The presenters know what they are talking about because they live it every day in the context of a high school environment!”

The ideas and strategies presented by the leaders were further amplified by a panel of youth presenters: Dan Barton from Trinity UMC Mt. Prospect; Emily Laureano, Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism; and Natalie Overstreet, Community UMC Naperville. The youth spoke frankly and honestly about the challenges they face navigating racially-diverse settings in their schools and community.  The youth panel was moderated by UVC board member Pamela Pirtle who reflected that: “Our panel of young persons was excellent, diverse and insightful.  All of the adults who attended learned something from their well-thought responses.”

UVC board member Joy Hayag noted the significance of the workshop for her as someone who has stepped into U.S. society and culture. “Moving here and learning how to embrace the American culture and still not losing the identity and my roots has been a challenge. Being a Filipina and sometimes being the only Filipina Asian in a group is sometimes difficult, especially experiencing always being the minority. I have learned to love and accept and be proud of my culture and color and accent. There is always that fear of being rejected for being different in color, in actions, in dress, and in communications.”

UVC board member Jacki Bogolia summarized the affirmative reaction of many participants: ”I feel both grateful and hopeful after attending this workshop–grateful for the presenters and youth panel who shared their insight, wisdom and real-life experience of race as it impacts learning, success, and human relationships; and hopeful after gathering with so many folks who were willing to become aware (perhaps for the first time) of how race continues to be used as an intangible, sometimes invisible, tool to categorize, divide, privilege and condemn human beings.”

UVC board member Timothy Biel echoed these observations: “Great presentation by the ETHS team on racial bias. Their message is hopeful and engaging. I was encouraged by the elimination of the advanced placement testing for high school classes and how that impacts access to A.P. classes for all students. I liked how they challenged us to view our assumptions about race and ethnicity, giving us time in small groups to discuss what our thoughts were. The youth panel kept it real, engaged the participants with honesty and urgency.”

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It has been many decades since the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered. Yet none of us can say we have fully lived up to Dr. King’s vision of a land where each person would be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. Through events like Skin in the Game, United Voices for Children continues to address the ill-effects of racism by being a conduit for information and a catalyst for support to advocate for children and their families.

United Voices for Children expresses great appreciation to the Northern Illinois Annual Conference for co-sponsoring the Delving Deeper workshop and to Downers Grove United Methodist Church for its gracious hospitality in hosting.

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