Compelling Conversations: Civil Rights, “I’m Not Racist… Am I?” Film Screening

We are in the midst of an incredibly challenging time in the world. In addition to great advances in technology and emerging wealth, we are faced with conflict and injustice both here at home and abroad.  Civil rights are at the forefront of conversations across our nation as the events of Ferguson, MO, and Staten Island, NY – combined with anniversaries of the Marches on Washington and Selma – remind us of how far we have come and yet how much further we must go to reach cultural understanding and equality.  

In response, protests against civil rights abuses have involved members of our community, and our Upper School students have been engaged in conversations throughout the school year. Issues of race and race in America have been a theme of those conversations as we also examine our individual and collective roles in “embracing diversity,” a key principle of our mission statement.

Why I Organized the “Law, Enforcement and Equality” Panel By Nicholas Schuermann ’16 This event was held to not only reflect on and discuss the recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, and elsewhere, but also to encourage individuals to form their own beliefs. People came not only to listen, but also to learn. They entered with open minds as our fantastic lineup of panelists attempted to uncover what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen regarding racial inequality in today’s society. As the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” I believe the event itself was a huge success. My goal was to have people come and learn, and I believe I achieved that when some of the people in attendance stayed 30 minutes after the event ended to ask questions of our panelists, even after a two-hour event that included a Q & A session. The maintenance crew eventually kicked us out, but the conversation continued. Some of the questions I heard were really well thought out and eloquent, and I realized that I had started something new at Dwight-Englewood. This was reinforced when people came up to me the next couple of days and continued to ask very insightful questions. The fact that I did not have answers to many of these questions really encouraged me to continue my study into this topic.

Why I Organized the “Law, Enforcement and Equality” Panel
By Nicholas Schuermann ’16
This event was held to not only reflect on and discuss the recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, and elsewhere, but also to encourage individuals to form their own beliefs. People came not only to listen, but also to learn. They entered with open minds as our fantastic lineup of panelists attempted to uncover what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen regarding racial inequality in today’s society. As the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
I believe the event itself was a huge success. My goal was to have people come and learn, and I believe I achieved that when some of the people in attendance stayed 30 minutes after the event ended to ask questions of our panelists, even after a two-hour event that included a Q & A session. The maintenance crew eventually kicked us out, but the conversation continued. Some of the questions I heard were really well thought out and eloquent, and I realized that I had started something new at Dwight-Englewood. This was reinforced when people came up to me the next couple of days and continued to ask very insightful questions. The fact that I did not have answers to many of these questions really encouraged me to continue my study into this topic.

These two paragraphs – which come from the invitation emailed by Upper School Principal Joseph Algrant and Middle School Principal Kathy Christoph to the Middle and Upper School communities for a special screening of the film I’m Not Racist… Am I? on April 17 – accurately sum up the sentiments on campus this past academic year in light of the tenuous events stirring our nation. The Die-In on December 8, 2014, was arranged by junior Nicholas Schuermann ’16, who also put together a panel discussion on “Law, Enforcement and Equality”, held on April 7. A group of about 40 D-E community members gathered in Hajjar Auditorium to see and hear the panel that discussed the recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island and elsewhere. Nick conceived and moderated the event, which was presented in conjunction with Carbon.

“Nick’s desire to plan this program grew from his awareness and involvement with New York City protests over the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown last summer,” Carbon explained. “When Nick approached me with the idea, I immediately got on board with the project as I saw an opportunity for the D-E community to talk about these events. Nick wanted to offer individuals an opportunity to learn more about their rights and how the law is applied.”

Panelists included:

  • Bill Burke, former police officer and detective in Harlem and the Bronx, professor of African-American Studies, and father of two D-E Lower School students
  • Ivan Wei, New Jersey State NAACP Youth & College Division president and past president, BCC NAACP Chapter
  • Lawrence Suffern, Englewood chief of police

The evening began with initial statements, and after Nick guided the discussion with his questions, there were two question and answer periods. According to Carbon, “The panel spoke of the need for change in policing; the use and need for new technologies such as body cameras, gun laws and response training; the need for more officers of color; better dialogue between police and civilians; and individual reaction to the string of events since last summer. Nick was very prepared with a range of questions to cover a number of topics and the panel provided insightful and thought-provoking answers.” [Editor’s Note: See box above for Nick’s take on the event.]


 

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 12.12.02 AMA week later, the evening screening of I’m Not Racist…Am I? took place in Hajjar Auditorium. These next three paragraphs come from that same correspondence sent by the Middle and Upper School principals specifically pertain to the screening:

“Along with those conversations within the student body, we have wanted to enlarge the discussion of race and how we experience it to the larger community. In December, several faculty members saw a movie at a national conference that examines the process of young people in New York City talking about race and racism. The film I’m Not Racist… Am I? documents students from private and public schools engaged in a yearlong seminar, and it is available for use as a stimulus for conversation about race.

“We have scheduled a showing of the film I’m Not Racist… Am I? at Dwight-Englewood in hopes of learning and shaping a discussion of our own, which we know may not be without controversy.

“We encourage all members of the community including faculty, staff, parents, students, alumni and friends of the school to attend this screening as we work towards common understandings.  We aim to acquire language and vocabulary to hold meaningful discussions and to create safer spaces to foster dialogues about race.  Many independent schools have been at the forefront of the movement to engage in these talks in our school communities and we are one of those schools.”

The screening was arranged through the Offices of Multicultural Affairs and Student Life. “The film’s director, Catherine Wigginton Greene, introduced the film by giving the audience background on the project by The Calhoun School of NYC which the film is part of,” explained Carbon. “We viewed the 90-minute film and Catherine moderated a 30-minute conversation, which also included a question and answer period.”

For the trailer of the film and more information, visit http://www.notracistmovie.com.


© Dwight-Englewood School | 315 East Palisade Ave, Englewood NJ 07631, 201.227.3100 | Site By: NWG