Creating inclusive small-group conversations and not being afraid to voice opinions — even if they cause discord or controversy — were among the topics raised by students at the Teens Talk About Racism (TTAR) leadership conference held at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Hackensack Campus on May 28. D-E students were participants and group leaders at the event, which was attended by more than 100 high school students from nine area schools — both public and independent — and which featured a keynote address, a panel discussion, student presentations, and group sessions led by student facilitators.
Five D-E students served as student leaders in the group sessions: Joel Lee ’17, Gregory McDowell ’16, Arlene Mendez ’17, Leslie Moreaux ’16, and Isaiah Pean ’17. The other members of D-E’s student delegation were Nicholas Daniel ’17, Rachel Kim ’17, Seon Layne ’16, Nasrin Lin ’16, Estella Muro ’16, Nevien Swailmyeen ’16, Antonios Tsougarakis ’16, Christopher Victor ’17, and Naseer Wilson ’18. The group was chaperoned by Tasha Toran, director of College Counseling, and Terecille Basa-Ong ’03, communications associate. Joseph Murphy, chair of the D-E Ethics Department, also attended and facilitated the group sessions for the teachers, while his wife, Maryann Woods-Murphy, served as co-chair of the event. Debbie Rivera ’11 also helped to coordinate the event.
The keynote address was given by Joiselle Cunningham of the Office of the Secretary, US Department of Education, and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The Teaneck native told the audience told the audience, “Anti-racism is dismantling racism.” She offered five pieces of advice:
- Challenge yourself. Challenge the message you’re receiving, your beliefs, and how you counter racism on a daily basis.
- Build your community. Who can you count on to help you think about challenging racism — either virtually or at school — and help you speak out in your circles and peer group?
- Make sure you’re proud of who you are, and lift others in the process. If you’re proud of who you are, you’re a walking statement of anti-racism, not dictated by stereotypes or race or hierarchy. Part of the work of challenging racism, and building up others, is also part of the work of dismantling racism.
- How do you show up when you enter a room? How does the skin you’re in affect the information you’re trying to convey? How does your skin relate to the work you want to do? Understanding the historical context and how it relates to what we experience today dismantles systemic racism.
- Don’t be afraid to have uncomfortable conversations. Speak your truth, and don’t be afraid to say what’s on your mind.
In the conference’s final group reflection exercise, six student representatives spoke on behalf of their groups. Seon Layne noted: “We should use social media since it seems to be the way of the future. We need to talk in small groups rather than one big collective group.”
Arlene Mendez stated, “Everyone should be in the conversation, not just people of color, and make an environment that everyone can be accustomed to. Diversity is not just about race.”
The importance of the conference was perhaps best summed up by a student from Ridgewood, who declared, “We are the generation that can institute change.”