City Garden staff reported for their first day of the 2017/18 school year last Monday, July 23, and we began our summer professional development institute with “Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism,” a training led by Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training.
Starting off with anti-racism training is right in keeping with City Garden’s commitment to center and deeply integrate antibias and anti-racist values in all that we do. We’ve been working with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training for five years now and their guidance and wisdom have been crucial to our growth both as an anti-racist institution and as anti-racist educators and advocates.
Our training started with a revealing of the true history of our nation—the history we typically are not taught in school, the dark truth of oppression and white supremacy. From the truth of Columbus, who perpetrated vast genocide that gets ignored on “Columbus Day,” to naturalization laws built to keep people from Asian countries out of the U.S., to the construction of mass incarceration as a reinvented version of Jim Crow, we revealed how oppression, genocide, colonialism, xenophobia, and criminalization are deeply embedded in every aspect of this country.
Chris Stevenson, City Garden’s Building Support Guide, reflected, “From a new staff person’s standpoint, I liked the fact that we went through the history as a whole group, not separated with two groups hearing two versions of history. We got all sides of the story.”
We reflected on how this history created the enormous obstacles for oppressed peoples today. If one is denied citizenship (or freedom), one cannot own land or access jobs. Wealth cannot be built or passed on to children. Opportunities are limited. The result is disenfranchisement and hardship passed down from generation to generation. We looked at how the history of oppression combines with dominant cultural values to grant power to some and powerlessness to others, and where we, personally, hold power (or not) because of different elements of our identities.
Which is hard reflection to do.
“I really liked how they didn’t try to sugar coat anything or tie a bow around it,” Shannon Adams, Primary 1 Lead Guide, shared about the training. “They were willing to put it all out on the table and say things how they are. It was hard, but we were able to get it out and talk about it.”
We applied that hard truth telling to City Garden itself as well. We looked, in detail, at every aspect and level of our organization to see how white supremacy and white cultural norms still present themselves. We lovingly criticized our points of weakness and lifted up points of strength.
We also committed to growth.
Parallel to oppression throughout history is a pattern of ongoing resistance to that oppression. The history of resistance provides lessons and inspiration for the work before us today. In that spirit, we strategized how we can move City Garden farther down the path towards anti-racist transformation. We made internal commitments and external commitments; personal commitments and institutional commitments.
“This training was fantastic, especially for a school that’s trying to keep its diversity,” Stephan Peterson, Upper Elementary 1 Assistant Guide, reported. “And considering the gentrification in the neighborhood, it would be easy to give in. But the school’s mission is to make sure all kids can get the education they deserve.”
Our Crossroads trainers opened our training with the assignment: “In six words, what is the purpose of City Garden?”
There were answers like:
- To thrive as a diverse community.
- Initiating Positive Social Change By Example.
- Community, Ripple effect, Educational equity, Liberation
- Future, Liberation, Institutional, Pioneering, Pervasive, Deconstruction (FLIPPD)
- Change agents dismantling, reclaiming, transforming, humanity.
Our commitments to the ongoing work of anti-racism will allow us to fulfill our purpose and will ultimately enable the empowering transformation of our children and our world.