I t is always about race. It has always been about race. Every other ‘ism’ is compounded by
Those three sentences were central
to the discussions at the MTA Racial
Justice Summit, a daylong event at
the Blackstone Heritage Corridor
Visitor Center in Worcester on Oct.
5 that attracted MTA educators eager
to deepen their knowledge and skills
around racial discourse and the
underpinnings of racism.
The summit — sponsored by
the MTA Ethnic Minority Affairs
Committee, the MTA Task Force
on Race and ALANA Educators —
proved so popular with MTA members
that it reached signup capacity within
Monique Schramme, a teacher of
visual arts at Lexington High School
who came to the U.S. from her native
Guatemala, had looked forward to
attending so she could gain skills that
would help her students navigate race
in the world through art. The summit
was “about understanding — and
figuring out ways to bring this training
into my classroom,” she said.
MTA President Merrie Najimy
welcomed the roomful of educators,
saying, “If we are going to be the
educators that students of color want
us to be, then we need to have a deep
understanding of white supremacy,
patriarchy and racism. We have to
examine ourselves, but we also have to
examine the system and the structures
that are in place that perpetuate the
The event included some
segments intended to develop a
stronger foundation of knowledge for
members who want to take action to
advocate for communities of color.
Others were devoted to self-identity
and examining concepts such as white
privilege and racial anxiety.
Exercises at each table probed
prejudices and assumptions, such as
recognizing racial stereotypes in the
media. Video segments covered the
impact of racism on children’s health
and the damage done by many decades
of economic racism.
Ellen Holmes, an organizational
specialist in the National Education
Association’s Center for Organizing,
served as the facilitator. She told the
grew out of her experiences in single-
building districts in Northern Maine
that served students in kindergarten
through grade 12.
Holmes has family members who
served as important role models for
navigating the complexities of race
and identity, she said, adding that
she has experienced white privilege
throughout her life. Her experiences
with race and identity, like everyone’s,
“I understand what it means to use
privilege to get to a place,” she said.
Expect emotion and tension in
any discussion of race, Holmes told
the summit participants. As a result,
community agreements were made for
the day regarding full and inclusive
participation, confidentiality, and
assumption of positive intent.
The crowd watched a short video
on the history of race in America and
then discussed why issues of race play
such a central role in everyday life.
The conversation also encompassed
distinctions between race (physical
characteristics), ethnicity (ancestry and
culture) and nationality (citizenship).
Holmes said discussions about race
often mix up these terms, causing them
to be used interchangeably.
Participants discussed the cycle of
prejudice, through which people begin
to act on implicit biases to another
person’s detriment, and the four levels
of expression of racism: those that are
individually based, such as internalized
or interpersonal racism, and those that
are systemic, such as institutional and
“A great number of resources have
been spent in organizations working
on individual-to-individual instances
of racism,” Holmes said, “and it hasn’t
changed the system. I believe we need
a bolder, bigger, in-your-face public
action type of change where we are
moving away from worrying about
the individual and we move to, ‘What
in this system is creating what we are
When those in the crowd were
asked to come up with a definition of
institutional racism, MTA member
Joseph Fails, a Worcester teacher who
is African-American, brought his own
experience to the discussion.
“No matter how many degrees I
have, no matter how much education
I acquire, no matter how many
institutions I attend that my white
counterparts have attended, I will
never have the authority or the ability
to change the power structure because
of the color of my skin,” Fails said.
“The power structure was created
by white middle-aged men, and one
of my colleagues points out that the
Like Fails, Weston English teacher
Zena Link offered an example of
“By the elimination of certain
cultures within the educational
curriculum, we’re currently teaching
white supremacy,” she said. “Students
Exercises at each table
probed prejudices and
as recognizing racial
stereotypes in the media.
Please turn to Summit/Page 27
The National Education Association’s Ellen Holmes, who served as
facilitator of the daylong summit, told participants to expect emotion
and tension in any discussion of race.
Photo by Jean Conley
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