This week, I read about a Springfield teacher who used racial slurs in a classroom. I paused and thought, I am sure this was taken out of context, I am sure this can be explained — a typical first response for me because of my own recognized bias developed as a child from where I was raised.
I was raised in California. Shortly after moving to Southern California, in the early ‘70s, it was pointed out to me that we were the first Blacks to live in Capistrano Beach. I did not think anything of it because my father, who is African American/Black never talked about race. He only talked about class. Since everyone connected to where we lived was considered in the same class, there were no issues. In school, we learned very little about other races and ethnic groups and all faculty were the same race.
I realized my bias kicked in after first reading the article. I checked my bias and read the article again. I thought, why would a teacher think the use of a very offensive word was OK, unless he was teaching on the history of its origin and even then, the word did not need to be used.
Two days later, I was sent a video clip of the incident and just cringed. Clearly the teacher appeared to not know what he didn’t know — yet continued to talk as if he knew what he was talking about.
Watching the video triggered memories in Springfield helping many students address race/ethnic issues when there was no data to support allegations. Now, SPS has many data points, faculty, student and parent assessments that share academic, discipline, personal safety concerns, lived experiences and other reports to demonstrate the need for faculty and staff to have training on a regular basis on cultural consciousness, diversity, equity, equality and understanding bias.
The school district was on track with training of this nature. However, from me personally viewing countless school board meetings online, it is clear some school board members do not recognize the need for such training or anything related to diversity, equity and equality.
The video clip I saw demonstrated students have a better understanding of cultural consciousness than the teacher. The students I heard in the video asked the teacher to stop using the word and even cited history with slavery. Unless a person has experienced what people from other cultures have experienced —lived experiences associated with oppression, microaggressions and racism— it would be extremely difficult to understand what it is like to live daily with fear just because of someone’s skin color.
Earlier this month, I was going to visit a friend and arrived after dark. I sat in the car and debated if I should get out of the car and walk across the lawn, which was the shortest distance to the front door, out of fear because of the young man shot in the head in Kansas City for going to the wrong house.
I sent a text message to my friend to let her know I was outside. I did not get out of the car until her and her husband came outside.
The next day, I was visiting a colleague in the south part of town. Very few homes had street numbers on the home or mailbox. I took a chance and guessed her house. As soon as I rang the doorbell, I quickly stepped down the three steps and to the side just in case it was the wrong house. This is the reality of how some of us live.
The question is asked many times why African Americans/Blacks only stay in Springfield a few years and leave. Despite these things that continue to happen, I see hope for Springfield because of its leadership. The Mayor and City Council adopted principles of equity and equality last year and the Equity and Prosperity Commission developed a community action plan to build better ecosystems focused on equity and equality.
When I was NAACP president in Springfield, there were community concerns about the number of stops made by the police department for African American/Blacks and Hispanics/Latinx. Chief Paul Williams chose to use data to assess issues and provide training where training was needed. Chief Williams wanted a system change, not just an issue change. He had the entire police department trained to understand diversity and unconscious bias. He continues diversity training for every police academy. When riots were held across the nation due to race issues, Springfield did not experience what other communities experienced because of the in-depth training from community professionals who live in Springfield.
Kudos to Glendale High School’s principal for swiftly acting and kudos to the superintendent for quickly following appropriate protocol to determine next steps. I applaud the students for being diligent and reporting what they saw and experienced.
Diversity and cultural consciousness training is imperative to teach what someone may think they know but don’t know.
Francine Pratt is a former member of the Springfield Public Schools board.