We must talk about race, diversity, & inclusion in schools.
This essay by Jen Lima appeared as a "Your Turn" in the Providence Journal on March 3, 2022.
I knocked on almost 3,000 doors while campaigning for the North Kingstown School Committee in 2020. I met people from all ends of the political spectrum. But one commonality was that many of them mentioned George Floyd’s murder and how it propelled them to become more engaged in their community.
An awakening of that magnitude, a push to change the way things are being done, is often met with resistance.
I was the highest vote-getter in the last election. But I’ve faced harassment and an attempted recall because of my support of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within our schools. Anonymous users have created Instagram pages, Facebook groups, websites and flyers to spread misrepresentations and lies about my work.
A town-wide mailer put out by the Gaspee Project, an organization with Koch Brothers funding, urged people to “sign the recall petition to remove the Pro-CRT & Marxist school committee member” to “strike a blow against these anti-American race predators.” I am not alone in this experience. This is happening to people across the country.
I believe that the first step in bridging some of the division in our communities is being open to the idea that not everyone walks through life with the same experiences. We solve problems by having conversations about them. Banning conversations about racism in the schools, or banning books from the school does not allow these conversations to happen.
We must allow children to think critically, to ask questions, and to draw conclusions for themselves, even on topics that do not reflect proud moments of history or that make us uncomfortable.
All kids deserve to feel supported by their school. Nationwide, the majority of kids in public schools are Black, indigenous and people of color, and around 10% are LGBTQ+ or have family members who are. Martin Luther King Jr. believed power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. That means racial justice, economic justice, educational justice, criminal justice, and so on. How can we achieve any of these things without talking about them?
We need to support all students and celebrate the diversity that exists in our schools. School libraries should have books in which all kids can see themselves reflected. A library is there to provide information on all topics.
Adolescence is a time of questioning. Ideally, children involve their parents in those questions. But it’s naive to think that kids bring all of them to their parents. And it’s dangerous to think that all kids have parents who provide safe spaces for them to bring certain questions.
As a counterbalance to efforts to ban books and stop the teaching of certain history in schools, I am working with a coalition of authors, libraries and community groups to put together a week-long celebration of diverse children's books. The outpouring of support we’ve received is indicative of how much an event like this is needed.
Race and gender are not political issues, they are human ones. I don’t know anybody who has been bitten by a shark, but I believe they exist. You don’t need to know anybody who has experienced racism to believe that it happens. The question isn’t whether or not it does, it’s what are you going to do about it?
Jennifer Lima is a member of the North Kingstown School Committee. She is also the founder and co-president of Towards an Anti-Racist North Kingstown (TANK). For information on “We Are ALL Readers” book festival, go to www.weareallreaders.org.