Masked teacher teaching elementary school children.
Community Conversations on Race - Road to Justice Film Screening

What happens when different generations - a youth group and a group of elders - take two Civil Rights bus tours to the American South and visit places central to the struggle for Civil Rights? The first is a group of predominantly Black middle school students from Chicago. The second, a group of older, predominantly white Americans who lived through the 1960s Civil Rights era. The Road to Justice, by film maker André Robert Lee, brings their experience to us in powerful and poignant ways. 
 
The elders note that their education did not include the history of the places they encounter on the tour, places like Birmingham, Selma, the Tallahatchie River, and the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The youth are moved by the strategy and resolve of those who came before them and by the personal testimony of the Black 1960s activists they met. For both groups, the deep emotions they experience as they learn about those courageous, historic days radiates from their faces and trembles in their voices.
 
André Robert Lee joined Community Conversations in early December. The Germantown Friends School (PA) alum screened his film The Road to Justice, as well as a short clip from a new documentary about Quaker civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. 
 
Roadtojusticefilm.com calls the film, "a testament to the power of place and direct experience in creating transformational change. It is also a call to action.” So it seemed fitting, in an era when those rights are being seriously threatened, to share this film with our community as the first in-person Community Conversations on Race (CCoR) since the pandemic.
 
Seventy-plus people gathered to both view the film and engage in questions and answers with André Robert Lee. They were looking for ways to join in the work. An “AntiRacist Personal Audit” worksheet with resources and ideas was offered for generating action steps and learning to move toward having an impact in one’s own circles. Participants asked, “How can I have an impact on the curriculum in my school?” and “Can we keep gathering to support and urge one another to take action?”
 
In the words of one of the young people in the film, “This isn’t Black history; it’s American history.” It’s history for all of us! And it was a compelling start to another year of Community Conversations on Race.
 
The December 5, 2023 Community Conversation on Race was a full circle moment. CCoR launched six years ago with a showing of André Robert Lee’s film - I’m Not Racist, Am I?.  The Hiway Theater was filled with over 300 people! The intent was to bring people together from Philadelphia and the suburbs to support anti-racist activism and to create a community where courageous conversations about racism could take place. In part this was a response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA in the summer of 2017. This was before George Floyd’s murder and other horrific incidents that were ahead. Even then there were moments when our community needed a place to process such traumatic incidents. Community Conversations on Race was begun as a safe place to practice the skills needed to have those difficult conversations and respond as anti-racist activists.
 
Community Conversations on Race has met regularly since then to consider what actions we can take individually and collectively to interrupt and dismantle structural racism. Toni Graves Williamson, Mary Lynn Ellis, and Deborra Sines Pancoe - educators with connections to Abington Friends School (PA), Friends Select School (PA), Friends Council on Education, and Race Institute for Educators - plan and facilitate gatherings. They get folks talking with each other about race and its intersection with socio-economic class, gender, and other -isms. These community conversations have delved into topics such as implicit bias, real estate red-lining, and the importance of voting rights. Readings, videos, hassle lines, and Howard Stevenson’s racial literacy stress management awareness strategies have all been used to help groups practice talking about racism.
 
The hope is that if people talk together with others who share a desire to make change, in discussions led by skilled facilitators, people can utilize practiced strategies – as well as practiced courage – when we encounter resistance from neighbors, family members, colleagues and others.
 
 
CCoR in the future:
The next community conversation will be Tuesday, January 9, 2024 at 7pm on zoom. We’ll touch back to The Road to Justice and then do some hands-on work on how to write op-eds and take action by writing letters to the editors of local media.
 
February 26, 2024 - This in-person gathering (location TBD) will feature Dr. Ali Michael, Educating for Equity who will lead the group in conversation based on her book with Dr. Eleonora Bartoli - Our Problem Our Path.

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