While protests are visible and are often the most immediate demonstrations of support, lasting change needs a clear path of action. One Midland group is hoping to create that path with a plan to incubate structural change.
The effort, Anti-Racist Midland or ARM, was started by seven recent graduates of Midland Public Schools: Kofi Ofori-Darko, Connor Reed, Jared Hohman, Josiah Greiner, Camryn McGee, Afua Ofori-Darko and Jonathan Hayes.
The group is in the process of partnering with local organizations and businesses to help raise awareness about the need for education about race in Midland. They have also challenged Midland Public Schools to step up and address issues around race.
Initially, ARM had three demands, but after the Black Lives Matter Rally in Midland and receiving much community support, that list grew to a comprehensive and final list of ten demands for action and reform to be taken by Midland Public Schools, including:
1) Implement curricula focusing on Black History, racism, and white privilege
2) Carry out mandatory diversity training for staff from an independent organization
3) Encourage its district peers in the area to do the same
4) Distribute a district-wide statement declaring race as an issue within Midland Public Schools
5) Ban the Confederate flag on district property
6) Make a public commitment to hiring more teachers and administrators of color and supporting current faculty members of color
7) Create a centralized, public, local reporting system to track racial or otherwise prejudicial incidents of discrimination or harassment
8) Develop workshops and provide resources for at home education of both students and parents
9) Allocate funds for mental health counselors across all schools in the district
10) Provide periodic public updates regarding progress toward outlined goals
As of June 2020, the petition had amassed well over 2,000 signatures, many from current students and recent graduates.
Camryn McGee, pictured immediate left of center, at the Black Lives Matter rally.Efforts to address how the school system both teaches Black History, racism and white privilege and deals with issues of racism date back to at least November 2019, when representatives of Midland Public School’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) group, a volunteer-based advisory organization motioned for similar district-wide policy changes.
With the recent prominence of racial injustice, the local visibility and necessity for change has picked up ground through the efforts of Anti-Racist Midland. The group spoke to the Midland Public Schools Board of Education on June 29 about the intent behind their efforts. Comments also came from students confirming their experiences, teachers frustrated by barriers to their attempts to support race education, and parents with stories of how their children had not received support in school. Many highlighted issues over a period of years that were brushed off or ignored.
Helping tackle those issues, in part, is Dr. Amy Beasley, the North American Regional Inclusion Leader for Dow, who is serving a one-year term as a consultant to the DEI group and Midland Public Schools as a whole. Beasley is advising how MPS will solidify, accelerate and strategically shape the district’s diversity and inclusion strategy. Her term runs through the end of 2020.
As an organization, Anti-Racist Midland and the group’s supporters are both looking to spur reform in multiple local school districts and create broader transformation within the community, by taking a current issue and made it actionable. If adopted, the group has the potential to create lasting change through local and regional policy change. With the right support, that could easily extend statewide and beyond as a model of how a community steps up to address race, the equitable treatment of students of color, and how a community heals previous wounds.
“Making a path for positive change is important to us and we're working on several initiatives that are still in the early stages that will bridge understanding and growth within the community,” says Afua Ofori-Darko, a 2020 graduate of Tufts University and 2016 graduate of Herbert Henry Dow High School.
For Camryn McGee, a 2019 Dow High School graduate, current Delta College student, and founding member of Anti-Racist Midland, it was important that Midland Public Schools outline their actual steps forward.
“As students, we saw this happening, and with incidents not being dealt with. It’s important that the district take clear action,” says McGee. “It wasn’t enough to have MPS outline all of the things that had been completed to address this issue, because as we knew there were so many instances where students of color experienced otherwise. In that respect, it was very important for us to have MPS actually formally address this as an ongoing issue, commit to creating a reporting system and make training mandatory versus optional, for example. We are seeking the demonstration of clear, measurable progress.”
The group is partnering with a number of local businesses and organizations beyond their efforts with MPS to help move these issues into the light. ARM is currently working to lay the groundwork and hopes to publicly announce partnerships soon.
“We want to better the entire community through awareness and education and help people see racism as a problem and how we can go about taking steps to help people impacted every day,” says McGee.
“It’s pretty evident from our initial discussions with the Board that there remains a significant amount of hurt and trauma in the community today stemming from past events that happened under MPS jurisdiction,” says Ofori-Darko. “We are thankful for the number of people from our community who spoke out about the need for change, and we are grateful to the parents, students, teachers and other leadership for their perspective. Your voices were heard.”
“We hope that those concerns were heard by the board, but regardless, it was motivation for us toward making sure that our demands are implemented,” says Ofori-Darko. “This is something that is critically needed within our school system.”
“Moving forward, we are making sure that we are not appeased out of this process and our work is not done. This is only the beginning,” she says.
The intent is to spur positive community change, and most importantly, to make sure students of color feel supported.
“There's a lot of miseducation in the community and I think education is where I see so much potential for growth,” says Ofori-Darko. “And with ARM, if we are able to make even one dent in dismantling some of the institutionalized and systemic racism here, I think that will bring significant change. As a black female who grew up here, I want to help make it a little bit easier for people of color moving forward.”
You can view Anti-Racist Midland’s full commentary from the June 29 Board of Education meeting here and follow along with Anti-Racist Midland on Facebook.
Specifically, if you would like to pledge your support along with Anti-Racist Midland for reform within Midland Public Schools, ARM has prepared a pre-addressed letter of support prepared in email you can access here.