ARM strives for a more inclusive and equitable Midland

Nine months after the Black Lives Matter protest, Anti-Racist Midland (ARM) is still hard at work.

 

I spoke with founding members Afua Ofori-Darko, Jonathan Haynes and Connor Reed to hear more about their progress so far and vision ahead.

 

The term “anti-racist” has been integrated into society within the past year, despite being around for decades. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, people began reading books to understand white privilege and anti-racism, including Ibram X. Kendi’s book, “How To Be An Antiracist” published in 2019. But what does it mean to be anti-racist in Midland?

 

“We don’t see ourselves necessarily as a prescriptive, individualized group as in telling individuals what to do,” says Haynes.

 

Rather, ARM is focused on building an anti-racist community.

 

“And for us, that means building a real sense of community in which everyone is able to come to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and the marginalized, not only from a policy perspective from the school or city level, but also in terms of the foundations and support networks and nonprofits and the rich resources we have here — even at the company and business level as well; everyone coming together to work,” says Haynes.

 

ARM is focused on building a real sense of community in which everyone is able to come to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and the marginalized.First, we need to have conversations about the nationwide systemic injustices and how they manifest in Midland.

 

“We felt there was a hole in terms of the community-level consciousness, especially in Midland,” says Reed. “Growing up here, I felt there’s just a general lack of awareness about how exactly these themes and topics apply to us in our community. So in that sense, we’re also trying to cultivate a larger sense of community, self-reflection, and seeing ourselves as part of this story and having agency in that story.”

 

ARM’s main efforts are directed toward Midland Public Schools (MPS). These are the ten demands they put forth last year:

 
  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 towards outlined goals

 

As of August 2020, the Confederate flag has been banned on district property. ARM is advocating for MPS to be more transparent with their progress.

 

ARM hosted MPS’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director, De’Ondre “DJ” Hogan, last week for a town hall and Q&A with the public.

 

Connor Reed is a founding member of Anti-Racist Midland. “Growing up here, I felt there’s just a general lack of awareness about how exactly these themes and topics apply to us in our community."“The main point of it was just for the community to engage with De’Ondre, meet him, get the chance to understand what his priorities are and also for De’Ondre to hear the community’s concerns as well,” says Ofori-Darko.

 

While Hogan’s hiring is a step in the right direction, he alone can’t change the system.

 

“It’ll take collaboration from ARM with De’Ondre, other teachers and MPS students, parents, and also other interested community members as well,” says Ofori-Darko.

 

“It takes a village, these kinds of community efforts,” adds Haynes.

 

Amplifying Black voices and people of color

 

In partnership with the Midland County Historical Society and the Cultural Awareness Coalition (a committee of the Midland Area Community Foundation) ARM is gathering oral histories centered around the injustices Black people and people of color have experienced in Midland. The goal is to gain a deeper understanding of Midland’s racial past and present.

 

“We’re hoping to really grapple with what’s uncovered and the stories that people have decided to share with us throughout this year and throughout the entirety of our existence really,” says Haynes. “Because this is really an uncovering of the stories that have always been there but maybe haven’t been heard, whether it’s from our Black residents or even just their own racial issues in Midland. It’s going to be super integral to our work moving forward and for Midland to come to a better understanding of itself.”

 

Afua Ofori-Darko is a founding member of Anti-Racist Midland. Ofori-Darko is looking forward to amplifying Black voices through the oral history project.Reed is interested in recognizing the work of past generations, mentioning that there were groups grappling with racial issues in the 70s that saw a good amount of success. That progress, however, was not sustained over time.

 

“I think that’s critical for our work to recognize why those efforts didn’t last,” says Reed. “As we’re thinking about how we want to make this a sustainable vision for the community, understanding that history in particular is going to be really important for us.”

 

The stories will be shared as a podcast. Eventually, they hope to present a physical exhibit.

 

“It’s something I really enjoy doing because it’s the chance to amplify Black voices in Midland,” says Ofori-Darko. “ I think there hasn’t really been a space for that historically in Midland as well, so I think this is a really good opportunity for that and we’re excited to see it come to life.”

 

If you’d like to share your story, contact ARM at info@antiracistmidland.org.

 

“We’re very excited to start the reckoning and the grappling so we can move forward as a community,” says Haynes.

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala grew up in the Tri-Cities and enjoys broadcasting all the positive change happening in Midland. As Assistant Editor for Catalyst Midland, her favorite topics are environment, wellness, mental health, and the arts. As a human, Crystal is a serial hobbyist: hiking, drawing, yoga, and playing music. Her work can be seen in The Detroit Free Press, Midland Daily News, and The Delta Collegiate. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.
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