Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
From dance class to the high school classroom, Victoria Fox-Ramon is finding some creative ways to promote and encourage racial equity and social justice in Battle Creek.
Three years ago, she began teaching multicultural dance classes free of charge at a local studio and also started a dance club at Harper Creek High School. She taught at Harper Creek before being hired in February at Lakeview High School as a Special Education and English Language Learner paraprofessional.
“I have been dancing since I was young and teaching since I was a teenager,” Fox-Ramon says. “I started three years ago teaching styles that included hip hop and contemporary to girls who were low income and people of color.”
When COVID-19 forced the shutdown of the studio, she took her classes outdoors and has been teaching once a week at Leila Arboretum. She's also offered virtual classes throughout the summer to keep participants engaged and participation affordable.
Her students include mothers with infants and girls of all ages and skill levels. She offers age-appropriate instruction to ensure that no one becomes discouraged.
“A beginner is getting to know how their muscles work and what their body is capable of. Each person has their own abilities. It’s free dance to promote movement in general to people,” Fox-Ramon says.
Victoria Fox is seen teaching a dance class for young girls at Leila Arboretum.
Recently, she decided to make her dance business official with the name Studio M. (The "M" is for movement.) At some point, she hopes to have a dedicated space for her classes, which will focus on non-traditional, inclusive movement, and dance programs, which will be offered at no or low cost.
Representation and inclusiveness of marginalized communities in the city are two of her core values as a person, she says. “We need to look out for each other and care for each other. The groups that I’m part of and work with are how I’m promoting my values and for me that is pretty much my whole life.”
In June, she co-founded B.C. Collective, a public Facebook group with Fabian Leon-Torres, an assistant manager at La Cocina restaurants, owned by his family. The group facilitates discussions about politics and provides answers to questions about who the candidates are and what their platforms are.
“It pretty much came out of a Facebook post,” Leon-Torres says of his connection with Fox-Ramon. “I had been trying to get more politically involved with my community and I really believe in getting the community involved as I go along with it.”
Victoria Fox is seen teaching a dance class for young girls at Leila Arboretum.
Leon-Torres says there is also some attention to immigration issues, something he’d like to see expanded upon after the election is over.
“I also want to focus on helping underprivileged communities and one I have in mind that I’m thinking about is my community, Mexican-Hispanics,” he says.
But the mission of B.C. Collective is to be inclusive of people of all backgrounds and political persuasions. The Facebook group has about 60 members who have been together since June and which meets on a regular basis to talk about issues that are important to them, including a push to get people registered to vote.
“I think this group is necessary. I can’t really think of a place to go to ask genuine questions and not be judged for it,” Leon-Torres says. “You can come as you are. We want you to know everything about the candidates. This is a resource for young people in the community.
“We want everybody to know that they can either join or ask questions,” Leon-Torres says.
Teaching artist and community advocate
Fox-Ramon has been involved in this type of social justice work since her teens. Besides B.C. Collective, she also brought together groups of students at Battle Creek Central, Harper Creek, and Lakeview high schools who are involved in social equity and racial justice work at their respective schools.
Victoria Fox, a para-professional for several Battle Creek area school districts, is a social justice activist.
While at Harper Creek, she served as a mentor for the group, and after going to work for Lakeview schools, she signed up as a co-advisor with Carrie Hindenach, a Social Studies teacher at Lakeview High School. Known as People for Equity, the student groups at the three high schools are now connected to one another.
Prior to COVID-19, the students and their mentors were meeting monthly during the school year. With hybrid school models (in-person and virtual learning), the groups are trying to meet so that the members can be introduced to each other and talk about equity issues and their goals for the coming school year. The mentors are known as Educators for Equity.
“We talk about microaggressions, school policies, curriculum questions like the books being assigned by the English department and whether they’re insensitive to Black, Indigenous, Latinx People of Color, and other marginalized groups,” Fox-Ramon says. “We address the social and emotional effects of racial inequity in school systems and racial injustice in the city and the country.”
Hindenach says she took on the role of advisor when People for Equity first organized in 2016 at the high school because the students asked her to do it. During a normal school year, she and her PFE group were meeting every week.
She also teaches a Sociology class titled “Race, Gender and Social Class.” During a discussion about race issues, the students came up with the idea to create a Black History celebration as a class project. The event featured an assembly, daily announcements about Black history, and a meal. In 2019, a curriculum was created with lesson plans for each of the teachers.
Hindenach says a group of 10 students developed the curriculum and plans for the Black History Month celebration.
“The response to the Black History Month assemblies is overwhelming and so welcomed and enjoyed by our Black community in Battle Creek,” she says. “We have an African American Step Team and the students just love this team. They perform at every Black History Month assembly. We end it with an activity. One year we did a Privilege Walk
. It’s really led and created by the kids.”
Their projects have expanded to include events and activities for “Women’s Month” in March and “Hispanic Heritage History Month,” Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
“The thing I love about this group is that it’s a mix of students. We have a strong Burmese and African American and White representation and they are all strong leaders,” Hindenach says. “I think young people are craving justice and empowerment. I think there would be more involvement if kids had more time.”
Samantha Roselund, librarian at Harper Creek High School and People for Equity advisor, says her group is mostly students of color, many of whom are seniors. She says she has a solid membership base of between 10 and 15 students although she says it’s difficult to figure out the size of the group currently because of the hybrid-school model currently in place.
“We do try to recruit students of other races, but it’s complicated and complex,” Roselund says.
The Harper Creek People for Equity program began in 2017 at the request of a senior who asked Roselund to be the advisor. At the time, “Education about equity among staff and students was pretty low. She wanted to start advocating for equity and equal rights at the school,” Roselund says.
When asked if she had any misgivings about taking on that role, she says, “No, because I’m super-passionate about that work and we desperately need to do that work in the community and the school.”
Like Lakeview, members of the Harper Creek People for Equity organize a Black History Month celebration.
“Whenever we talk about it, we have a very interesting dialog. They’re conflicted that Black History is celebrated one month out of every year. They think it’s something that should be focused on all of the time,” Roselund says.
In addition to Black History Month, the group has hosted monthly movie nights for the community that features movies focused on equity and racial themes. Participants pay $1 to watch a movie and eat pizza, and snacks. There also is a question and answer segment to the evening.
The students also have created and produced videos that portray the experiences students of color face every day in school and the types of questioning they encounter that makes them feel uncomfortable or excluded.
The group also raises money for local charities that support racial equity.
Periodically, teachers will show up at a meeting to ask the students for advice. Roselund says an English teacher looked to them when her class was going to read a play where the “N” word figured prominently.
“There was a lot of dialog about that,” she says.
“It’s a work in progress,” Roselund says of her group. “I’ve learned an amazing amount. It’s been very important to me to demonstrate what it means to be there for them and how creative and passionate they are. It’s also heartbreaking to listen to them. Racism is alive and well and these are children who don’t deserve to be treated this way and yet they are. They have taught me to be hopeful and passionate and hopeful for the future.”
Fox-Ramon says her son, Sol, and daughter, Luna, both under the age of five, are the driving force behind her work, which she says, “is not really work for me, but my life and how I live it from day-to-day.
“They keep me motivated to create a better world and future for them. I want all people to look out for each other and empower each other. I want marginalized groups to thrive and for people to be involved in the community. I want power to go back to the people and let them determine their futures.”
Photos by John Grap. See more of his work here.