Portland students want community to take bias seriously

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PORTLAND — Students at Casco Bay High School hope to implement a plan to address bias in schools and the wider community.

The goal is to “help the community better understand the recent rise in discrimination and hate crimes taking place across the nation and (locally), consider ways of making a difference, and plan how to take action,” according to a School Department press release.

The sophomore class at CBHS is holding an all-day event on Jan. 22, entitled, “Community Dialogue: Addressing Incidents of Bias in our Schools and Community.”

Principal Derek Pierce said more than 30 adults, including community leaders, parents and educators have signed up to participate.

“The bulk of the day will involve small-group discussions with sophomores and community members,” he said. “The discussions will begin with participants sharing their personal experience with bias and discrimination and build to developing action steps of what can done to better address these issues.”

The event will also include a series of break-out sessions that will focus on why the incidents are happening now, what can be done to prevent and address the probolem, and the next steps, Pierce said.

The school has received “several thousand dollars from a Nellie Mae grant to try to actualize (any) ideas that come out of the day,” he added.

The community dialogue is also being used as a kick-off for the sophomores’ new Arc Towards Justice learning expedition, Pierce said.

That study will examine the history of the civil rights movement leading into the present Black Lives Matter movement, and will include reading the book, “Between the World and Me.” Students will also study these historical events through the lens of music, poetry, literature and art.

“We will then investigate how the present echoes the past through analysis of the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement and more modern manifestations of protest and struggle,” said Stewart Croft, a humanities teacher who is leading the justice-focused curriculum.

The goal during the community dialogue event next week, Croft said, “is to have an authentic (discussion) with members of our community and (for) students to understand that dialogue about this topic is extremely important and that their voices will be essential as our community grapples with these issues.”

Croft said the objective was to invite people “that represent the full diversity of Portland in terms of race, religion, socio-economic status, gender, age, and sexuality.

“We wanted people who want to work actively toward addressing and preventing incidents of bias, discrimination and hate crimes,” he said.

Quoting black activist and writer James Baldwin, who died in 1987, Croft said students should be exposed to issues such as bias, hate and discrimination because “nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

“Unfortunately, too many Americans are afraid to have frank and open discussions about incidents of bias and discrimination because they believe (it) can be too uncomfortable, too provocative, or too political,” he said.

However, “Now more than ever we believe (these) conversations need to happen. We have the hope that communities like ours have the capacity to deal with these issues,” Croft said.

“I think that many students (also) recognize that these are critical issues to address. On many occasions our students have expressed the need for intense discussion on these incidents and have asked staff to make sure that they have the opportunity to have their voices heard.”

In addition, Croft said, “Many, many of our students have experienced incidents of discrimination and bias. I would guess that many feel they are the recipients of bias and discrimination in some way on a daily basis.

“Many of our students are also immigrants and the current political climate seems to have intensified their feelings that they are not safe in our community,” he said.

It was a year ago that four Casco Bay High students were assaulted at the Allen Avenue bus shelter closest to the school. Eventually Portland resident Jamie Hoffman was arrested and charged in the incident that included the use of racial slurs.

Following that, students at all three Portland high schools rallied against the incident and called for an end to hate.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. In addition, next month is national Black History Month.

At the end of the community dialogue, Croft said, the students aspire to have a list of individual actions people can take, activities that businesses, churches, clubs, schools and other groups could participate in and one that outlines broader, community-wide actions.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

In late January 2017, members of the Casco Bay High School community rallied against hate and racism following an incident at a public bus stop near the school that included racial slurs and the assault of four black students at the Portland school.

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  • Chew H Bird

    Dialogues and discussions to help reduce and prevent bias are good. That said, (and without any actual evidence), I suspect what this article quotes as fact is incorrect…

    “The goal is to “help the community better understand the recent rise in discrimination and hate crimes taking place across the nation and (locally), consider ways of making a difference, and plan how to take action,” according to a School Department press release.”

    I believe is is no rise in discrimination. I believe there is probably less discrimination today than there was a decade ago and far less discrimination than there was 40 years ago.

    The difference today is our various media sources consistently and rightly publish incidents of bias which helps educate everyone. Another difference is our legal system has changed to incorporate additional definitions of discrimination and bias. I believe there was far more discrimination in years past and much less today. We are making progress and events like this are very helpful for everyone. I learned a long time ago there is a big difference between actual crime and reported crime and I strongly suspect the same goes for discrimination and bias.