Attention Sparta Community!! Have you heard of Sparta High School’s club We Are the Dream? What about their anti-racism vlog project, intended to share racialized experiences students of color have experienced here in Sparta? For an educational, enriching, informative, and all-around needed experience, attend “Our Voices Engaged,” a community zoom event that will be held this Thursday, March 4th, from 6:00 to 7:30 pm to raise awareness and begin the healing process to a real race issue we have in this community. Maia Albuquerque, student founder of We Are the Dream, has stated her hopes for the event as this: “to spread the correct message about the racism that exists in Sparta, and that we need to make change and need to grow as a community.” To her, this event is the first step towards “inspiring an accepting community where everybody is treated the same, where our people aren’t treated as less.”
So what’s the agenda for the evening?
First, District Coordinator for the Sparta Diversity Council Scott Kercher will begin with a few opening remarks, hopefully to promote the understanding that the event is not intended to polarize, divide, or separate us as a community. Instead, its goal is to lay our problems bare, so that we can address them constructively and together.
After this, the vlog, titled “Our Voices United,” will be presented for everyone to view. A long time in the making, this vlog is the culmination of months of work from We Are the Dream, a club at SHS intended to promote diversity, inclusion, and understanding at Sparta High School and within the Sparta Community. The vlog, which features the direct testimony of SHS students and community members, was created to spread awareness about things that have happened in this town and give voice to a collective of experiences that simply weren’t being heard. (Note from the author: though I do my best to remain a third party in articles, this vlog brought me to tears. Even as a student of color at SHS, watching it changed my perspective and will undoubtedly change yours.)
After the presentation of the vlog, there will be a panel discussion with individuals who have supported the vlog, diversity council, and overall goal of increasing racial awareness in Sparta. Dr. Susana Maiztegui (a district parent whose story is shared in the presentation), Ms. Courtney Law (2014 alumna and drafter of a letter in support of the project signed by 400+ alumni), Dr. Saskia Brown (Director of Student Services and facilitator of the Sparta C3 committee focused on school culture and climate), and Mrs. Angie Hawthorne (a district parent who has been an active member of the planning and coordination of the vlog project) will all answer a column of pre-screened questions. They will address important questions like “How do we most effectively address racial equity in a district with lower levels of diversity?” and “Why do we need to use our voice to meet this challenge?” Students, parents, and community members alike are looking forward to the insight these panelists will provide.
Next, there will be a short intermission where all participants will be put in breakout rooms to process and discuss their thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the vlog, panel discussion, and most importantly, the question “How do we heal?”
Finally, the evening will close with some closing remarks from Scott Kercher and a recitation from “How to be an Anti-Racist” (by Ibram X. Kendi) from We Are the Dream students. Chosen by SHS educator Brent Rivers, the excerpt will end the night with poetic food for thought and reinforcement of the goal of “Our Voices Engaged”—starting the process of healing and healing together.
As for Mr. Scott Kercher himself, I’ll let him describe his connection to the event:
“Recently I came across a quote by Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Although Douglass was speaking about the abolition of slavery in 1857, there is a lot of truth we can take from this statement today. This statement brings me hope. That although having sensitive conversations can be awkward, uncomfortable, scary or contentious… it is only through this “struggle” that we can find resolution and common ground. Too many communities have not been strong enough to engage in a truthful conversation about race. I hope that this event and the vlog proves to the town that Sparta is a strong community. That Sparta is a community of leadership and leaders willing to do the difficult and challenging work when called upon. I also hope that the current students and the recent Alumni that have called us to this task feel supported and encouraged by our action to continue to be advocates for the change that they want to see in their world.”
The Sparta High School community would also like to thank the Sparta C3 District Climate and Culture Committee, the Racial Equity Taskforce, and the Sparta Diversity Council for making this vlog and event possible. Generally the C3 committee works on issues of diversity and inclusion from the school community outwards and the Sparta Diversity Council helps to bring diversity resources and programs into Sparta’s schools and classrooms. The Racial Equity Taskforce is a workgroup of the C3 Committee and its goal is to provide opportunities for engagement in open and honest discussions that provide insight, support and resources to the community. Though each group has its separate missions and leadership, all three work together to make positive steps towards change in this community.
A link to “Our Voices United” can be found below, along with a link to register for “Our Voices Engaged.” Sparta High School hopes to see you there.
“Our Voices Engaged” Event Registration: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScq9xEQjH337L9kONMSrej4vdBe-1aAS4OJLQGt0ALo2238YA/viewform