That night I called an emergency Zoom meeting. It was clear that they had varying reactions to the protest; words were said, feelings were hurt, and they abandoned the conversation instead of dealing with it. This is what most Americans do, myself included, when talking about race gets uncomfortable. That evening, they told me they felt ill-equipped to have these hard conversations, and they wanted help. After lots of brainstorming, we decided to collaborate with the Black Student Union leaders and launch an anti-racist book club. We chose a book, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Dr. Ibram X Kendi and Jason Reynolds, and we kept our expectations low.
I was not prepared for how powerful the experience would be, and how it would change my perspective as an educator forever. Every Thursday evening for 6 weeks, 20 students and 20 teachers chose to spend their nights together talking about the book, the police violence and racism swirling around us, and the ways in which we can make our school and ourselves more anti-racist.
What follows are journal entries from three students with perfect book club attendance. I hope you enjoy this look into their hearts and minds, and feel the hope that I felt every week when I saw their faces pop up on my screen, ready to put in the work.
House System Coordinator and Newly-Minted Anti-Racist Book Club Captain
Aniyah Nelson, Class of 2021
This summer, I joined Hawken's very own book club to engage in discussions about racial barriers in America through the medium of literature. The book was a difficult but necessary read. Not only did it challenge me to rethink the way I view our society and the systems within it, but it also caused me to rethink my perception of the complexity of the human mind.
Upon joining the book club for my first discussion, I was proud to see so many of my peers and Hawken faculty members in attendance. I felt that we all had the same goal in mind; everyone was willing to engage in a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue about the history of racism within this country and how we can do our part to disrupt the cycle. In all of my conversations with others, I felt that we were equals. Whether it was a friend or a faculty member, I always felt that my perspectives and ideas mattered to them.
The importance of fostering a safe and welcoming environment like this one is paramount. If we want to break down injustice and inequality within our communities, we must be willing to discuss these issues. I hope that more members of the Hawken community embrace the opportunity to engage in future discussions. If we want to become better allies for members of our community, we must first become comfortable discussing the issues that make us uncomfortable.
Christopher Gerace, Class of 2022
Having been a part of planning the book club, I knew that the experience would be an impactful one. However, before reading the book, I had no idea how much it would change my perspective. When I was younger (really like a year ago), I thought that being ‘not racist’ was enough, that it was all I had to do. Then, I heard the word ‘antiracist.’ I had stop and think of what the word really meant. Not just the technical definition, but what the word meant for me. What the word meant for my future.
Now, fast forward to after having read the book and experiencing the book club, I am just starting to grasp the concept of what it means for me, as a white male, to be anti-racist. I now feel that I am better able to properly take actions to stand up against racism as well as help others find their way to doing so.
Trinity Marsh, Class of 2021
When I found out that Mrs. Becker and student leaders were planning a community-wide book club dedicated to talking about racism and anti-racism, I knew that I couldn’t miss it for the world. I attended every virtual meeting for 6 weeks and every week, I left with a better understanding of not only how to examine the progression of racism in our society through multiple national institutions like education, politics, and housing systems, but also how something as simple as our language can contribute to racist ideologies. In addition to that, I had many wonderful, thorough, and thoughtful conversations with my peers and teachers about the book and learned more about their own experiences with race.
Overall, my experience with book club was absolutely incredible and was definitely an eye-opening experience in terms of how I learned about the history of racism in America, American history in general, and how we approach conversations about race. I would definitely recommend this book to my other peers and teachers to read and hope to continue these open and honest conversations!