Racial Equity Committee Update: About The Pushback to the Community of Practice for White Women

By Maureen McCauley, Communications, Hazel Wolf K-8 Racial Equity Committee (REC)

The Hazel Wolf Community of Practice (CP) for White Women began in June 2020. It is an action of the Hazel Wolf PTSA Racial Equity Committee (REC). In the month or so after the CP was announced, we received at least three emails from White people about why we created a group “segregated by race and gender,” as one writer termed it. 

Here’s a bit of background on our CP, and our response to those who’ve asked about why we did this:

The PTSA Racial Equity Committee (REC) formed in 2018. Since that time, we have sponsored multiple events open to the entire HW school community promoting racial equity in our school. I can share a separate document that gives an overview of REC’s work to anyone who’s interested. The HW REC, by the way, is currently made up of 60% Black, Asian, and mixed race members. The decision to create these CPs arose from the groundwork of other general offerings. 

In particular, the Community of Practice for White Women evolved from a March 2020 event, when the four White women on REC held a workshop titled “White Women: How Can We Do Better Talking About Race and Racism?” We undertook the creation of the CP in consultation with the leadership and support of our Black and Brown REC members. REC approved the idea of a CP for White women, in part so that we White women could do the anti-racism work that is desperately needed without asking more labor from our Black and Brown colleagues. Some of you may be familiar with affinity groups or racial caucuses. Our CP is similar in concept.

I want to stress that we White CP facilitators report back to REC on what we are doing, and they offer insights and advice as they are able to do so. 

REC was asked also about forming a CP for White men, and two volunteers stepped forward, again with the agreement/support of REC, and they created that CP. 

The possibility of a CP for BIPOC was raised but, at this time, no one is available to volunteer to lead such a group. 

We focused separately on White women and White men (those who identify themselves as such—we are of course open to trans women or men, or non-binary folx) because of the power dynamics in society related to genders. We have had conversations in our CP for White women about healing from sexism to become better allies in anti-racist work. White men are the dominant, historic power-holders in our society, and of course we White women hold great power as well. We hope to create a community that reflects on how racism has been formed in us as White people from childhood on, and how we can be better allies and accomplices in anti-racist work. We rely on resources and readings by BIPOC, and we regularly check in with our colleagues on REC. Some of the focus has been on how White parents can help their White children to talk about and speak out against racism.

The CP for White women has met eight times so far. We always provide a resource list that is almost exclusively based on articles and books by BIPOC. We are working on accountability and anti-racist actions.

The CP for White men has met, I think, four or five times. They have been focusing on Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy workbook. Like the CP for White women, they have checked in regularly with REC members.

On a related note, following the October 2019 peaceful protest, HW began a task force on creating affinity groups for Black and Brown students. That is still being discussed by school administrators and a Task Force, but since schools closed in March, I believe it’s been on a sort of hold, and I am not certain what it might look like this fall.

HW also has a Racial Equity Team (RET) that is comprised of HW teachers, staff, and administrators. Like most public schools in America, the HW teachers, staff, and admins are mostly white. The RET work has largely focused on curriculum issues and professional development. REC and RET members have attended trainings together on racial equity in schools a couple of times.

I’d like to stress that the HW PTSA has declared racial equity work as a priority, and has supported the work of REC in many ways, for which we are grateful. The two new PTSA co-chairs (Marina Gray, a Black woman, and Camille Mulchi, a White woman) were formerly members of REC, and both are active in anti-racist work in and outside the school.

A reality in racial equity work is, for me at least, the expectation that folx  (whatever their race) will question and push back on almost everything. We White folx are especially prone to making mistakes and offending or even harming BIPOC. We nonetheless have to keep moving on in this work, learning from our mistakes, apologizing and making amends whenever possible, and encouraging open dialogues and growth. 

Here are some resources we shared with our CP regarding white women in anti-racist work:

Take care, everyone. Stay well.

Hazel Wolf K-8 PTSA Statement on Racial Inequities and Injustice

The deaths of George Floyd and too many others weigh heavily on all of us, including the PTSA at Hazel Wolf. We are also in the midst of a pandemic crisis that is also impacting our vulnerable communities disproportionately during this time. This is a time to pause, to listen, to contemplate, and – most importantly – to stand up and take action.

Generally, the work of the PTSA is not controversial: it’s about fundraising to support tutoring, playground equipment, overnight camping trips, and pancake breakfasts. We are proud at Hazel Wolf to have funded grants for art, music, PE, and engineering; to have helped with the Read-A-Thon and Back to School Nights; to have held annual auctions and restaurant nights. All of this work, which involves hundreds of hours and dozens of volunteers, is directed to enhancing the quality of life for students and teachers, as well as to providing valuable community building.

Sometimes, we are called to step up our efforts at community building in more complex ways. The Hazel Wolf PTSA last year decided that “increasing awareness of racial equity” would be our primary area of focus for the 2019-2020 school year. We publicly declared that we would focus on making decisions using a racial equity lens, by listening to students and parents of color and by offering community, staff, parent, and student education opportunities. We meant it, even as we acknowledge that the focus, if it is to be meaningful, requires stepping out of traditional comfort zones, and taking actions as well as saying words.

Last October, the students of Hazel Wolf K-8 E-STEM School in north Seattle held a peaceful protest. The students, supported by the PTSA’s Racial Equity Committee (REC), were protesting the use of the N-word and other racial slurs at school, and asking for accountability around what happens to those who use the slurs. Our principal, Ms. Nelsen, and other administrators, teachers, and staff, as well as dozens of family members and siblings, listened to and cheered for the students who spoke out. The peaceful protest lasted about 15 minutes in front of the school and received some coverage in Seattle media.

The protest and the coverage evoked a lot of emotions. There was shock that racist incidents happened at Hazel Wolf. There was dismay that the protest was mentioned in the news. For some, the students’ descriptions of racist incidents were a wakeup call. For others, it was nothing new. The recent murder of George Floyd, one in a tragic series of similar events, has brought great grief to our community. As parents and as PTSA members, we work hard for the betterment and safety of our beloved children.

Among 46-year-old George Floyd’s words while dying were a call for his deceased mother, a wrenching reminder of the bond of family that we all share. We also know he leaves behind a 6-year-old daughter who has lost her father in a public, painful way.

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are all names in the news these days due to racist violence—they are also folks like us with moms and dads and children. The recent protests not only here in Seattle but across the country and the world have reminded us in daunting ways of the work to be done to heal our community from the trauma of racism. As happened after our peaceful October protest, the recent deaths and reactions are shocking to some, old news to others.

We know that a PTSA cannot solve these problems. We at Hazel Wolf also know that we cannot look aside. We cannot shrug our shoulders. We will continue to do the work we have done successfully in the past: supporting the needs of our teachers and students, through the traditional and valuable events and grants. More than that, though, we will take seriously our responsibility to create equity for our black students, our immigrant students, our students of color. We will continue to support Black Lives Matter at School and Black History Month, as we have done every February. We have also offered to support professional development for our teachers (who, as is true at most schools, are predominantly white) around racial equity trainings. We will support efforts to bring in more black and other teachers of color, who are role models for all our students. We will fund our Family Support programs, which provide food and other supplies to our low-income families. We will recognize that many of our low-income families are families of color, due to the systemic and entrenched history of racism that has created tremendous disparities in health care, education, employment, and more.

The REC has created an online Community of Practice for white women to focus on anti-racism work. The REC is also offering an online Community Gathering and Healing Space for black parents and caregivers. As we learned from Erin Jones, our guest speaker at the January General Session, we have so much more in common and we must continue to make progress as a united front – with authenticity and appreciation for each other as human beings. We, as the REC and PTSA, are grateful for the way our whole school community has not just talked (though talking is important) but is also walking the difficult path toward racial justice.

Sincerely,

The Hazel Wolf K-8 PTSA Board and Racial Equity Committee

Nathan Hale High School Racial Equity Team Hosts Antiracist Car/Bike Parade Saturday, May 30

From Nathan Hale High School:

Antiracist Car/Bike Parade – Tomorrow, May 30
Join us Saturday, May 30, 9:30 a.m. – Car/Bike Parade Begins at 10 a.m.

Dear Families,

To encourage our community to strive towards an antiracist mindset, to show our commitment to antiracist action and to demonstrate our solidarity with those who have been victims of racial injustice throughout our nation, the Nathan Hale High School Racial Equity Team invites you to join us for an informal car parade in the Lake City area this Saturday, May 30. We will start congregating in the Nathan Hale staff parking lot (corner of 110th St and 30th Ave NE) at 9:30 a.m. and then begin our drive at 10 a.m. along the following route: from school we will drive north on Lake City Way, turn east (right) on 135th, south (right) on 35th,  west (right) on 130th, and then south (left) on Lake City Way to return to school.

Click Antiracist Protest Map_5.30.20.jpg for a map of the route.

We hope you can roll with us on Saturday. Bring your voice, your signs, and your commitment to justice for all people. Let’s make some noise.

NOTE: We will be adhering to social distance guidelines during this event.

Black Lives Matter at School Follow-up

A message from Principal Debbie Nelsen:

“Dear Hazel Wolf K-8 Families, 

Last week Hazel Wolf K-8 made Black Lives Matter Week a priority. We took time away from some of our typical daily learning to embrace this important work and to teach our students about the importance of the history leading to this week, as well as steps moving forward.  

Across the grade levels and content areas, the staff provided students with rich opportunities to dig deep inside themselves to understand and reflect.

On Monday, the MS (as a whole) attended an assembly on the history of and necessity for Black Lives Matter Week lead by Erin Jones. To help with the continuation of this work, Ms. Jones shared with us not only the power point presentation with accompanying notes, but also included additional slides about the N-word and suggestions about learning teachers could do moving forward.

On Tuesday, each MS grade level attended a presentation with Erin Jones in which they participated in a variety of interactive activities. She shared her story, including personal experiences with racism and the reasons she has devoted her life to this work. She also spoke about the importance of words and how they are used. She led the kids in an activity where they used post-its to write down negative words/phrases they have been called and have called others and then collected them. This was followed by an activity where the students then wrote down all of the positive words/phrases they have been called, have called others, or would like to hear used. Those were collected at the end of each session.

Throughout the remainder of the week and continuing into an additional week, students participated in specific Black Lives Matter lessons in their classes as well as in long-term units incorporating Black Lives Matter themes. 

As part of our conclusion to Black Lives Matter Week, MS students gathered in the courtyard for a symbolic ending to the use of those negative words where the post-its are burned in front of them. In the MS, their positive words were turned into a “positivity garland” hanging throughout the hallways as a visual reminder of what they want to hear and say.

We thank you for the conversations you have had, and hopefully continue to have, with your child.  If you have feedback about any of the activities during Black Lives Matter week that you would like to share please let me know.

For additional information, including resources from Erin Jones’ talk “Black Lives Matter at School: The Power and History of Words” at the PTSA General Session Jan. 22, 2020, visit the Racial Equity Committee webpage.

Reminder! PTSA General Session Meeting – Wednesday Jan. 22

Hazel Wolf K-8 parents, staff and students are invited to the Cafetorium for the second General Session meeting of the year this Wednesday, Jan. 22. Doors will open at 6:00 p.m. and dinner will be available at that time. Childcare also will be provided.

The meeting will run from 6:30-8:30 p.m., and will include important Hazel Wolf K-8 Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) updates and a guest speaker, Erin Jones: “Black Lives Matter at School: The Power of History and Words” (updated title).

Erin Jones will also be presenting to our student community during Black Lives Matter at School Week. She will lead all students in grade-level appropriate assemblies. Also she will be collaborating with Middle School teachers and holding a “Creating Community” day for Middle School students. We hope parents will take this opportunity to learn from Erin and make connections with what their children will be learning about during BLM at School Week.

The PTSA has invited Ms. Jones in light of the increased awareness of work and education that is needed following the recent student-led protest about harmful racial slurs being used in our community. Ms. Jones will be discussing why it is important to address these issues, defining diversity vs. racial justice (equity), race, ethnicity, culture, and the history of the n-word and other similar words and why they’re so dangerous. Also, there will be interactive activities to get our community talking. Lastly, she will provide a helpful list of videos, podcasts and tools for parents to use and continue their own learning and their children’s learning.

More about our speaker: Erin Jones has been involved in and around schools for the past 26 years. She has taught in a variety of environments, from predominantly Black to predominantly White to some of the most diverse communities in the nation. Erin received an award as the Most Innovative Foreign Language Teacher in 2007, while working at in Tacoma and was the Washington State Milken Educator of the Year in 2008, while teaching in Spokane. She received recognition at the White House in March of 2013 as a “Champion of Change” and was Washington State PTA’s “Outstanding Educator” in 2015. After serving as a classroom teacher and instructional coach, Erin worked as an executive for two State Superintendents. Erin left the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2012 to work in college-access at the school district level. She left her job to run as a candidate for State Superintendent and was the first Black woman to run for any state office in Washington state, a race she lost by a mere 1%.

We hope to see you there!

PTSA General Session Meeting With Guest Speaker Erin Jones “Black Lives Matter at School: The Power and History of Words” – Jan. 22

Hazel Wolf parents, staff and students are invited to the Cafetorium for the second General Session meeting of the year from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, to hear important Hazel Wolf K-8 Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) updates and to stay for the guest speaker, Erin Jones: “Black Lives Matter at School: The Power of History and Words” (updated title).

The PTSA has invited Ms. Jones in light of the increased awareness of work and education that is needed following the recent student-led protest about harmful racial slurs being used in our community. Ms. Jones will be discussing why it is important to address these issues, defining diversity vs. racial justice (equity), race, ethnicity, culture, and the history of the n-word and other similar words and why they’re so dangerous. Also, there will be interactive activities to get our community talking. Lastly, she will provide a helpful list of videos, podcasts and tools for parents to use and continue their own learning and their children’s learning.

More about our speaker: Erin Jones has been involved in and around schools for the past 26 years. She has taught in a variety of environments, from predominantly Black to predominantly White to some of the most diverse communities in the nation. Erin received an award as the Most Innovative Foreign Language Teacher in 2007, while working at in Tacoma and was the Washington State Milken Educator of the Year in 2008, while teaching in Spokane. She received recognition at the White House in March of 2013 as a “Champion of Change” and was Washington State PTA’s “Outstanding Educator” in 2015. After serving as a classroom teacher and instructional coach, Erin worked as an executive for two State Superintendents. Erin left the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2012 to work in college-access at the school district level. She left her job to run as a candidate for State Superintendent and was the first Black woman to run for any state office in Washington state, a race she lost by a mere 1%.

We invite everyone to join us to better building community that allows all students to thrive. You do not have to be a PTSA member to attend. Dinner and childcare will be provided.

We hope to see you there!

Hazel Wolf K-8 PTSA Board Response to the Peaceful Protest

The mission of the Hazel Wolf K-8 PTSA is to facilitate opportunities for family involvement in the school community, and we work to enhance the learning experience for every child – in a way that fosters whole child wellbeing and success. We recognize the importance of a safe and welcoming school environment for all students, where today we have a concern about racist language being used toward children at our school. We encourage the school to address racial bullying and inequities that exist. We also seek to ensure that any actions taken on this matter, and that involve our children, are done in a developmentally appropriate way. As a PTSA, we continue to keep students and their wellbeing at the center of our efforts.

Our understanding of the peaceful protest that took place on Friday, October 25th in front of the school was that it was meant to give a voice to our students’ experiences with racism and how hurtful language should not, and does not, have a place at our school. The PTSA board of directors and members did not have oversight of the way the protest was conducted, though we were informed the day before – as was the school administration. What was at stake here as we understood it – addressing racism at school – was and is a shared priority by all. PTSA President Adrienne Kortas, along with Principal Debbie Nelsen, voiced support to the PTSA Board and school staff for the student-centered demonstration and offered our communication channels to help get the word out to the community as quickly as possible.

We have learned a lot from this experience, including how parents and families need to be informed about and involved in things that concern the safety and wellbeing of our children. We are committed to improving our communication about this work while continuing to move forward within established processes for our Hazel Wolf K-8 PTSA.

We also know our work is just beginning. At the start of this school year, the PTSA Board agreed that increasing racial equity was a key area of focus for us, and we know this to be true for the school as well. We all seek to move in the same direction and effect change. Together, we will lead the way in our school district for implementing key policies that dismantle racism and increase equity. Together, we will do hard, messy, and uncomfortable work. And we will do it all for our kids.

Sincerely,

The Hazel Wolf K-8 PTSA Board