None of us are responsible for history, but we are responsible for change. This was an important theme that carried HEROS though our series on Hidden Stories of the North Shore. Organized by Jennifer Lind, Patrick Hanley, and a group of NT high schoolers including myself, our goal was to engage the community in anti-racism by reckoning with our past, and reimagining our future. The series began with four Zoom events, each attended by about 80+ community members.
Our first Zoom was led by a panel of local historians, who dove into redlining, local zoning, racist hiring and housing policies, historically exclusive government actions and more. We learned that we have to look at different points of view and storylines, and understand counter-narratives so that we can get a deep awareness of our community’s past. The panelists also reminded us that with the acknowledgment of history, we can move forward in a positive
The next session focused on Houses of Worship, where clergy members from different faiths shared how they incorporate anti-racism into their congregations, and how they interact with members that do not align with anti-racist ideas. Each emphasized their own form of a social justice committee within their congregation, and their outreach into faith-based groups beyond the North Shore. It really surprised me how integral our local religious organizations are in supporting and furthering our work towards an inclusive community.
Our third Zoom was centered around education. We were lucky to be joined by local K-12 administrators and teachers, who taught us about the role our education system plays in helping students understand and navigate the legacy and impact of structural racism. Many of our teachers recognized that they themselves grew up in a racist society and continuously have to dismantle their own learning, and emphasized teaching their students about the counter-narratives in history. Our administrators shared some of their work in reshaping the school’s core values in the context of anti-racism, and we heard about the importance of language in a school setting. We students shared some of our perspectives and lived experiences at our schools concerning anti-racist education and school climate as well, overall agreeing that there has been some good work, but much more work needs to be done. One key action take-away: engage with the staff, administration, and school board, and let them know you support their work on these difficult topics.
The fourth and final Zoom session was facilitated by the high school ambassadors, and focused on community action; we gathered thoughts and suggestions on how our area can become a more welcoming and inclusive space for marginalized people. The group split into 4 breakout rooms: Getting Proximate, Equity in Education, Inclusive Communities, and Hidden Stories of New Trier High School. Each room was facilitated by community experts, and each had passionate discussions on ways to take action in that area. The importance of setting specific goals moving forward was emphasized throughout, but we also reckoned with the fact that there are no clear steps to solve racism, and each path to progress that we make is unique and helpful.
These Zoom session presentations were each followed by Q&A and sometimes discussion, and of course the Zoom chat was buzzing with more questions than we could ever answer in the time we had. We hope some important questions were answered, and if not, please reach out to us or research yourself! We also recognize that these educational zooms were only surface level introductions to several deep topics, but from the overwhelming positive feedback we received, we know that our community will take the information learned as inspiration to learn even more and dive in deeper.
Our Zoom series culminated in a Call to Action, a gathering at the Winnetka Village Green on June 19 to get energized to take action. We heard wonderfully impactful speeches from HEROS members Jennifer Lind, Pat Savage-Williams, and Van Gilmer, and Pastor Jeff Braun (these speeches can be rewatched on Youtube at the link below), and then had the chance to visit booths set up by other like-minded organizations in our area who helped sponsor our series. The event was a great success, and a fitting finish to our series. Everyone in attendance took at least one idea home with them, to their families, to work, to school, to coffee with friends, and expanded our open space of conversation and collaboration. The powerful and positive energy from June 19th MUST be carried forward by each of us into tangible action, big and small, to create an inclusive, welcoming, diverse community here in NT township and beyond.
I am grateful to HEROS for letting me learn and grow in this shared space, and I am looking forward to future actions, both personally and with the organization, to help make the community I love an example for togetherness and inclusivity.
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“If the house is to be set in the order, one cannot begin with the present; he must begin with the past.”-John Hope Franklin
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