MFEE’s “America to Me: Real Talk” Explores How To Deepen Racial Literacy

“What are you willing to do that is being asked of you by black and brown people?”

That’s the question that Dr. Bettina Love, says white people need to be asking themselves during the Black Lives Matter movement and beyond.

Love, an award-winning author and Associate Professor of Educational Theory & Practice at the University of Georgia, gave keynote remarks during the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE) “Coming Together: America to Me: Real Talk Montclair” webinar on Sunday, June 14.

The online event aimed “to deepen our racial literacy and to reflect on issues of race and equity in our schools” and was part of the ongoing MFEE “America to Me: Real Talk Montclair” project.

“To be black in this country is to live in a constant state of exhaustion. We are dying and we are exhausted waiting on reform,” said Love, who specializes in abolitionist teachings. “If you say Black Lives Matter, and you mean it, they have to matter right now.”

Love outlined abolitionist teachings in education which include: permanently removing surveillance within schools; defunding the police and putting that money back into schools built on love, justice and respect; hiring and training black and brown educators; creating new curriculums that represent communities, students’ lives and their ancestors; hiring therapists and counselors in schools; and getting rid of high-stakes testing.

“We are not trying to reimagine, we are not trying to reform, we are trying to undo the conditions that create oppression,” said Love. “We want to build something at the same time as we tear it down… and create alternatives that are just and loving for everyone.”

Steps to Take Right Now

“It’s easy to say I’m anti-racist until that situation comes where you can use that race card, and you still use it. So, you have to learn how to not do that,” said Love.

While Love noted the importance of people supporting the Black Lives Matter through protests, signs and donations, she emphasized the need to do more, especially when the national fervor dies down.

“We need to know, what are you going to do when all of this is not cool anymore?” she asked. “We don’t just want your feelings, because if it’s all about your feelings, it’s performative. What are you willing to do when the cameras are gone and no one’s talking about this anymore and we’ve moved on to trying to just deal with living in a pandemic?”

Love called on white people to take three steps right now:

  1. Receive anti-racist therapy or educate themselves on how to not use their “whiteness.”
  2. Practice those teachings.
  3. Organize a system of peer accountability in which other white people hold each other accountable for steps one and two.

Following Love’s remarks, the program transitioned to a panel discussion with subjects from the “America to Me” film series, including administrator Dr. Chala Holland, teacher Jessica Stovall, and student Jada Buford, facilitated by Montclair State professors Drs. Tanya Maloney and Bree Picower.

Buford brought attention to the trauma that black children have faced throughout their lives and called on them to focus on self-care routines while participating in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If you’re not good to yourself, you won’t be any good in trying to get the job done,” she said.

The program also featured a vocal performance by Montclair high junior Destiny Davis and a spoken word poem recited by junior Jaden Walker.

Through the “America to Me: Real Talk” Montclair initiative, MFEE has provided training on key frameworks and language for understanding issues of race and equity. Participants use these frameworks to debrief the documentaries in watch groups and to guide self-reflection on their own racial literacy and personal accountability. They end the experience by identifying individual and/or collective action items to tackle.

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