On Monday, January 16, 2017, the CA community gathered to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. with a day of education around social justice, identity, activism, and race. The day began in the Performing Arts Center, where Rick Hardy welcomed the community and introduced André Robert Lee, producer of the films Prep School Negro (previously showed at CA) and I’m Not Racist…Am I? The CA community viewed the latter film and then Mr. Lee facilitated a debrief conversation.
I’m Not Racist…Am I? follows twelve New York City high school students over a year of monthly retreats in which they are guided and challenged by facilitators to honest conversations about race. Memorably for many in the audience, the students in the film wrestle with how to define racism, the use of the n-word, and uneven levels of privilege, among other things.
In the debrief, Lee asked the community to call out words that summed up how they felt at the end of the film, and responses ranged from “heard” to “guilty” to “enlightened” to “confused”. As the conversation continued, both with Lee and later in small groups facilitated by CA faculty, who had previously received training from Lee, students were encouraged to explore how they were feeling and thinking after the film. Indeed, in his introduction before the film, Lee asked each community member to lean in and stick with the film, engaging emotionally, intellectually and physically. Students rose to this challenge, grappling with what the film meant to them.
Showing the film seemed to set the tone for increased honesty and vulnerability in the debriefs and student and faculty led workshops that followed. Workshops included those titled, “Queer Representation in the Media,” “Don’t Touch My Hair,” “Environmental Justice,” “Inherited Identities,” and “Understanding Intellectual Disabilities”. The day concluded with an all school gathering that included speeches by UMOJA co-heads Kinaya McEady and Steven Rhodes, who offered reminders of the historical context on which our own activism rests and of the power and necessity of love, respectively. CA Singers closed the gathering, finishing with an arrangement of U2’s “MLK”.
Later in the evening, CA hosted a community event to show the film for local families, alumni/ae and friends. About eighty people attended, and Lee once again facilitated a conversation after the film.