MFEE America to Me Real Talk on Race Takes on Greater Urgency
Since 2018, the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE) has engaged over 600 Montclairians in a town-wide process for understanding issues of race and equity more deeply using the America to Me documentary series. The series examines racial inequities through the eyes of teens in a Chicago suburban high school that looks and feels a lot like Montclair High. Given the uptick in racial violence against Black men and women, this process for understanding the perniciousness of racism is more critical now than ever.
Working with Montclair State University professors, Drs. Tanya Maloney and Bree Picower, MFEE has shaped a customized learning experience that guides participants through their personal journey of deepening their racial literacy while preparing them for individual and collective action. The process focuses on learning 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.
“We have been overwhelmed by the response to this initiative,” says Masiel Rodriquez-Vars, MFEE Executive Director. “From the standing-room only crowd at the March 1st launch to the over thirty people who committed to continue their Watch Groups online after the pandemic hit, to the three hundred people who attended the June 14th closing event, it is inspiring to see so many Montclair folks wanting to do this work. We believe this experience is especially valuable now, as it can help people identify how they can put their privilege on the line for Black and Brown folks.”
Current participants are already finding that the process is changing their thinking and inspiring them to act. “One of the big take-aways from this group is that I, as a white person, have to figure out ways to actively stick my neck out on issues about race,” wrote one participant. Another shared, “the sessions have given vocabulary to what I, as a woman of color, have always known.”
The America to Me process has been generously supported by MFEE, The Schumann Fund for New Jersey and Partners for Health. MFEE is grateful to its funding partners for investing in this critical work. To fuel action to further address issues of race and equity in Montclair schools, MFEE has allocated $150,000 to support Excellence in Equity grants. Parents, administrators, teachers and students are encouraged to work collaboratively to submit proposals in fall 2020. A second round of the America to Me Watch Group process will kick off in September. To participate, visit www.mfee.org.