Discussion delves deeper into racial disparity in Asheville schools

Ideas from the meeting were recorded and will be compiled as well as translated into Spanish. Photo by Pat Barcas

Attendants of the racial equity discussion meeting Jan. 29 were reminded they can’t fix the problem in one night, or this month, or this year. But the important part was, the ball was rolling on presenting information and starting a discussion.

“Racial equity — when we don’t have it right there’s a lot of finger pointing. It’s the parents’ fault, or the school’s, or the system,” said Craig White, one of the moderators. “Talking about it is the first step in solving a problem.”

The meeting this week at Hillcrest Community Center, presented by the school’s parent teacher organization (PTO), mirrored a Jan. 20 session that focused on what can be done to include every student, faculty member, staff and parent at Hall Fletcher Elementary School. The scope was narrowed from last week’s meeting, which was presented as part of the Parent U program.

About 50 parents, teachers and students attended the meeting, with independent consultants Craig White and Tamis Forte acting as moderators.

Craig White.
Craig White.

White and Forte said racism may not seem overt sometimes, but it is there, and it does just as much damage to students when it is not out in the open.

“Even if you didn’t mean it, the person on the other side is still feeling it,” said Forte.

They said people often talk about racism as isolated incidents, or with an individual bias, or as if it occurred only in the past. A better way to discuss it is focusing on the impact, not the intent.

“Racism is part of our social structures and institutions. It’s subtle and hard to see sometimes, but all of us are affected,” said Forte.

About 25 families from Hillcrest Apartments have children who attend Hall Fletcher Elementary School.
About 25 families from Hillcrest Apartments have children who attend Hall Fletcher Elementary School.

After the meeting, people said they were pleased with the open discussion.

“I’m blown away by the PTO of Hall Fletcher, taking up the initiative,” said Itiydpiya Ewart, who attended as a community member. “This speaks volumes that positive change is possible. Students and families can be seen that their needs are being met in a homegrown way.”

Emily Aderman is a parent of Vance Elementary students. She said she was impressed by the diversity of the crowd, both at this meeting and the one at ACS Preschool, which she also attended.

“I came here to figure out what work has been done, and bring the conversation over to Vance. In the past, social justice work like this that I’ve been to has mostly been attended by white people. I’m glad to see diversity here, and [I’m] impressed people feel empowered enough in this setting to talk,” she said.

Problems were discussed, and hopefully solutions will come out of the meetings.
Problems were discussed, and hopefully solutions will come out of the meetings.

The discussion will continue in April where the information gathered will be presented in a final format, and people can express what’s most important to them, what should happen to solve problems, and what they are willing to do. Until then, parents and faculty are encouraged to get together in smaller, informal, intimate groups in any setting possible for discussion and information gathering.

“These small meetings are the most essential,” said Dr. Gordon Grant, principal of Hall Fletcher. “We need to build on these small cell groups, it’s difficult to talk in a large setting, I think we’ll get a lot of valuable information there.”

About 25 families of children who attend Hall Fletcher live in the Hillcrest Apartments. Grant went door to door the day of the meeting to try to boost attendance.

“I always want to see more parents,” said Grant. “What we want people to say is, ‘I felt hurt when you did or said this.’ Once we are aware of that, then we can respond. I love that our PTO is reflecting the racial diversity of our school. That’s rare.”

A final meeting in April will present all the information gathered through formal and informal meetings.
A final meeting in April will present all the information gathered through formal and informal meetings.
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About Pat Barcas
Pat is a photojournalist and writer who moved to Asheville in 2014. He previously worked for a labor and social rights advocacy newspaper in Chicago. Email him at pbarcas@gmail.com. Follow me @pbarcas

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One thought on “Discussion delves deeper into racial disparity in Asheville schools

  1. Tamiko Ambrose Murray

    Thanks for covering this important work. Tami Forte Logan and Itiyopiya Ewart are both misspelled.

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