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MDCR, U-M Host Panel Discussion on Responding to Bigotry

On February 3, Director James White and Anthony Lewis, Community Engagement Director, participated in a virtual panel discussion entitled “Responding to Bigotry in Michigan: An Online Conversation.” MDCR planned and hosted the event in collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Social Work and Professor Barry Checkoway, who has long collaborated on projects with MDCR and Anthony to elevate the voices of young people in the fight for civil rights.

The meeting was designed to facilitate conversation between teachers, administrators and students on how create intentionally anti-racist classrooms and schools.

Along with Director White, Anthony Lewis and Professor Checkoway, panelists included Sean McBrady, Macomb Intermediate School District; Kate Murray, Grosse Pointe North High School; Harry Weaver, Chippewa Valley Schools; Moussa Hamka,  Grosse Pointe South High School; and Marsha Lewis, Detroit Public Schools.

Participants shared what issues they are facing in their own districts and discussed how to better equip teachers and administrators to address bigotry in schools with their students. Suggestions included cultural competency training for younger students, implicit bias training for teachers and staff, a more robust multi-cultural curriculum, and continued removal of culturally insensitive mascots.  They also discussed the importance of making a conscious choice to have these difficult discussions with students.

“It takes asking questions and having serious conversations. ‘Why would you say that?’ ‘Why do you feel that way?’ ‘What made you say that?’ ‘How could you have handled that differently?’ ‘Isn’t it nice just to be nice?’” said Marsha Lewis. “I say those things on a daily basis.”

“Something has happened at least in the last 4 years where people have felt comfortable and brazen with their positions and attitudes towards other people,” said Director White. “When I look at law enforcement relationships, the social justice movement that is absolutely necessary, and disparities and equity in education, this is an incredibly important discussion and important time.”

“The Responding to Bigotry online conversation series is a vital discussion that allows educational leaders the opportunity to not only express the challenges they face but also share best practices and provide a support system for this difficult work,” said Anthony Lewis. “Our partnership with Barry Checkoway and U of M has allowed us to merge our expertise in this space with technical support for educators and amplify youth voices while also providing guidance to the next generation of civil rights leaders.”

Watch a video recording of Responding to Bigotry here.