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Black Moms Weigh In On Critical Race Theory

A protestor at the event against "critical race theory" confronts a counter-protestor by reaching for her umbrella, and later tries to grab her phone. About 50 protestors were at the morning event at the Ohio Department of Education, as the state Board of Education held the second day of their monthly two-day meeting inside.
Karen Kasler
/
Ohio Public Radio
A protestor at the event against "critical race theory" confronts a counter-protestor by reaching for her umbrella, and later tries to grab her phone. About 50 protestors were at the morning event at the Ohio Department of Education, as the state Board of Education held the second day of their monthly two-day meeting inside.

At the beginning of last year, Republicans elevated frustration about how racism is taught in schools to a top talking point – even as the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing of George Floyd brought protestors into the streets in cities around Ohio and the country. But a lot of the leading voices sharing their concerns about teaching about racism throughout history and in public policy, especially after last month’s election, have not been people of color, though they’ve been dealing with the issue throughout their lives.

Republicans have made racism in public policy and what they’ve called “critical race theory” in schools a key issue in campaigns this year and in 2022. They’ve held protests, they’ve come to school board meetings, and they’ve run for boards. Republicans in the legislature have sponsored two bills to ban the teaching of what’s called “divisive concepts” or critical race theory – which is not taught in K-12 schools in Ohio.

Pressure from Republicans resulted in the state board of education taking back of an anti-racism resolution passed after the George Floyd demonstrations last summer, replacing it with one that some say means little to no change. The conversations about teaching about and confronting racism in schools have continued at the local level – in urban districts and in smaller, less diverse ones.

Melissa Harris said she wanted to be a leading voice for change in Delaware, where her kids attend school and where 80% of students are White. Last year she spoke out against bullying and racism.  

This year, Harris ran for school board and won – coming in first in the field of candidates. She said she wants to focus on making sure all of the district’s students have a chance to be successful by meeting students where they are.  

“Not just on a racial level, an ethnic level, but also an economic level and socioeconomic level. There are students that have households that look different than other students. There are some students being raised by grandparents. They're foster students. We have some that have zero income in their household and some students that they may share a bedroom with three or four people. Sometimes they may not have the same privileges that other students have. So the faculty and staff members having a better understanding of the challenges that our students have is imperative for their further education,”  Harris said.

 LaQuita Miller is from Mason, where 54% of students are White, just under 5% are Black and 30% are Asian or Pacific Islander. Miller said meeting the needs of students in the future must start with facing the truths of the past. 

“There’s a large demographic of individuals, not just in Ohio but around the world that don’t want to acknowledge factual information about our history in order for us to improve things and make them better. So
on and so forth. So I think that is the first thing to just a collective discussion, dialogue around yes, this happened, this is America’s original sin of slavery and how do we take the lessons we learned in the growth of our country and move forward so that young adults and children who are in schools now are given accurate information about history and not an idealized or watered-down version of events,” said Miller.

Miller also said it’s important for schools to consider the community when trying to move forward with programming. 

Back in Delaware, Tamika Vinson Reid is working on making the community itself aware of issues facing minorities. She said the attention put on the diversity issue last year during the Black Lives Matter protests has waned. So, Reid has been working with the Delaware African American Heritage Council has been holding events and forums to help make community members more aware. 

“You continue to engage. You continue to engage people through conversation, through learning, through helping people see what actions tangible actions can you take to dismantle racism. Because racism can be corrected. Because antiracism says that if we attack policies, practices, procedures, values, norms, all of that can be corrected. So anytime we can get those advocates to advocate for anything that reduces racial inequity, we're making a corrective stance to say, not in our community. So it's really about helping those people remain engaged, but giving them tangible action steps as of what they can do to dismantle what we're seeing in our communities right now as it relates to racism,” said Reid.

Reid said she knows there’s work to do. She notes recently, some White nationalists protested on a prominent street corner in downtown Delaware.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.