Jeannie Stone is the Superintendent of the Richardson, Texas, Independent School District. In a November Dallas Morning News op-ed, she eloquently chronicled her journey to address racism in her district. She started in 2017 when “a spate of abhorrent, racist memes ahead of a rivalry football game” made national news. Although the incident was quickly investigated and addressed, “what went unexamined at the time was how the legacy of segregation in our district created the conditions in which students from a largely white school could feel comfortable disparaging students of another school within their own district largely comprised of students of color.” Stone acknowledged her own responsibility. She just “didn’t want to examine it.” She chose to deal with “racial insensitivity” rather than racism. “But by prioritizing political correctness, I was in fact the one being insensitive. To not name racism in this instance was to deny the experience of the Back members of my community.” Fortunately, Black staff members and parents trusted her enough “to let me know how much my words hurt them, and they afforded me grace that I did not deserve in order to learn and grow from the experience.”
Stone then embarked on a journey of learning and growth. Using examples from other districts, she created a Department of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Her district worked with the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation organization to understand how “historic patterns and social norms, not merely personal prejudice, create structural oppression.” Through work with Strong Leaders, Strong City she created safe space for students to “share about the inequities in their schools.” These student dialogs convinced her that “systemic racism exists” in her school district and creates barriers for students of color.
These words were met with gratitude by many but offended others. She still had more to learn. By June 2020, during “our national reckoning with racism,” current and former students presented her with a list of demands, supported by “example after example of lowered expectations, opportunities and neglectful treatment of students of color.” These convinced her that although she believes that talent is distributed evenly, “opportunity is not.” The demands now are posted in her office and will remain “until they no longer need to be there.” She formed a Racial Equity Committee and publicly committed to take action.
Stone’s journey fit a pattern of four “A” words that I learned from Jerry Hawkins, CEO of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation:
- Awareness: reading, viewing, listening, discussing. Stone’s initial incident investigation and the response. Her willingness to listen to staff, parents, and students and to engage local organizations.
- Analysis: reflection on experiences, feelings, learning. Stone’s reflections on what she heard and learned. Recognition of her district’s systemic racism, its effects on students, and her own responsibility as superintendent.
- Action: within our spheres of influence. Stone’s willingness to take action within her district.
- Accountability: within our spheres. Stone’s long-term commitment represented by the student demands she posted in her office and her pledge to a new Racial Equity Committee.
These “A” words also structured the learning journey I’ve described in these Reflections. I now feel I’ve reached a point where I am ready to turn from awareness and analysis to action. That does not mean I will stop learning. The learning will occur differently, based more on doing. I now seek opportunities to engage directly with people who are different from me in pursuit of community and personal development. However, I no longer have a platform or formal responsibilities like Jeannie Stone. So where and how shall I start? Housing? Talent? Education? Poverty? Justice?
Recently, my wife, Barbara, and I had a chance encounter with Daran Babcock, Executive Director of Bonton Farms. Bonton Farms turned a patch of vacant land in a South Dallas food desert into a community garden that has grown into a powerhouse anti-poverty resource. It provides employment and a convenient source of nutritious food to local residents. It provides transitional housing for the homeless. It provides education and training to employees and residents. In addition to vegetables, it now raises chickens and goats. It runs a market and a coffee shop. It has expansion plans beyond South Dallas. Daran explained Bon Ton’s history, philosophy, and operations to us. Near the end of the conversation, I asked Daran an obvious but naïve question: “what do you need?” Daran explained that they have needs everywhere, so whatever our expertise and passions are, they can be put to use.
Based on Daran’s guidance, I can start where I am, with organizations and people I’m already connected with that reflect my interests and expertise. At first, while the pandemic continues to surge, these are to be virtual. I can continue to engage with different people in the Dallas community and in a global professional community through Together We Dine and Where Shift Happens. I can also do so with Dallas Dinner Table. As a board member for Literacy Achieves, I can volunteer to teach adult immigrants virtually, and transition to face-to-face as the pandemic ebbs. Finally, just as the pandemic hit last March, Barbara and I were set to explore working at the Resource Center, the Dallas area’s premier LGBTQ Resource, in the food pantry. We intend to restart that process this spring. These interactions will lead to more. Further reflection will lead to focus.
Committing to these steps through this Reflection creates Accountability. Something will happen.
- Jeannie Stone, “Fighting Racism Requires Authentic Conversations,” The Dallas Morning News, November 7, 2020.
- BIZCATALYST 360° convenes bi-monthly forums for a global professional community (and distributes my Reflections online). Walking the Talk: Time for Shift to Happen? | BIZCATALYST 360°
- Bonton Farms. See how this non-profit impacts the poverty eco-system. https://bontonfarms.org/
- Dallas Dinner Table organizes interracial meals throughout the community every Martin Luther King Day and provides experiential services to organizations year-round. https://dallasdinnertable.com/
- Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation has an extensive resource collection to support initiatives in education, policy, and leadership development. https://dallastrht.org/
- Juliana Bradley Consulting provides specialized resources for white “allies” Resources — Julianna Bradley Consulting
- Literacy Achieves equips non-English speaking adults and their young children with English literacy and life skills. http://literacyachieves.org/
- The Resource Center improves LGBTQ health, strengthens community, and provides education and advocacy. https://www.myresourcecenter.org
- Together We Can provides monthly activity “assignments,” monthly discussion groups, and supplemental resources. https://www.togetherwecan.one/