The mission of REAL is to support and strengthen our school community by developing an intentionally anti-racist culture.

The overarching goals of REAL are to promote learning and dialogue within the Northampton public school community about the origins and functioning of systemic racism; integrate anti-racist perspectives into district culture, curriculum, and district and school activities; and build the knowledge and self-reflection required to work together to interrupt and dismantle racism in our society and our schools. We aim to teach our children how to do this alongside us now and in the future.

Members of REAL include teachers, staff, students, and family members across the district who are invited to meet at a member’s home for an hour and a half twice a month. Participation is flexible; some members haven’t been to a meeting, while others are regular attendees.

The work of REAL began in 2017 thanks to generous funding from the Northampton Education Foundation. To date, the work has involved collecting stories from folks in the district, including REAL members, about experiences of race and racism in the Northampton public schools. Sharing our experiences helps us better understand one another and the landscape. It informs us about the work that is needed to create a school district that is anti-racist in practice and has genuine acceptance, respect, and love for all people as a recognizable part of its identity. We believe we can get there.

Our efforts have also included consulting on the district’s new code of conduct. REAL member and national leader in juvenile justice reform Annie Salsich attends and occasionally co-facilitates Code of Conduct Task Force meetings, offering guidance focused specifically on the district’s potential adoption of a restorative justice approach to resolving conflict—and REAL’s recommendations have been heard and will be incorporated. In year four of our work, REAL will continue to offer guidance and expertise as the district refines the new code.

Additionally, we have commissioned a diverse book list and consulted on a spin-off grant. We’ve cultivated relationships with the Students of Color Alliance (SOCA) at the middle school and high school and with the NHS Student Union, and the NHS SOCA has been a primary collaborator in our story collection effort. We’re also collaborating with Joseph Krupczynski, an architect and designer with expertise in public exhibition/installations that inspire community conversations around identity. Joseph has worked with REAL and SOCA to build an interactive mobile exhibition drawing from the stories we’ve collected, with the intention to help guide school community conversations about race and racism.

Because the exhibition (which was planned for May) has been central to REAL’s 2019/20 work and involves in-person engagement, in March 2020 we chose to take the NEF up on its offer to defer grants until the 2020/21 academic year, in response to the COVID-19 school closure. We’re excited to pick back up with this important work when it make sense to do so.