“Hearing a story is an opportunity for you, the listener, to show up more fully in your humanity because what you do with it makes you an agent of change.”
—Piper Anderson, Mass Story Lab
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
—Muriel Rukeyser, The Speed of Darkness
In 2019, REAL began soliciting NPS community members’ stories about their experiences of race, racism, and whiteness in our district. Since then, a lot has emerged in stories shared with us by students, educators, and parents/caregivers: hope, resistance, solidarity. Hurt, fear, anxiety. Gratitude. Disappointment. Surprise.
Sharing our experiences can help us understand each other and the landscape. It can clue us into what is needed if we’re to build a school district that is anti-racist in practice. A district that has genuine acceptance, respect, and love for all people as a recognizable part of its identity.
Initially our plan was to create a physical exhibit using the stories collected. When the pandemic began and schools went remote in March 2020, we pressed pause on the project, and in January 2021 we decided to transfer the exhibit to a digital platform. We’re using a private Instagram account to house the stories, which are paired with associated themes.*
Note that REAL has regular conversations about privacy and confidentiality with regard to this work, and all stories in the exhibit are shared without names attached and with express permission of the submitters. We encourage story sharers to anonymize specifics, and we do our best to obscure any potentially identifying details.
That said, we know that most all of these stories could reveal things, as that possibility comes with the territory. Should you recognize yourself or others, it’s worth exploring what may be at the root of any resulting feelings (e.g., anxiety, defensiveness). We also acknowledge the chance that a story sharer judged a given incident unfairly—this happens, of course. Dialogue about any number of the stories featured, then, could include conversation about why the speaker might have interpreted events the way they did, how similar incidents are commonplace in schools, and how we can respond when we witness something related.
Fall 2021 update: We’re working toward a re-envisioned physical exhibit! We’re also connecting with art teachers and others across the district to develop a student-led visual component of REAL Talk (think: zines! protest art workshops!), and with consultants to develop a guide to help educators/caregivers engage with kids and one another on the topics and themes of the stories.
FYI story collection is ongoing! We welcome stories from anyone and everyone with a connection to Northampton public schools.
*A note about our story themes: After receiving the first 30 stories, the REAL coordinating committee grouped them into broad categories, or themes. Next, students from the JFK Students of Color Alliance (SOCA) read each story, weighed in on the themes, and identified sub-themes. They submitted (and categorized) additional stories as well and had the opportunity to add their own themes.
Breakdown of themes:
- Educational Challenges (e.g., lack of diverse curriculum and staff, racial disparities in student discipline)
- Race & Identity (e.g., racial stereotyping, downplaying racism)
- Lack of Understanding (e.g., denial, good intentions gone awry, social justice rhetoric without action)
- Whiteness (e.g., white supremacy, white fragility, behaviors and beliefs of white people as the norm)
- The Future (e.g., representation, inclusion, freedom, hope)
- Hurt & Exclusion (e.g., invisibility, racial bullying, microaggressions)
- Actions & Strategies (e.g., brave leadership, brave teaching, not being silent, more training)