U-46 students to host virtual forum on race, equity Saturday

  • Teresa Lance

    Teresa Lance

Updated 11/13/2020 1:21 PM

As a young Black girl, Caylen Harmon says she's encountered prejudice for much of her life and doesn't know any Blacks who haven't experienced some form of racism. And that's the problem.

"For me now, it's normalized," said the 16-year-old Bartlett High School junior, who is a member of the school's Minority Alliance and Guide Right clubs that help minority students foster positive relationships and succeed.


She and other Elgin Area School District U-46 high school students will share their concerns and reflections about equity and race during a forum being filmed Saturday, noon to 1:15 p.m., at the South Elgin High School library.

"It's barely talked about," Harmon said of racism. "The microaggressions of my generation, I can't hide from it. The 'N-word' is everywhere."

She added, more cultural education and cross-cultural understanding is needed to change how Blacks are treated in the district and society at large.

Two U-46 student groups -- Brothers Rise Up and Living Elegantly Ambitiously and Dauntlessly (LEAD) -- will host the "Breaking Barriers in Education: An African American Student Leader Forum." It will streamed live to the district's YouTube channel to be watched virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"Open conversations about race and equity help address the inequities that persist across our district, state, and our nation," U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders said. "Listening to the concerns of our high school students and learning more about their experiences is a valuable opportunity, and I hope many of our families will participate in this event."

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The forum is part of U-46's response to an equity survey this year. It showed only 13% of students said they engage in important conversations about race at school.

U-46 has quantitative data on the disproportional impact on outcomes for minority students. What's missing is students' lived experiences, said Teresa Lance, U-46 assistant superintendent of equity and innovation.

"It is critically important that we listen to the voices of our students, especially our most marginalized students," Lance said. "Our Black and brown students offer a unique perspective from their lived experiences. Our hope is that we, as a community, will not just hear from our African American young men and women, but more importantly, we will be propelled to act."

During the forum, two student representatives from each of U-46's five high schools and Dream Academy will respond to questions submitted in advance from other high school students.

"It's truly student driven with the hope that in their true, authentic responses there is another level of awareness for all of us, not just white individuals, but even staff members of color, community members of color," Lance said.

Jim Cook, a dean's assistant at Kenyon Woods Middle School, will moderate the discussion. Cook also facilitates the Brothers Rise Up leadership program for third- through ninth-graders. Students from the Beacon Academy of Media and Digital Arts at South Elgin High will record the program. All district seventh- through 12th-graders and their families are invited to listen and learn.

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