Photo by James Eade for Unsplash
St. Benedict Prep students and staff members gathered Friday to kick off the creation of a new group, “Race to Action,” dedicated to finding ways to fight racial injustice.
About 17 people gathered via Zoom to share frustrations and ideas regarding the steps the club will take to resolve race-related issues occurring in society. The meet was done virtually due to social distancing guidelines mandated as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
History and English Teacher Mr. Louis Lainé, English Department Chair Mr. Justin Ross, Mr. Kevin Jackson ‘20, and Transfer Leader Reuben Kadushin began the meeting with a warm welcome to all the attendees. After an introduction, the attendees gave a brief background on why they made the decision to start this group.
“It is really important for people with relationships to these issues to be able to be the ones advocating for themselves,” Reuben said. “I feel like that is where change is, providing spaces in communities to reflect on the things that go on in their everyday lives and hear how they are reflecting other members of their neighborhoods.”
Similarly, Mr. Jackson, who wrote a widely read, award-winning opinion column about how racial intolerance has personally affected him in April for The Benedict News, talked about how important it is to listen to other people’s stories. Recently, Mr. Jackson, who is African American, said his eyes were opened after a conversation with a friend, a female who also is African American.
“I wrote the article and she read it and she’s like ‘I never realized that you go through this’ and I’m like, ‘You know my story, I want to know your story now,’” he said. He said he was shocked when she told him she actually lives in constant fear of being sexually assaulted. “I’m black I have had an experience with racism, I thought I had it worse, I thought I had the biggest issues,” Mr. Jackson said.
Assistant Headmaster Ms. Michelle Tuorto said she attended because she supported the effort and that it intersected with her own long-time advocacy of women’s rights.
Although the responses of each participant regarding their thoughts varied, they all united under the common purpose, as Ms. Mary Hauck said, “to listen, to learn, and act.” Organizers and speakers said the effort represented a broad group of marginalized people, black and brown.
Throughout the meeting, the young men from the Boys Division and the young women from the Girls Division, black and brown, also gave their feedback.
“The reason why I’m here is because I want to learn about different things and different experiences you guys might have,” said UDII Jaden Oates. “I have my own experiences, but I would like to learn about you guys, what you guys might know, and take as much as I can from this experience.”
Rosa Jeudy, a UDII from the Girls Division said, “I’m here because I think it’s important for this generation and people of color to learn about these topics and be open to it, and I think it’s time for a change.”
Mr. Lainé, who is Haitian-American and Black, described a situation involving his mother. She had been watching the funeral procession of George Floyd. “This was the first I ever saw her just frustrated and angry and she went on to say ‘I really hate racists, I’m not scared of any of them,’” he said. “At this point I’m just like okay, and stop whatever I’m doing, get up, give her a hug and see if I can find a way to console her, understand where she is coming from. And she goes, ‘He called out for his mom’ and she said, ‘Any mother would have rather had somebody kneel on her neck than on her son’s neck.’”
At this point, Mr. Lainé became overcome with emotion. After a moment, he added, “I am here because I want to make sure that the students at Benedict’s and anyone who cares about this issue does not have to think about themselves, their peers or their parents having to deal with this personally, the fact this thing happens too many times means that we need to do something about it.”
Several in attendance noted that the times called for action.
“We need now, more than ever, to hear from young people, specifically young people of color, the people that sit in front of me every day for most of my career,” said Mr. Ross, who is white. “I am interested in taking action. There are so many different actions we can take. This is right for young people. Right now, we need to hear more from young people.”
Those attending discussed the “Black Lives Matter” movement as its leaders are hoping it will play a significant role in the fight for freedom, justice, and overall change in discrimination. “It’s not a black lives matter movement, it’s a human rights movement,” Mr. Ross said.
In regards to what is next for the “Race to Action” group, Reuben said “I think it’s something that’s really important to try as a community. I really want to play an active role in bringing that to St. Benedict’s and eventually bringing it to other places in Newark and New York.”