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Students Want to Talk About Race and They Want the Community to Join In
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Thursday, January 20, 2022
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTO BY ELEANOR JEWELL

The subject of race became an all-consuming focus in America’s consciousness with the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. And it’s been a throbbing sore point since with headlines about racial injustice and white supremacy grabbing headlines almost daily.

It’s given rise to multiple questions: How do you tell your boss her jokes are racist? How can you have a civil discussion with friends about police reform? What about critical race theory? And white privilege?

Ijeoma Oluo, a black woman, tackles all this in the No. 1 New York Times bestseller “So You Want to Talk About Race.” And Wood River High School students in Blaine County Amnesty International are holding a community-wide book read of her book through May.

The students decided they wanted to do something last year after a deputy marshal with the Bellevue Marshall's office posted what the organization's president Juan Reyes called an irresponsible Tik Tok message that went viral.

“So you don’t care if a Black person kills another Black person, but you do care if a white cop kills a Black person, even if he’s doing it to save the life of another Black person?” the since-fired deputy mocked LeBron James.

"It inspired us to examine our values not just as students but as a community. We wanted to build bridges between our students and community, between Hispanics and Anglos, and create a foundation of understanding," said Reyes. "We read 'So You Want to Talk about Race' and we thought it was a great conversation starter. I love how easy of a read it is and how easy it is for the reader to feel like you're part of the conversation. It may not be an easy conversation, but it's a sonversation we need to have."

The students will kick off the event from 5 to 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, in the lecture hall at The Community Library where they will hand out a hundred copies of the book, provide snacks, share details about the upcoming discussions and discuss why they decided to pick the book.

Discussions will be held every other week from early February through May, alternating between the Community Library in Ketchum and the Hailey Public Library. Each discussion will focus on a different chapter of the book, with Wood River High School students leading each discussion.

Chapters include “Is it really about race?” “What is racism?” What if I talk about race wrong?” “Is police brutality really about race?” “How can I talk about affirmative action?” and even “But what if I hate Al Sharpton?”

The book concludes with “Talking is great, but what else can I do?”

Students hope to involve people of all ages and races who are interested in building bridges and forming stronger relationships within the community. They will make short slide show presentations summarizing the chapter being discussed so that even those who didn’t read that chapter can take part.

The nonfiction book has been ready by universities, groups and entire communities around the country, said Martha Williams, program manager at The Community Library.

“It can be hard for some to talk about, but this book helps cross those divides in he way it’s organized. We hope that people will be able to share their experiences,” said Martha Williams.

The author is a Seattle resident whose work on race has been featured in the New York Times and the Washington Post.  She has also written the book “Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America.”

“I have never been able to escape the fact that I am a black woman in a white supremacist country,”  said Oluo. “My blackness is woven into how I dress each morning, what bars I feel comfortable going to, what music I enjoy, what neighborhoods I hang out in.”

Reyes says he has experienced what he calls "microaggressions," having his legal status questioned and even his ability to be a student questioned by his peers.

That only drove him to achieve--he is heading to the University of Chicago after graduation to study biochemistry with the dream of becoming a pediatrician.

"I hope this is the first conversation of many--that we will become a community that respects one another, not spreading hate but instead spreading kindness," he said.

Proof of vaccination and mask will be required to attend Friday’s kickoff. The kickoff will be livestreamed on Vimeo at  https://vimeo.com/665780015

The Youth Generosity Project, formerly known as WOW, is picking up the tab for the books and snacks.

 

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