Category Archives: Training

Journeys in Anti-Racism Work

Tascosa High School Yearbook

One of the most interesting aspects of doing anti-racism work is finding out from my fellow white friends what brought them to this seemingly Quixotic endeavor. Rarely is the story linear; usually it is complicated.

I grew up in a family where I heard the “n” word used constantly by my maternal grandparents. My great, great grandparents enslaved people – they bought and sold men, women and children and likely worked them from sunup to sundown and whipped them because that was acceptable if the help got uppity.

In recent years when I’ve raised questions about this heritage, I’ve been assured by my mother and others in the family that my great, great grandfather, who fought in the Civil War to maintain the right to own people, was “one of the good slaveowners.”

I cannot reconcile how owning another human being and controlling every aspect of his/her life can be “good.”

In addition to that background, I attended Tascosa High School in Amarillo, Texas in the mid 1970s. When I entered Tascosa and when desegregation was beginning in that Panhandle city, the school mascot was Johnny Reb, the school song was “Dixie” and the Stars and Bars flew on a flagpole outside the school and was waved by cheerleaders during sporting events. The image you see above is from our yearbook.

The parents of black students who were bused across Amarillo objected to their kids having to walk past the ROTC kids raising a Confederate flag as their children disembarked from buses. They also didn’t think it right that their children had to walk into the school commons where a mural of Johnny Reb greeted them. They also found the school song and mascot offensive.

Because I was fortunate enough to serve as a page at the Texas Capitol the second semester of my sophomore year, I missed a great deal of the tension and anxiety that occurred in my high school that spring. Letters from my friends detailed friction and fights between those who wanted to change and those who preferred to maintain the status quo.

After all, they were just celebrating southern heritage. What is the harm in that?

During my junior year, thanks to leadership from the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the mascot was changed to the Rebel Kid, which sort of looks like a cowboy. The school song was a revised version of the University of Texas’ fight song to the dismay of parents who were Aggies.

School board and school officials were forced to “allow” African American students who would have been leaders in their then-shuttered high school to serve on student council and as cheerleaders.

All that contributed to festering tensions and invisible lines drawn down the hallways where black students walked on one side and white students on the other. While classrooms were desegregated; the cafeteria and social activities were not.

At our 40th high school reunion last year, I was not surprised that only one African American graduate showed up, And, he didn’t stay long.

High school years are rarely fondly remembered. To have been a black student at Tascosa during that time must have been extraordinarily difficult.

Those memories faded over the years as I went off to college and started a career and family. We lived in the Houston area for 11 years before moving to Georgetown in 1995. The lack of diversity when we first moved here was quite stark after working in an international and cosmopolitan city during the oil boom.

Then the trainings I received at Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the state association of programs that advocate for children in the foster care system,  made me realize that racism wasn’t a bygone problem.

The more I learned, the more I realized how insidious and invasive the problem is. As a CASA volunteer, I saw how families of color and their children were treated differently by the Child Protection System, the educational and medical systems.

After nearly 60 years, the scales finally fell from my eyes. I cannot unsee what I have seen or unknow what I now know.

As a person of faith, I am called to follow the teachings of my faith, which is to love, care for and treat every person as children of our creator regardless of faith, gender, race, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation

And, I feel compelled to work to call out and dismantle systems of institutionalized racism whenever and wherever I see it. I may have limited impact on what happens at the national or state levels. But, I can work to transform Georgetown and Williamson County so they are more inclusive communities, welcoming to all who come.

I invite you to get actively  involved in this movement known as Courageous Conversations of Georgetown.

Katherine Kerr
Communications Chair, CCGTX

Can You and I Have a Courageous Conversation?

Amid the racial turmoil and violence following the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, a group of individuals from various faith communities in Georgetown began meeting to explore the possibilities of engaging in civil, respectful dialogue about the difficult issue of race.

Over several months of meetings and research, we landed on what we call Courageous Conversations about race.  We studied several dialogue methods and community building strategies.

One dialogue method that captured our attention is The Red Bench, a program of Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT).  “The Red Bench is an on-going dialogue program designed to address the most pressing needs of our time: improving interfaith understanding and civil discourse in our society. “

iACT granted our Courageous Conversations group permission to use The Red Bench method, including their dialogue script, the talking stone and their Conversations Agreement. Let me share the ‘Guidelines for a Great Conversation’ from the Conversations Agreement:

Open-mindedness:  listen to and respect all points of view
Acceptance: suspend judgment as best you can
Curiosity: seek to understand rather than persuade; we are not here to “fix one another”
Discovery: question old assumptions, look for new insights
Sincerity: speak your truth, from your heart, about what has personal meaning to you
Brevity: go for honesty and depth but don’s go on and on

On May 30, 2017, I joined a group at the Unity Church of the Hills in Austin for a Red Bench conversation on the topic: Courage.

What a wonderful experience!  I was greeted in the parking lot by a trustee of the Unity Church who at one time lived in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, where Chrystle and I lived most of our married life.

After dinner, the four rounds of the conversation began.  First, we introduced ourselves and told what motivated us to attend. Next, we shared definitions of courage. A list of quotations about courage prompted intense personal stories of courage displayed and of courage avoided.  It became quite clear and was a major ‘takeaway’ for me, that courage is a matter of self-awareness, but perhaps more importantly, a willingness to take action in light of that awareness.

The Courageous Conversations movement in Georgetown has a vision of creating “A beloved community of compassion characterized by cross-cultural communication, collaboration, celebration and courage.”

Yes, we aim to raise personal and community awareness of the racism and its impact on all of us. More importantly, we aim to take action in light of that awareness. Our actions are based on the philosophy and principles of non-violence, which is grounded in agape (compassionate love for humankind) as described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to Dr. King, “Principle One: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.  It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.”

In the ‘Beloved Community’ racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.  If this ‘beloved community’ is to become a reality in Georgetown, can we begin by having a courageous conversation?

I invite you to join us for our next assembly on July 15 when we talk about Working on Race and Privilege.”

Ron Swain
Courageous Conversations Convener

Conversing Courageously Throughout the Summer

Inell, left, and Lamar Claypool display Courageous Conversations GTX t-shirts at the 2016 Juneteenth Celebration.
Courageous Conversations Planning Group members Inell Claypool, left, and Lamar Claypool display Courageous Conversations GTX t-shirts at the 2016 Juneteenth Celebration.

Dear Friends,

We deeply appreciate the work that many of you have continued to do individually and collectively to create a more “beloved community” in this wonderful home we call Georgetown.

On June 18, the Courageous Conversations Planning Group had a booth at the 64th Juneteenth Celebration hosted by the Georgetown Cultural Citizen Memorial Association at the Community Center in San Gabriel Park.

We were grateful to participate in a celebration of the abolition of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 which occurred more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. At the time federal troops had to occupy Texas to free enslaved people there were an estimated 250,000 African Americans in Texas including over 900 in Williamson County.

Proceeds from the event  will be used to support maintenance and renovation of the historic Shotgun House Museum and the Willie Hall Center, two centers of historic significance to African Americans in Williamson County.

Members of our group have attended Georgetown City Council meetings and workshops to speak out on affordable housing and public transportation. Members also have attended the Georgetown ISD board meeting to discuss a proposal to become a District of Innovation because of questions about its impact on the education of our children and the work of our teachers. These members have been inspired by the idea that we have the potential to address institutional racism and to advocate for policies, procedures, regulations and decisions that will lift up those in our community who feel marginalized and unheard.

Members of the Courageous Conversations Planning Group continue to explore additional opportunities for additional education and action. We welcome your suggestions at LetsTalk@CourageousConvoGTX.com.

Sincerely,
Ron Swain
Courageous Conversations Planning Group Convener

The Journey Continues: One Human Race

One Human Race_CCPG
One Human Race GTX May 2016 graduates

Nearly 50 Georgetown residents recently completed One Human Race, a three-part workshop designed to educate people about racism and its devastating impact.

The workshop, developed by the Union of Black Episcopalians Myra McDaniel Chapter at St. James Episcopal Church in Austin, was brought to Georgetown by the Courageous Conversations Planning Group. The workshop was held at First United Methodist Church the second, third and fourth Saturdays in May.

“After the overwhelming response to the Georgetown Reads book discussion and the Courageous Conversations series in February, Black History Month, we wanted to bring another opportunity for engagement to Georgetown to help people address racism,” said Ron Swain, convener of the Courageous Conversations Planning Group. “There is clearly a thirst for the information people are learning, many for the first time, of the deep roots of racism in our country and state. There is also a deep-seated desire to ensure that Georgetown is a ‘beloved community” where everyone is valued, respected and accepted.’ ”

The Courageous Conversations Planning Group is working on activities for the coming months, including additional workshops, book discussions and information sharing.

The Georgetown Courageous Conversations Planning Group is an interracial, multicultural and multiethnic group of individuals from various faith communities working to facilitate respectful, civil conversations about race.

For more information about the Courageous Conversations Planning Group and to get on the email distribution list, please email LetsTalk@CourageousConvoGTX.com.

For information about other workshops offered by One Human Race in Austin, click here.