Where Do We Go From Here?
In 1967, while reflecting on the state of our country, Martin Luther King Jr. posed the question, “where do we go from here?” He answered the question in this title speech given at the 11th Annual SCLC Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. The Kings Local School District has been asking themselves the same question lately.
At the beginning of 2017, Kings High School Principal, Doug Leist, began recruiting parents and teachers within the district to form the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. This group has since held weekly meetings in order to help diversify as well as break down barriers for diverse students within the district.
The Task Force is founded on the basis of four pillars: recruiting and retaining of administration and faculty of color; increasing cultural awareness of students, administration, and teachers; increasing community engagement and parental involvement; and developing student engagement about cultural differences in all activities.
The Student Diversity and Inclusion Panel, a product of the Task Force, is also working to improve awareness at Kings. The panel consists of students at the high school who believe that more people need to be made aware of differences of those around them. Jordan Harkins, Vice President of the Student Diversity and Inclusion Panel, is working with other students to directly initiate change.
Harkins believes that the faculty needs to be taught how to deal with things they hear students saying that could potentially be offensive to other people. “We’re definitely looking to educate other students and staff members,” she explains. “If there is no punishment for wrong doings then nothing will ever change,” she reiterates. They have been working towards this since the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.
Although many have not been faced with issues directly pertaining to themselves, there is still a reason to be concerned according to Shauna Smith. Smith is a Kings parent and teacher, as well as a member of the Task Force. “One of my biggest concerns is the overall lack of diversity within our community, and what intentional and/or unintentional barriers are in place that precludes change,” she explains.
“Fortunately, my children have not had a negative experience,” Smith continues, “but I wanted to raise my own awareness as well as others to the problems and situations our minority students have encountered.” Smith has been a member of the Task Force since March of 2017, when the group was founded.
Although many precautions have been taken to prevent discrimination within the district, unfortunately it is still a problem. Before things can grow and thrive, they often need to fall apart first.
In January of 2018, Kings High School was faced with a problem that could not be overlooked. Kings students, who were part of a recreational basketball team outside of the district, put racially insensitive phrases on the back of their jerseys. The team made national news in a matter of days, and this was when the district knew it was time for a change.
Samaria Newton, a Freshman at Kings High School, reacted to the racist comments made by her classmates without shock. “Being black and always going to a predominantly white school, I’ve always had problems with race, so things like this aren’t really a surprise for me,” she explains. She is glad that this issue has been noticed outside of the district to bring awareness to it. “I feel like I’m now more supported by a lot more people from the outside.”
“Until things change for a whole group of people, we won’t get anywhere,” Kings Junior, Erin Seccia, explains. She believes that the racist behavior lies within a large group of people, not just the members of the recreational basketball team.
“While not good incidents, they bring attention to the things that matter and need to be addressed within the district and the community. The incidents have just brought to light what has usually been shoved under the rug.” Moving forward, Erin believes that educating children from a young age about differences among people is the best place to start.
Doug Leist, the principal at Kings High School feels similarly. “I think some things have happened that have really brought to light what needs to change,” Leist explains. The high school has been working on projects around the school to bring everyone together and encourage more acceptance. He believes that “We have a ton of work to do as far as accepting,” however, his faith in Kings students has not faltered.
Kerry McKiernan, father of a student on the recreational team, and former Kings school board member who resigned his position because of the team’s actions, believes that the community needs to come together and heal as a whole in order to move forward. McKiernan, as well as many other parents in the community, were exposed to a problem that they didn’t know was prevalent within the district until they read it in the newspaper.
“It was hard. It was sad and disappointing. I felt a lot of different emotions,” McKiernan explains. In order to move forward, he believes that “We need to love. We all need to find it in our hearts to see things more clearly from other perspectives.”
While all of the efforts made by the upperclassmen of Kings are laying the foundation needed for growth within the community, they are looking to the younger students within the district to make the true change.
“A few months ago, I was walking through the lunch room at Kings Mills Elementary and I became somewhat emotional as I scanned the room and noticed all of the different nationalities that were present.” Smith believes that because the demographics of the elementary schools within the district are so much more diverse than the high school demographic, that real change is possible. “I am optimistic that this is only the beginning.”