Our Theory of Change
“I don’t see race,” is a common phrase in our day and age. It’s also a surprising one, considering that the effects of race and racism are only becoming clearer in the lives of many. Yet there is some truth to the statement. The way we racialize each other can be invisible- until you stop to take a closer look.
BIO leaders and residents of Berkshire County dared to re-examine race at our county-wide community conversations. As we shared stories, we realized that we have all been shaped by experiences and perceptions of race.
Some residents grew up in insular communities where the only mention of race was in the news. As one leader said, “It just didn’t show up at our doorstep.” This often led to a lack of awareness about their neighbors’ struggles. Yet others, particularly residents of color, experienced negative interactions with law enforcement, poor representation in the media, and few opportunities to learn their own history. These have become sources of deep pain and isolation in communities of color.
Today, knowledge of the past is a key opportunity for change. As community elder Mabel Hamilton explained, “We must know about this history and the contributions of people of color to the country, to the educational system and beyond. We need to do this to fight white supremacy. To know where we are going, we must know where we come from… Through education of the reality of the American past, we hope to bring about the unity of all Americans – especially all those coming here today who are seeking to be free.”
Black History in the Pittsfield High Schools
As the conversation deepened, community members specifically identified high school education as a crucial period for productively challenging ideas and beliefs about race. As a result, we successfully petitioned the Superintendent Jason McCandless, of Pittsfield Public Schools, to reintroduce Black History to the high school curriculum by Fall 2019. Thanks to this campaign, fifty children were enrolled in the course when it was first offered - including some of our leaders’ grandchildren.
Black History as well as Black Literature continue to be taught in both Pittsfield High Schools. In the future, we hope we can turn our attention to extending Black History offerings in the other Pittsfield Schools.
Cultural Humility Reading Group
This book club was formed in 2019 by a small but dedicated group. We began to read many of the excellent books available about race, e.g., “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving, “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson, as well as the 1619 project. We also began to study the Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization. These readings led to opportunities to share personal stories, greater knowledge and understanding and at times intense discussions. Often times, we would share excerpts from our readings with the BIO Executive Council. While we have taken a few months off, we hope to regroup shortly and continue our learning as well as work to incorporate cultural humility within the fabric of BIO.
With racial justice and equity, the process of the work is equally as important as the outcome. As we work towards systemic change, we must develop individual practices of listening, accountability, and cultural humility.
Race may seem invisible, but only by seeing it will we be able to dismantle systems of oppression and live into our common humanity.
Black Studies in Pittsfield Public Schools
Ensuring a permanent Black Studies course by Fall 2019
We won a commitment from Pittsfield Public Schools Former Superintendent Jason McCandless to reintroduce Black Studies to the curriculum.
This course continues, as well as a Black Literature Course.