CONCORD, CA – As the school year winds back up for Clayton Valley Charter High School, students are talking to board members, administrators, teachers and one another about creating a safe, healthy environment for all demographics coexisting in the space.
A large percent of students engaged on social media say they have experienced racism on high school grounds.
Senior Nia Williams and two friends manage an Instagram page called “Let’s Talk CV,” which conducated a poll that revealed feelings of inherent racism on campus. Williams started the page to discuss the realities of discrimination in the area after witnessing “blatant acts of hate” at the June 2 Black Lives Matter protest in Clayton.
“There were people standing outside of Canesa’s, and it was questionable whether they had weapons,” said Williams, who risked a flareup of her autoimmune disease to attend the protest because of a sense of responsibility.
“One guy kept driving by in his truck yelling hateful things trying to incite violence, trying to take advantage of the situation,” she added. “The protests really awoke something in me.”
Time for different conversations
As a person of color, Williams has always been aware of the prejudices against her community. When she was a child, someone made a racist remark to her at Clayton’s Dana Hills pool – an uncomfortable incident in a neighborhood she was otherwise happy in through the association with her grandparents’ loving home.
“I’m generally aware of my skin color and the effect it has on me,” Williams said. “I’ve made a number of friends in this community, but there’s still that underlying tone that makes people feel unwelcome.”
Williams uses the Instagram page to talk about things CVCHS students may not have the opportunity to discuss extensively at school, like the fluidity of their sexual identities or recognizing signs of anxiety or eating disorders.
“For the most part, there are no safe environments to have different conversations that need to be had so we can better understand each other,” she noted.
The page goes into detail about fighting racism, but Williams also seeks to empower her peers with information on issues they could very well be facing in a world plagued by the pandemic. Her ultimate goal is to work with school authorities to add an extension to the CVCHS website with hotlines and program information as a “one-stop shop.”
Williams’ efforts led to her becoming a panelist in the most recent Clayton Speaks webinar. Clayton City Council candidate Holly Tillman organized Clayton Speaks following remarks she and her family shared at a more peaceful June 5 protest in the Grove that jarred attendees. Despite the family’s involvement and care for Clayton, Tillman said some Clayton residents remembered only her family’s Black skin in everyday interactions.
Williams said viewers displayed an “overwhelming amount of positivity” during the YouTube and Facebook livestreams Sept. 4, a contradiction to pain too often inflicted on those like her and Tillman.
Changing the curriculum
Williams has been in communication with senior Annika Tuohey, one of a handful of individuals working to bring the national #DiversifyOurNarrative initiative to CVCHS. #DiversifyOurNarrative demands the inclusion of diverse, anti-racist texts in schools.
Through collaboration with students from the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, Tuohey and her fellow students have determined a final list of books written by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and other minorities that they’d like incorporated into class curriculums.
“This is going to offer representation to people who haven’t felt represented, but also it’s helping educate people not educated because they grew up only learning from a white man’s perspective,” Tuohey said. “A lot of people may not understand how important this is.”
Tuohey knows first-hand that it’s essential to present facts of historical events to students. During one of her first years at CVCHS, a white boy in one of her classes openly told those in the classroom that he believed racism died with slavery. Some students also represent this mindset through comments on the local #DiversifyYourNarrative social media channels.
Since the school year has already started, Tuohey is aiming to have the texts in front of students as early as the next academic year. She, seven other students and two teachers attended the Sept. 9 CVCHS board meeting to call for a specific agenda item at the October meeting. Tuohey, her co-lead Kendall Albert and others present were emailed a statement the following day explaining their request would be referred to the school’s Curriculum Committee with California’s Common Core standards in mind.
“Meeting with and presenting to this committee would be the best and most productive way for members of the Diversify Our Narrative chapter to participate and share their campaign,” the statement, courtesy of CVCHS executive director Jim Scheible, said. “…It is important to note that neither the Board (of Directors) nor the Curriculum Committee will select the specific textbooks, novels, or other literature and information used in classes as that is determined by our teachers and administrators.”