LIVINGSTON, NJ — As part of a series of “Coffee Talks” established at the start of the pandemic as a way to “engage the Livingston community and discuss today’s top-of-mind topics," the “Livingston Education!” Facebook group has made the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement a central topic of conversation over the past few weeks.

Following two highly successful BLM Coffee Talks that group admin Mike Ramer said were “exciting and eye-opening for our community,” a third BLM discussion has been scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 2 at 9:45 a.m. that Ramer said will be “a first of its kind.” The upcoming Coffee Talk will feature guest panelist Keith Hines, founder of the Livingston Committee for Diversity Inclusion, who will answer questions about his life accomplishments, his dedication to community service and his thoughts on the BLM movement.

“We all need to be proactive and not reactive,” said Ramer. “Racism is a systemic issue in our country. From the conversations on Livingston Education!, it is clear that we need to do more and change mindsets in our homes and our schools. Our hope is that continuing the dialogue will help elevate our community and increase mutual understanding and respect.”

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During the first BLM Coffee Talk on June 28, three black parents of Livingston Public Schools (LPS) children—including Earl Smith, Alan Gholston and Jenissa Arnette—discussed their experiences with racism and discrimination within the Livingston community. The conversation resumed on July 12 with three new panelists—Dev Rathod (LPS Class of 2018), Ethan Reiter (LPS Class of 2020) and Naomi Bekuresion (LPS Class of 2021)—who spoke about what they have seen and experienced in the schools.

According to Ramer, more than 1,000 parents and students viewed each of the first two BLM Coffee Talks and raised a number of suggestions for changes they would like to see in Livingston schools.

Summarizing those suggestions, Ramer said that participants in these discussions recommend that LPS promote the following:

  • A concerted effort to teach about anti-racism and anti-discrimination, just as the schools have done for anti-bullying;
  • Greater teacher awareness/training on subtle anti-racism material taught in Livingston schools (in history and literature, for example);
  • A protocol for students to report anti-racism and anti-discriminatory remarks and behaviors, possibly by establishing a task force; and
  • Hiring more diversity teachers and guidance counselors, who can bring knowledge and education through their experiences.

Noting that previous Livingston Education! “Coffee Talks” have invited teachers, physicians, parents and students to discuss the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology usage in Livingston schools, special education and other “top-of-mind” topics, Ramer said the group felt a need to “have an open dialogue on racism and discrimination” in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in order to enlighten Livingston residents about what is happening in the immediate community.

“Increasingly, Livingston is a melting pot of various cultures and the religions,” said Ramer. “For example, our community now has a strong Indian and Chinese population; and the African American and Hispanic communities, although a small percentage, are growing.

“Today, our schools reflect this cultural mosaic. Hearing from various, diverse perspectives enables understanding, empathy and acceptance of others. There is strength in diversity.”

All Coffee Talks are live-streamed on the Livingston Education! Facebook page and recorded for future viewing. Discussions typically last between 45 and 60 minutes and are co-moderated by Ramer, Saba Khan and Andrew Miller.

CLICK HERE to visit the Livingston Education! page, join in the BLM discussion on Sunday or view any of the 12 previously recorded Coffee Talks.

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