CHATHAM, NJ - Two days after holding a "Chatham for Black Lives" teach-in event, three 2019 Chatham High graduates came to the BOE meeting to school Chatham Board of Education members on racism in the district at the regular meeting Monday night.
Alexis Williams, Eleanor Franklin and Julia Ekert - all 2019 CHS graduates - presented "demands" to the BOE for changes in curriculum to include "anti-racism" training, the elimination of the "N-word" being spoken out loud when literature is taught, and a quota of 20 percent teachers of color in the school system by the year 2026.
Including board members and administrators, a total of 28 people were in attendance at the meeting held in the CHS cafeteria. All who entered the building were required to have their temperatures checked at the door due to Coronavirus pandemic concerns.
Williams, 19, spoke about racism being pervasive in Chatham and read her demands for anti-racism training. She was speaking on behalf of a group of alumni organizers in conjunction with Black Lives Matter of Morristown.
"We demand, that the district from this point on, make a constant effort to address, unteach, unlearn racism and anti-blackness," Williams said.
NYU student Alexis Williams makes one of the group's three demands in the video below
Franklin, now enrolled at Johns Hopkins, quoted Black Liberation activist Angela Davis in her remarks below and also said that the use of the "N-word" in the teaching of literature in class should be eliminated. "The normalization of this word in an educational context further contributes to the systemic oppression of black people, creates an unsafe and unwelcoming environment for black students and teaches non-black students of a word that is acceptable for their use in academic settings."
NYU student Ekert cited statistics that showed how predominantly white the School District of the Chathams is in regard to the administration and teaching staff. She demanded the promotion of Black Liberation and stated the quotas in hiring that were expected to be met by 2023 and 2026.
Ekert states the third demand by the Chatham High alumni
Chatham resident Joe Lang objected to the tone taken by the former students in making their demands.
"The Black Lives Matter organization is not truly concerned with black lives, rather with reordering society along socialist, fascist lines," Lang said. "If BLM really cared about black lives, it would try to find ways to end the senseless killings of black residents in cities like Chicago, Baltimore and St. Louis. I doubt there are many people in Chatham who don't believe as I do that black lives matter. But they do not matter simply because they are black, but because they are human beings deserving of the treatment of other citizens."
Joe Lang, 79, gave his views on the demands being made by the group associated with Black Lives Matter
Chatham resident Joe Basralian said he "strongly supports" the petition made by the CHS alumni and offered: "I thought I was not racist until pretty recently." He suggested people who do not think they are racist should read "White Fragility" authored by Robin DiAngelo.
Resident Joe Basralian strongly supports the demands made by CHS alumni
Paul Johnson, a resident of Morris County, said that BLM has more to do with an "Attack on America and its culture and very little to do with uplifting blacks." He also said that there is always a need to improve the curriculum, but asked that the board "not give in to the mob." Johnson pointed out that slavery is still being practiced in other parts of the world, but is ignored in America because it is being done by non-whites. See his full remarks below.
Chatham Superintendent Michael LaSusa and board president Jill Critchley Weber spoke about the goal of improving the curriculum after hearing the demands. Weber said: "My liberation is bound up in yours." (see her remarks below).