On Sunday June 14th from 2:30 - 5pm, the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE) will host a free online event to spark reflection and inspire ongoing work to deepen racial literacy through the America to Me Real Talk Montclair initiative. Since 2018, MFEE has worked with Montclair State professors Drs. Tanya Maloney and Bree Picower to develop a town-wide process for understanding issues of race and equity more deeply using the America to Me documentary series. The series examines racial inequities through the eyes of teens in a Chicago suburban high school that looks and feels a lot like Montclair High. Given the uptick in racial violence against Black men and women, this process for understanding the perniciousness of racism is more critical now than ever.

The June 14th event will provide an opportunity for the hundreds who have engaged with the project to share learning and brainstorm ideas for action. The program will feature inspiring speakers and Montclair high student performances from MHS juniors Destiny Davis and Jaden Walker. It is open to all, even those without prior connection to the initiative.

Dr. Bettina Love, award-winning author of We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom and Associate Professor of Educational Theory & Practice at the University of Georgia will kick off the event with a dynamic conversation. The program will then transition to a panel discussion with subjects from the America to Me film series, including administrator Dr. Chala Holland, teacher Jessica Stovall, and student Jada Buford. The second half of the afternoon will be a working meeting, in which America to Me Watch Group participants, those who have debriefed the films in small group conversations over the past year, will share what emerged through their experiences and brainstorm ideas for action within Montclair schools and community.

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Through the America to Me Real Talk Montclair Initiative, MFEE has provided training on key frameworks and language for understanding issues of race and equity. Participants use these frameworks to debrief the documentaries in Watch Groups and to guide self-reflection on their own racial literacy and personal accountability. They end the experience by identifying individual and/or collective action items to tackle.

“We have been overwhelmed by the response to this initiative,” says Masiel Rodriquez-Vars, MFEE Executive Director. “From the standing-room only crowd at the March 1st launch to the over thirty people who committed to continue their Watch Groups online after the pandemic hit, to the hundreds who have signed up for our upcoming event on June 14th and to join the process, it is inspiring to see so many Montclair folks wanting to do this work. We believe this experience is especially valuable now, as it can help people identify how they can put their privilege on the line for black and brown folks.”

Current participants are already finding that the process is changing their thinking and inspiring them to act. “One of the big take-aways from this group is that I, as a white person, have to figure out ways to actively stick my neck out on issues about race,” wrote one participant. Another shared, “the sessions have given vocabulary to what I, as a woman of color, have always known.”

The America to Me process has been generously supported by MFEE, The Schumann Fund for New Jersey and Partners for Health. MFEE is grateful to its funding partners for investing in this critical work. To fuel action to further address issues of race and equity in Montclair schools, MFEE has allocated $150,000 to support Excellence in Equity grants. Parents, administrators, teachers and students are encouraged to work collaboratively to submit proposals in fall 2020.

Register for the Coming Together: America to Me Real Talk Montclair event on June 14th by visiting https://mfee.org/america-to-me/america-to-me.html. Attendees are welcome to participate in the whole afternoon or just attend parts of the program. While on that page, one can also register to participate in a Watch Group, as a leader or participant.