At open forum, students share outrage, pain in response to nationwide protests against racism and police brutality

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Julia Maciejak, Staff Writer, & Julia Wojtkowski, Daniela Zavlun, and Julianna Zitron, News Editors

Monday afternoon, the Townsend Harris High School Equity and Access team hosted a meeting for the THHS community to share their thoughts about the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality that have followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last Monday. This open Google Meet conference had, at times, over 130 attendees, mainly students with some faculty members in attendance.

Throughout the meeting, multiple students lamented the persistence of systemic racism and bigotry towards the black community. Many wondered what they could do to help support these movements, oftentimes becoming emotional when recounting their own experiences with racism or their reactions to recent events. 

“Seeing people who look like you die frequently every year doesn’t do much to help build self-esteem and self-confidence of your place in this world, but I showed my face [at the Google forum]. I wanted them to see my tears. I wanted them to see my anger. I needed them to see that I am a real person and it hurts far more than they think it does because when you’re sitting behind a screen you don’t realize… you hear it but you don’t connect,” said senior Kayla Seepersad. “When you look at somebody and you realize they’re your classmate…and they exist and it hurts and this is a person who’s crying because it hurts, it becomes so much more real.” 

Students also reflected on multiple pressing issues arising from the recent protests against police brutality. Many students highlighted their willingness to attend them, yet stated that their parents would not allow it because they worried about their safety. Attendees also shared their views on the nature of the protests and discussed whether violence was an effective and necessary method of promoting social justice.

Junior Xandria Crosland, who participated in the discussion multiple times, said, “In order for drastic change to occur, dramatic things need to happen. You can’t say we have to be nice if no one is being nice to us.”

 Xandria reflected on her experience saying, “Coming out of the meeting I definitely felt more at ease because that morning I woke up in a horrible mood and was just so upset that I needed a break from the media and wanted to go to the meeting to express my feelings and I did just that. Getting all of that out and hearing that I wasn’t the only one this upset really put my mind at ease a bit.”

Junior Weiye Yasen said she left the meeting with a new perspective on the issue. “I acknowledge that I honestly did not know that the black community felt that way, and I think it’s because normally, these kinds of topics don’t come up in our daily lives when talking to each other,” she said.

AP US History teacher Charlene Levi attended the meeting, along with several other faculty members, and spoke at various times both vocally and in the chat. Ms. Levi felt that the event went well and said she hoped students left with a stronger understanding of the pain people are feeling. Citing the Ephebic Oath, she asks students to “leave their city better than they found it.” 

“You’ll never be able to fix everything, but you will always be able to improve something.  If every citizen of this country picked one thing that mattered to them and worked to make it better, progress would be massive. Right now the question is, ‘What are you going to pick?’ And remember, it doesn’t just have to be one thing,” she said. “Try to use your time at THHS to open your mind and broaden your vision. Challenge yourself and sit with some discomfort…. Be the change that you want, and I hope, to see in the world.”

Assistant Principal of Guidance Veronica York facilitated the conversation. Ms. York did not return requests for comment from The Classic as of Wednesday evening.

When announcing the meeting via email, the Equity and Access team wrote, “We, too, are outraged and hurting and we want you to know we are here to talk about it. If you would like to discuss these events and share your thoughts and feelings with us and with your peers, we want you to know that your THHS family is here, even though we seem so far away.”

Positive feedback and requests from students at the conclusion of the meeting prompted the Equity and Access council to consider planning a second meeting in the future to continue this discussion.