Members of the Kent County Social Action Committee for Racial Justice and of S.T.A.R. – Students Talking About Race – came to the Chestertown Council meeting May 6. After explaining their mission, they invited council members to take part in a workshop on undoing racism, being presented in September.
Ileana Lindstrom, of the Political Action and Education affinity groups, gave a brief summary of the Social Action Committee’s origins and mission. Formed in 2017, the SAC was the offshoot of Undoing Racism workshops given in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties – an experience Lindstrom described as creating a “life-changing” awareness of the place of racism in society. She said the workshops defined racism as the combination of race-based prejudice and institutional power.
Members of the SAC are committed to taking action, such as analyzing data, tracking the records of elected officials and holding them accountable for their decisions, and offering the organization as ally an and resource to institutions in the community, Lindstrom said. The group “was born to end the oppression of persons of color in Kent County,” beginning with a focus on the political, educational, and criminal justice systems. The groups are also focused on bringing an awareness of the contributions of persons of color to the county’s festivals and other public celebrations.
Lindstrom noted that the SAC recognizes the significant responsibilities that the mayor and council members hold, citing the clause of the town charter that states their mission of protecting and serving the town’s residents and visitors. “We also recognize that you cannot be expected to fulfill these responsibilities alone, individually, or as a sitting mayor and town council,” she said, noting that racism can be traced back to the first interactions of Europeans and Native Americans, along with the long history of slavery, with the first recorded arrival of enslaved Africans in Virginia 400 years ago this August. Observing the difficulty of fighting such a long-established and deeply embedded institution, she said, “We can be effective in dismantling racism in Chestertown and throughout Kent County when we work together with that as our goal.”
Announcing that the People’s Institute of Survival and Beyond will be conducting an Undoing Racism workshop in Kent County Sept. 20-22, she asked for a show of hands of council members willing to participate. Mayor Chris Cerino said he was willing, but that he may have a conflict on those dates. Councilman Marty Stetson said he could not commit to the date so far in advance. Stetson later wrote in an email to the council, which he copied to the press, “My failure to say I was willing to attend had nothing to do with the group or subject but with the fact that I was sure I would not attend. I just didn’t want to say I would attend when I knew I would not be willing to give up another evening.” He added, “It would have been easy for me to raise my hand and just not show up – but dishonest.”
Following up, Lindstrom asked council members if they would receive the Social Action Committee as “a skilled and knowledgeable ally and resource.” All members agreed, though Councilwoman Linda Kuiper asked for examples of “blantant, visible racism that exists in Chestertown.” She said she serves everybody in her ward, regardless of political affiliation or color of skin.
Lindstrom said the students’ presentation that would follow would point to some instances of racism they had experienced. Also, she said, participation in the Undoing Racism workshop would help clarify some of the issues. And she said that members of the Social Action Committee were willing to meet one-on-one with council members to help them understand the issues facing people of color in the community.
Finally, Lindstrom asked council members if they were willing to take part in the SAC’s regular meetings, which are the second and third Tuesdays of the month in Sumner Hall. All said they would be willing, with Councilman David Foster adding that he had already attended meetings.
Lindstrom then introduced Paul Tue, who with Barbie Glenn was a co-founder of S.T.A.R. Tue briefly outlined S.T.A.R.’s program. Tue then introduced three student S.T.A.R. members who addressed the council.
Riley Glenn summarized the group’s accomplishments since its founding a little over a year ago, beginning with “encouraging uncomfortable conversations,” forming partnerships and taking action to address inequities. The group spoke at and helped organize the March for Our Lives in Chestertown, assisted the Social Action Committee in interviewing candidates in the 2016 local elections, and attended a number of events addressing the issue of racism in the community. She said the students had come to understand that racism has “shaped all of us, and none of us are exempt from its forces.”
Tykee Bryant was the second of the students to speak. He said he sees racism on a daily basis in the school and the community. Black students are punished more harshly for identical offenses. He said he hears racial slurs and comments from fellow students and teachers. Also, Latino students are told not to speak Spanish, even though others are praised for knowing a foreign language when they do so.
The third student to speak was Annie Squire Southworth, who spoke to misconceptions regarding racism. She listed as examples of racism housing discrimination, inequities in pay, mortgage lending, and rates of policing and incarceration in minority communities. “If you refuse to acknowledge that racism is a problem in Kent County, that is racism,” she said. “We are all responsible for ending racism.” She ended by extending her invitation to local leaders to join S.T.A.R. in combatting racism, and to attend the Undoing Racism workshops this fall.
Kuiper asked if the students received training in multicultural competency and diversity as part of their mission. Southworth said that their anti-racism training encompasses all of those issues.
In closing, Lindstrom thanked the council for the opportunity to introduce the Social Action Committee and S.T.A.R. to the council and to explain their programs.
At the conclusion of the meeting, several members of the Social Action Committee spoke from the audience to reinforce the group’s appeal to council members to take positive steps to address racism in the community and to attend the workshops.