'Black Lives Matter' event at OPRF was harmful

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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As I chair the Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee, our committee acts on legislation dealing with the restoration of justice. A principle of restorative justice is to repair harm done to one another. The "Black Lives Matter" event at Oak Park and River Forest High School on Feb. 27, which was limited to black students only has done harm.

The struggle to prove that black lives matter has always been a rainbow push effort, so this is not the time to close the door on progress made over the years. We must walk hand in hand as a human race and eliminate exclusion and promote inclusion.

The leaders of the closed-door meeting now have an opportunity to show all of us how to make something good out of a wrong decision. Say you're sorry and come together and begin something great for all of our kids.

The restorative justice community believes that this situation would need to convene a circle. Circles are used to discuss issues that caused a problem with the offender and the offended. Circles are used to come up with a solution to the problem.

State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford

Eighth District

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Jabria Smith from Oak Park   

Posted: March 18th, 2015 11:40 PM

You were not there. You do not know what the assembly has done. I am an African American student who attends the school and the assembly. I am in honors and AP classes and you do not know how it feels to walk into those classes and see people who look nothing like you. They stare and you don't feel a sense of community. But walking into that infinity circle I felt like I could relate to others. Oak Park is not perfect. It is not as diverse and not as anti racist as you believe. We got to get some stuff off our chest so we could feel more comfortable in the environment that we inhabit and go to school at. If it were an all girl assembly, guys wouldn't care if they couldn't come. If there was an all white infinity circle I wouldn't care I wasnt allowed to attend. The point of a racial infinity circle is to talk about your problems that you've acquired due to your ethnicity. If other races were allowed to come in my opinion they wouldve either been offended or not had anything to say because they cannot relate to what we as African Americans have been through. I love my friends, my whites, latina, whatever you are. I don't discriminate but honestly this community is upset about something this mediocre and it's tearing us apart. The students aren't even upset anymore and in my opinion if you are you don't have a valid reason. There is no reason why someone shouldn't get the opportunity to feel comfortable at their own school. It has let many hurt and angry people let out emotions. So maybe our principle doesn't seem perfect to you all but he did this with good intentions and I think nothing but good came out of it.

Conor Gallogly from Qingdao, Shandong  

Posted: March 17th, 2015 12:20 AM

After attending the March 16th board meeting, it's clear that this assembly did create a safe space for black students and adults to speak freely and openly. What a gift to all those present. A necessity given what black teenagers face. It certainly didn't harm those who attended. Nor will it harm relationships between white and black students (or just between all students) at OPRF. If anything it is valuable for white students, parents, teachers and OPRF residents to consider why black students wouldn't feel comfortable expressing themselves in front of other white people. The only harm is from people claiming this assembly was racist.

Dylan Bellisle  

Posted: March 15th, 2015 5:54 PM

Mere exclusion does not make something racist. The idea of supremacy must be present for something to be racist. It has been quite awhile since I was in school, but I keenly remember a few events in which boys and girls were separated to promote a safe environment for discussion. Inclusion is important, but exclusion can be healing. In family therapy a therapist will exclude family members at different times in order to allow other members the space to feel safe in sharing. From what it appears, this event was not a "rally" or an effort to build understanding. It was to create a safe space for black students to share. What needs to follow are further sessions, just like family therapy. I think there should be more sessions like this, then sessions that allow white students to just listen so they can learn. And then you could create a "circle" that allows for sharing and dialogue.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 15th, 2015 3:26 PM

SPECIAL BOARD MEETING. There will be a Special Board Meeting tomorrow, Monday March 16,at D200. One of the items for discussion will be the Black Lives Matter Meeting, where apparently, the policy issues were never run by the Board yet. The meeting starts at 7;30 PM, and that's when public comment is allowed, but then goes into closed session for an expected hour. People will have to step outside and stand or sit on the floor (there are no chairs there). I have asked the Board President to change that order of public comment. As it stands, the discussion will happen around 8:30 PM.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 13th, 2015 8:34 PM

@Ruth Lazurus: I am familiar with those and other documents. They pertain to PRIVATE schools, which have a lot more leeway than public schools, on what they can do. Also, even public colleges are treated differently than public K-12 schools. For decades, some have had "affinity-based" dorms. But there are different standards for K-12 public schools, set by the Feds. The last thing we want is for a situation like the one at the fictional Walden College in Doonesbury: The Black Student Association makes its final demand, and it's for their own separate drinking fountain. The College President put his head in his hands, having helped decades ago on civil rights..

Jennifer Malloy Quinlan from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 12th, 2015 4:15 PM

I completely disagree. I feel certain Principal Rouse was giving students a place to hear and to be heard. I think in this day and age, in the wonderful, beautiful, wild, and scary city we live outside of, it would be foolish to think that all of our kids are subject to the same level of respect, suspician, dignity, scrutiny, and esteem. I appreciate and support his giving our kids a voice- a safe place to have a voice in a world that so very often summarily dismisses them.

Ruth Lazarus from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 12th, 2015 1:51 PM

Hi Maggie,I wasn't necessarily referring only to your attacks. Have you read some of the comments after various "news" articles? I'm pretty sure you will find these upsetting too. I put "news" in parenthesis because I don't think the coverage has been fair at all. There has been little effort to appreciate that many OP parents support what Mr. Rouse did. I would encourage you to do some research on your own regarding affinity groups in schools, and educate yourself about this. http://www.nais.org/Magazines-Newsletters/ISMagazine/Pages/Identity-Affinity-Reality.aspx

Maggie Klein  

Posted: March 12th, 2015 9:18 AM

@Ruth: I don't believe I attacked what he did, but the manner in which he did it. I think that may be true of the others that posted in the previous article. You don't address a "gap" by starting with a "gap"

Ruth Lazarus from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 11th, 2015 8:37 PM

With all due respect Rep. Ford, I think you, and unfortunately many others, have misunderstood this event and are angry with a principal that we should be applauding. This wasn't a "Black Lives Matter" rally, which of course would have been open to everyone. This event offered an opportunity for African-American students to express themselves and be heard in a safe space. These sorts of groups and conversations are so important for all of our young people. It saddens me deeply to see people feeling threatened by something we should be excited out. If we are going to get angry, we should be angry that students of all races do not have the same experience at OPRF. We should be wanting to understand why that is, so that we can do something about it. People in this town pay lip service to wanting to address the achievement gap, but when our principal tries to do something meaningful that could offer hope for change, he gets attacked. Too sad.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 11th, 2015 5:25 PM

@Maggie Klein: If you want to pursue your beef, go to this site: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintprocess.html It's the US Dept. of Ed's Office for Civil Rights complaint site. They will try to mediate, essentially, but a properly formed complaint with these people will put the fear of God into OPRF. D200 will potentially face the loss of their Federal funds. Your child is attending a public school receiving Federal money that excludes student participation in some school events and activities based solely on your child's race. That must pass "strict scrutiny", namely that there is a compelling state interest, and that this is fashioned in the least restrictive manner possible.The relief you want is simply for the practice to stop, not for someone to be fired -- that's the job of the Board. Call me for details on how to write that, so that they will take it seriously. DON'T say you will make another complaint with some other body, because then they will let that process take over, and they will wash their hands of it.DO send copies of the news coverage, and OPRF's own press release. Supt. Isoye is equally culpable, since he's Rouse's boss, and sat in the thing, as apparently the only non-African-American allowed. What is amazing is that they never appeared to have taken this idea before the Board for policy approval. There is a time and manner for discussions on race relations, but not this way. Note that some of the faculty also opposed this as divisive.

Maggie Klein  

Posted: March 11th, 2015 2:56 PM

While I appreciate Rep. Ford's comments, as a taxpayer of Oak Park and parent of a child not allowed into the racially segregated event, I am calling on the immediate dismissal if not severe punishment of Principal Rouse. However not intentional, it was a highly racist action. I can only think that if a white person did such a despicable act as to not allow black students into an assembly, there would be limited discussion on the future of that employee. Wrong is wrong, no matter what the color.

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