Megan Jermak

This Spring I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in an Undoing Racism Community Organizing Workshop appetizer through the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The session was donated to the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA) with whom I am working this Summer through the Serve-Learn-Sustain Summer Internship Program.

A born New Orleanian, I recognize the trailblazing efforts and challenges faced by racial justice organizers in New Orleans, so participation in this seminar was especially important to me. Raised in Buffalo, I found myself using the knowledge and skills gained through this training following the tragic racially motivated mass shooting in May to inform family members and members of my community of systemic racism. This training taught me how to best steward and maintain conversations about race and privilege that can be emotional and uncomfortable but integral to achieve progress and cultivate understanding.

The session was interactive, engaging, and touchingly insightful. My fellow participants varied in age from nine years old to high school and college aged, as this specific session was youth focused. In line with Culturally Relevant Teaching, we started by describing racism in our own words to honor how our own lived experiences impact our view of the topic. During this discussion, my nine-year-old peer described racism as an emotional scar. I did and continue to marvel at the eloquence and accuracy of his statement at his young age, and I find that moments like these are what inspire me to continue learning and organizing against racism.

We continued to talk about experiences with racism, prompting my high school aged peer to share her experience as her school is being gentrified. Less and less, her classmates resemble herself, replaced instead by those who, through no fault of their own, do not share similar lived experience and cultural background. As a result, she observed changes in the school culture, feared for its future serving youth of color, and recognized similar patterns in her surrounding community. Of course, this is a complex conversation, but her insight was unique and appreciated as conversations about gentrification are rarely approached from the youth’s view.

We finished by compiling a covenant or list of rules for future conversations on race and lived experience in order to foster an environment where individuals feel respected and heard; conversations that can inspire empathy, open minds, and change the way individuals see the world and each other; conversations that are needed direly but happen too rarely or too haphazardly. Our covenant vowed each member to respect one another, listen, participate, stay present, struggle together, focus on racism in the USA, stay to complete the conversation, trust the process, and, my final addition, allow yourself and others to realize when they’re wrong and adjust accordingly --- a lesson I have learned through my own first year in college.