SEEN Community Update: Reflecting on MLK Weekend and Recent Events

Dear SEEN Community,

Did you attend our Communities in Action forum this past Saturday? The dialogue was remarkable! With fortitude, vulnerability, and generosity, our panelists shared their experiences with advocacy and activism as community members and professionals. The notes from this event (coming soon!) cannot capture the feeling in that Zoom room, just as they cannot capture our gratitude for what was shared. We were challenged to be change-makers, and to enter challenging conversations without blame, shame, or guilt.

As the culmination of our Critical Conversations series – about critical race theory and its implications – we thank our collaborators at MLK Saratoga, Skidmore College’s Black Studies Program, and SUNY Empire State College’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and we thank each of our moderators and panelists across the three panels: Dr. Winston Grady-Willis; Dr. A. Tina Nagle; Dr. Anthony Paul Farley; Dr. Heather Reynolds; educators Lisa Glazer, Kristin, Ken, Tracy, and Stacey; Kristen Dart; Tara Gaston; Fannie Glover; Chandler Hickenbottom; Dr. Anita Jack-Davies; and Dr. Renata Williams. Thank you!

The theme of this year’s MLK Saratoga’s Dr. King Celebration Weekend was “I choose to stick with love,” and so the violence, threats, and hate crimes we saw on the national news this weekend – the murder of an Asian American woman in NYC and the hostages taken at the Beth Israel Congregation in Colleyville, TX, and fortunately the sound mind of Rabbi Charlie who led their escape – require love. The direct victims are not the only ones who suffer. The indirect victims include those in our community who share those identities, and the resulting impact that these events have on feelings of safety in their daily lives. To you all, we send love and solidarity.

Actions

  • Donate. Monday’s snow caused Temple Sinai to reschedule their book drive, which means there’s still time to donate! Bring your new and good-used-condition books to Temple Sinai TODAY – Sunday, January 23, from 2-4 p.m. Donated books will be split between RED Bookshelf in Albany and SEEN for our Little Free Libraries. Our libraries have seen a lot of activity over the last 6 months, and have become a valuable part of the community.
    • A note on the Little Free Libraries: SEEN’s library at Ben & Jerry’s was damaged in December. We will reinstall the official library in the spring once the ground thaws, but in the meantime, there is a temporary library inside. Please stop by! Our other locations are at Franklin Community Center and Saratoga Recreation Center (Vanderbilt side).
  • Watch or Attend. The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for February 3, 2022, starting at 7 p.m. at the high school. We continue to encourage members of the “network” to attend Board meetings, and to make a public comment if inclined to do so.
  • Mark Your Calendar. We have a SEEN General Meeting on the books! Join us on Monday, February 28, at 8 p.m. on Zoom. More information to come!

Announcements

  • SEEN’s Faculty and Staff Committee continues their monthly meetings with educators, with participants both selecting materials and leading discussion. Their next meeting is scheduled for February 17, with more to come after that. If you are interested in joining, please email Marie McCabe.
  • Community Reading, Discussion, & Artmaking Group. SEEN is also happy to announce our continued collaboration with C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios, supported by a grant from Humanities NY. We focused on Ralph Ellison’s essays in the fall, and this spring we will focus on James Baldwin’s Collected Essays, edited by Toni Morrison, with continued focus on issues of representation, art, community, belonging, and inclusion. This is another “more details forthcoming,” but books will be available at Northshire at a 20 percent discount in the next week (mention the SEEN reading group to receive the discount).

Resources

  • Preschool Discipline. During Saturday’s session, Fannie Glover shared with us information about preschool suspension rates, and the impact they have on long-term education outcomes. The school-to-prison pipeline, it turns out, can be better described with alliteration as the preschool-to-prison pipeline.  As their brains and social skills are developing, BIPOC children are suspended or expelled from preschool not just at higher rates than their white peers, but at higher rates than even K-12 students. Why? Implicit bias and hypervigilance. And in the last 7 years, the data hasn’t changed. Go to our website for more information and to see the data.
  • Hollaback continues to offer Bystander Intervention trainings, free and online, with the next one in Cantonese and Mandarin on January 31, and in English on February 1. They are also partnering with T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. As they develop resources, Hollaback is offering Resilience Trainings, with more dates to come.
  • Activists, Advocates, Radicals, & Extremists. On the heels of Martin Luther King Day and MLK Saratoga’s Dr. King Celebration Weekend, we’re reminded that King was not a moderate, but an “extremist,” as labeled both by his critics and by his own admission. The dynamic recalls Saturday’s discussion about the utility of the terms “advocate,” “activist,” and “agent of change,” the identities associated with each term, and who gets to claim them or apply them to others. King seemingly embraces the term “extremist” in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” addressed to Southern clergymen (August 1963). Called an extremist by these members of the clergy, King admits to being “initially disappointed,” to be “dismissed as extremist,”

But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist….Was not Martin Luther an extremist?– “Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist? — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?

King’s inclusion of Martin Luther in this is especially interesting, given that he was born Michael King, Jr., and changed his name when he was 12 years old (following his father, who was inspired by Martin Luther’s 95 theses on a trip to Germany). The ways MLK found inspiration and direction in his role as an activist, advocate, or extremist parallels his embrace of his name.

~ The SEEN Team

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