WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - About 75 people gathered Thursday night for the first of three Community Conversations aiming to eliminate racism, discrimination, and implicit bias in area schools.
Community Conversations are interactive discussions that will allow those who have experienced discrimination to talk with school, county, city, and other community members, according to the event description.
“Tonight, I want to gather everybody together because recently we’ve seen unfortunate situations in our school system that indicate that we need greater attention to cultural fluency," said Rebecca Trammel, one of the event organizers. “There are stories that parents have, that students have, that really need to be heard.”
The two-hour forum at Williston Middle School featured a panel of speakers, including the mother of a first-grade girl who was the only African-American student in her class and also the only student not given a Christmas present by the teacher last year.
Those in attendance got emotional as the mother, Tori Bronner, described the pain she and her family felt.
“I was so upset. I didn’t say anything to the teacher. I just packed up and left," said Bronner as she wiped away tears. "No child should have been left out, but especially not the only African-American kid.”
Organizers said a slavery board game played by a fourth-grade class at Codington Elementary was another reason for the forum. The New Hanover County School Board apologized for the use of the game.
Thursday’s event was organized by Champions for Compassion, according to the event Facebook page.
Dr. Kim Cook, a UNCW sociology/criminology professor, helped facilitate the conversation using the restorative justice model.
“Restorative justice views crime as more than breaking the law. It also causes harm to people, relationships, and the community," according to restorativejustice.org. “So a just response must address those harms as well as the wrongdoing. If the parties are willing, the best way to do this is to help them meet to discuss those harms and how to about bring resolution.”
New Hanover County Schools Behavior Specialist Judy Stubblefield was another panelist and said many students in Wilmington are “terribly socially isolated” because they do not spend a lot of time with people who are different from them.
“I asked parents to keep fighting for positive change," Stubblefield said. “Seek us out.”
The third panelist was a concerned citizen who wants to eliminate racism.
“What I hope to come out of it is awareness," Trammel said. “I hope that people become aware of the tragic things that are happening to our children of color in our schools, and it might be unintentional."
Community Conversations continues March 28 and April 4. Future discussion topics include the restorative justice conversation, lessons learned, and creating a plan to stop discrimination in schools.