On January 17, the school held an evening event for families called “Community Conversations: Identity and Diversity.” In addition to inviting PAUS families, the feeder school communities were also invited. I wasn’t sure what to expect—we aren’t very good as a society at talking about issues of race and discrimination in meaningful ways, since these conversations require a lot of self-reflection, which can make us uncomfortable if not defensive. So I figured we might be headed for safe and shallow, but hoped for challenging and deep. I arrived a little late to find a surprisingly large crowd (80 adults and 20 children) and an awesome dinner from Coast Café—a promising start. There were plenty of familiar faces around the room, but the empty seats were at tables full of new faces, so that is where I sat myself down. The mother next to me said that another school had tried “this” (some kind of diversity workshop) and it had gone really badly. With that thought fresh in my mind, our event kicked off.
Our two very warm and friendly facilitators focused us immediately on our children—how could we help our kids wrestle successfully with issues of identity and diversity. This framing suddenly made the issues much easier to handle—taking us kind of deep without having to go much into uncomfortable. Using several exercises and the TED Talk video by Chimamanda Adichie “The Danger of a Single Story,” they assigned us little tasks and topics to discuss with those at our table. Time was tight, so it felt pretty rushed: we barely got into our discussion before it was time to report back or begin the next exercise. But it felt like a good sign that I wanted more time.
By the end, I felt like I’d been given some interesting tools that I could try out at home with my kids, made some quick but memorable connections with my tablemates—something that doesn’t necessarily happen at the average gathering—and that I’d definitely try to come back to the 2nd session in March and the final one in May. Thanks, Putnam Ave!