June 23, 2022
Statement on the Forest Hills School District decision to ban anti-racist curriculum and training
The decision by the Forest Hills School Board to ban discussions on identity and racism and to ban anti-racism curriculum, staff training and hiring practices is an assault on freedom. It is a threat to equity and detrimental to the development of students and our educational system.
Please think of the implications: by banning anti-racist principles in instruction, they are openly perpetuating racist curriculum that has silenced and diminished disenfranchised voices in our history. By banning anti-racist principles in staff training and hiring, they are cultivating a culture of bias and racism. These are people establishing strategic educational policies that are molding young minds. If they strategically choose to withhold the full story about our American history from our educational system, how do we expect to disrupt the perpetuation of hate and lack of empathy in the next generation.
To defend these principles under the guise of creating “a culture of kindness and equal opportunity” is misleading and shamefully dangerous. It cultivates a culture of hate by ignoring diversity and encouraging the continuation of “othering” those who are not white. It entrenches obstacles to opportunity by not acknowledging the barriers certain groups have historically faced and continue to face.
This decision does not allow for an honest and factual examination of American history.
America does not have a history of kindness, especially to people of color and even its white citizens and immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. Our historic economies were built on institutionalized racism – from Irish immigrants digging canals and Asian immigrants building railroads under oppressive and deadly conditions to centuries of chattel slavery. We have not been a nation of equal opportunity and to ignore that history will not create a culture of equal opportunity for this or future generations.
We must encourage a diversity of voices in our history by teaching our nation’s full and fact-based history. We must share stories of our flaws, our accomplishments, our tragedies, our triumphs, our history of oppression and our history of liberation. As Dr. King said in a 1967 speech, “It (America) has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
It is only by understanding and living up to those promises that we can move beyond our past mistakes and move closer to a nation where “all men are created equal.”
This is at the heart of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s mission; a factual presentation of American history, giving all voices a place in our national story so it is told, taught and remember as diversely as it was created. To use those stories of the past to inform and inspire us toward a more equitable future. And it is something that is central to the YWCA mission to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. This is central to the YWCA work to bring restorative practices to schools and individuals to reduce racial discrimination and increase skills to navigate conflict. This is the work the YWCA brings to our community and educational systems as they embark on a journey of anti-racist education by understanding past and current instances of racial inequity.
We should not ban anti-racist training, we should embrace it. We should encourage respectful empathy and compassion for our fellow humans by acknowledging how we are different and how that impacts our experiences. It’s not about someone diminishing themselves, it’s about lifting those around you. In doing so, we rise together to remove obstacles to equity.
The Freedom Center and the YWCA each offer opportunities for individuals and groups to begin a journey of inclusion by learning about implicit biases and how to overcome them.
The true building blocks of a culture of kindness and equal opportunity are an open dialogue on our shortcomings, the need to overcome them and a collective commitment to diversity and equity. Only then can we be the nation and people we aspire to be.
Woodrow Keown, Jr.
President & COO
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Barbara C. Perez
President & CEO
YWCA Greater Cincinnati