Wave of letters from Grandview Heights High School's anti-racism group challenges leaders

ALAN FROMAN
afroman@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and 20 Grandview Heights High School students put that adage to the test earlier this month.

Students and staff took part in an anti-racism letter-writing project Sept. 2 in the school's media center.

The hourlong event was sponsored by the school's Bobcat Anti-Racism Collective group.

"We were simply hoping to provide students with a practical and meaningful step they could each take in their own work towards justice and equity," said high school English teacher Kevin McCarthy. "A letter to a government official or elected officeholder is a really good first step toward change."

McCarthy and English teacher Bethany Black serve as advisers for the Anti-Racism Collective.

The Bobcat Anti-Racism Collective was launched over the summer to offer students "a place to gather around issues of racial equity and process, learn and, eventually, act," McCarthy said.

"The hope of the group is to educate and raise awareness about systemic racism and then to work towards change in our spheres of influence," he said.

"We've had about 20 to 30 students access our resources in Schoology (the district's learning-management system), 30 to 40 students who have attended at least one of our events/discussions and more than 100 students and parents who follow our Instagram account," McCarthy said.

The group gives students an outlet to add their voices to the nationwide discussion and protests that have arisen in light of such events as the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, senior Cate Stanley said.

"I live in this town, and we're not a super-diverse community, but we are fairly liberal," she said. "I'm just getting so disheartened to keep turning on my TV and seeing another picture or video of someone who is a victim of a police shooting or police brutality."

Stanley said she joined the Anti-Racism Collective because it gives her a way to do her part to raise awareness and help bring about change.

"We have the power to help change things, even if you're 17 years old," she said.

"I don't want to feel defeated every time I see another name added to the list" of Black victims of police brutality, Stanley said.

The Sept. 2 letter-writing project was called "60 Letters in 60 Minutes."

"We split the hour up into 10-minute time slots," McCarthy said.

"As students signed up for a slot, they were sent an email with resources for how to write such a letter/email and some possible ideas for audiences. They were asked to get a start on their letter ahead of time so they could spend their 10-minute shift finishing it up, addressing the envelope or finding the right email address and sending it off."

The goal was set at 80 letters because 10 is the maximum number of students and staff that could be gathered at one time in the media center due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, McCarthy said.

"With six different shifts and 10 spots per shift, we were hoping to have 60 folks move through over the course of an hour," he said.

That goal wasn't reached, but more than 20 students and staff members participated, some writing multiple letters, so that by the hour's end, about 40 missives had been written, McCarthy said.

Participants could choose to write an email or a handwritten note, he said.

"Each student or staff member made their own choice about their audience," McCarthy said. "Some of the letters are headed to local officials in Columbus, some to folks at the state level, some to specific leaders in Kenosha and Minneapolis."

Emails were sent on the day of the event while handwritten letters were mailed the following morning, he said.

Stanley chose to write her letter to Kenosha police Chief Daniel Miskins.

Her message to the chief included asking him to reflect on why there seems to be a racism problem in law enforcement and why it is important to address the issue, she said.

Since its formation, the Anti-Racism Collective has stayed active "by continuing to amplify Black voices" through the group's Instagram account and hosting virtual discussions around specific articles and films, McCarthy said.

"We will continue to gather virtually or otherwise to learn and educate," he said.

Similar events to the letter-writing project will be held, including a potential project to challenge students to make phone calls to representatives, McCarthy said.

Some student-led work also is occurring at the high school through a social-justice independent study, he said.

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