People often don’t want to talk about racism and discrimination, especially with kids. But some have to talk about it anyway, early and often, because it impacts them directly. Others think their kids might not notice color, that it will sort itself out or maybe racism isn’t really happening here much anyway.
Paige Green, who is white-identified, has long been concerned with these topics. But other parts of her life, including kids and work, ended up taking precedence. Then, earlier this year, she kept hearing local students of color telling their personal experiences with racism and bias in our town. Consequently, she and a diverse group of community members with the same concerns decided to take personal action. Building on the previous work of other organizations focusing on diversity and equality, they began the Team for Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity (TIDE). Their aim is to have a chapter of TIDE in every city school in Petaluma.
“At the Women’s March in January organized by Indivisible Petaluma and North Bay Organizing Project, I heard students talk about the hardship of being a person of color in Petaluma,” she says. “Then I heard more stories at the Bias and Inclusion Forum, held by the Petaluma Community Relations Council at the Petaluma Library. I’d always been concerned about this in our town, and hearing these stories was heartbreaking and affected me.”
Fourteen people from five Petaluma schools attended the first meeting. Three attendees spoke Spanish as a first language, and all attendees were women. They decided together to call the group TIDE.
The goal is to have a TIDE chapter in every school and a city-wide All-TIDE group. At All-TIDE, representatives from each school meet once a month to share updates. Currently, there are TIDE chapters at McNear Elementary, Grant Elementary, Live Oak Charter School, McKinley School and Mary Collins School at Cherry Valley. A chapter at Valley Vista Elementary School is also underway.
The first thing organizers did was talk with the principals of their own kids’ schools.
“Having the principal on board helps a lot,” Green says.
They met with teachers, hosting a lunch and listening to their perspectives. And they reached out to the wider school community with events and a survey. To achieve maximum participation, the survey was available online or on paper, in English and Spanish, and could be completed and returned anonymously.
The results informed a decision to have public diversity training and focus specifically on school librarians.
“Librarians are a good doorway into schools since books are a great way to have some of these conversations,” Green explains.
TIDE held their first series of four sliding-scale public diversity awareness trainings this past fall. They were free for teachers and school staff.
“We expected 28 people at the first training and 40 showed up. Overall we’ve trained upwards of 70 people so far,” Green says.
The group is currently forming an advisory board with representation and inclusivity from all sectors of the community and is in partnership with North Bay Organizing Project, Amor Para Todos, Petaluma Blacks for Community Development and Community Health Initiative of the Petaluma Area (CHIPA). Petaluma People Services is the fiscal sponsor.
Additionally, TIDE is funding the diversity training component featuring Tara Fleming, an anti-bias educator and facilitator, at Casa Grande High’s spring professional development day.
“Hopefully through these various things we’re building trust—it’s all about relationship building, and we know we have lots of different opinions,” Green says. “Our goal is to create safe and welcoming environments at our schools, so all of our children can thrive. One thing that really motivated me is that the Sonoma County Human Rights Junior Commission did a poll of high school kids across Sonoma county, asking: Do you feel safe and have you experienced racism? The results looked OK at first, then when they took out all the white respondents, 100 percent of students of color had experienced racism and discrimination of some kind.”
Kids at Kenilworth Junior High this past year displayed White Power hand signs in their basketball yearbook photo. A student at Casa Grande High reported in the Junior Commission poll that people wore “Go Back to Mexico” shirts to school and chanted that phrase in the quad.
While there is certainly still racist behavior, many are just unaware.
“Training in diversity awareness is the most needed now,” Green says. “The teachers and administrators in our districts are mostly white. It’s hard to be a diversity advocate and make sure you aren’t missing something if you aren’t aware. Through this process, we will also hopefully create a safe and welcoming environment at our schools.”