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Bath, ME (December 29, 2020) – Over the front door of Morse High School (MHS) is the “Welcome to 826 High Street” banner which promises that “every person, from every perspective and background, is welcomed in Our House.” The statement of inclusion is more than just words, however. Following the observation of culturally insensitive speech and language in the school, faculty like Librarian Dawn Lee have been developing ways to educate students about race and inequality.
“We wanted to create a place to sit down, talk about difficult subjects, and have civil discourse,” said Lee. “Around that time, the ‘Read Woke’* movement was just getting started; we wanted to expand on that.”
Lee and Brenda Fagan, Library Ed. Tech, collected resources (including around 650 books on the topic of Civil Rights) and held the first open discussion with students and staff in November of 2019. Students picked books to read and discussed them at the group’s monthly meetings.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced Lee to take the group’s meetings online and prompted her to develop a more focused program this fall. The result was “Building an Anti-Racist Community,” a book discussion group which meets once a month to discuss This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell; a guidebook for taking action against racism.
“ ‘When we know better, we do better,’ ” Lee said. “That’s our focus. My personal goal was to start in the school community and then branch out so that our community can work together on social justice issues.”
Lee is already making community connections. In February (Black History Month) she is partnering with the Patten Free Library on a project which will “share stories the textbooks left out.” Participants will be asked to research, write, create and submit short video or audio clips about lesser-known Black Americans whose lives, words, and actions made a difference in the world, but went unnoticed because of their race.
“We live in a global economy,” said Lee. “We are doing our kids a disservice if we don’t try to connect them with other cultures and experiences and broaden their prospective. The thing I like about This Book is Anti-Racist is that it’s a call to action. It asks readers, ‘How are you going to work with others to make sure everyone’s voice is heard?’ ”
Starting in the spring semester, Lee and her book discussion group will continue working with the Morse High School Civil Rights Team and SAFE (Students Advocating for Equality) group to find ways to expand the conversation about racism and other forms of prejudice beyond the bounds of their monthly meetings. In the meantime, she invites everyone, including community members, to engage in the next This Book is Anti-Racist discussion on January 13.
“What do you do, as a community, when you see something that you know is not right? What do you do to make it better?” Lee asked. “Civil discourse is the first step.”
To find out more about the Building an Anti-Racist Community book discussion group, visit https://bit.ly/StudentandStaffBookDiscussion
Photo (L-R): Teacher Suzanne Davey, Teacher Rebecca Deschaine, Library Ed. Tech Brenda Fagan, Librarian Dawn Lee, Principal Eric Varney