Racism, a hot topic in the school committee debate

LOWELL – As was the case with city council candidates in general on Monday, racism as a public health crisis was again a hot topic during the school committee’s first debate on Friday.

General School Committee candidates Mike Dillon, Jackie Doherty and Connie Martin, all incumbents, and Jim Peters, along with District 1 candidates, Ben Opara and Stacey Thompson, participated in the debate sponsored by LTC, The Sun, Lowell Votes and KhmerPost USA.

The question was first put to Dillon, who said he didn’t believe racism was a public health crisis. He was one of the school committee members who voted against the resolution presented by Doherty and Martin last year to declare such, which the committee approved 4-3. Dillon called it “strictly a political show” and said he didn’t believe anything came out of the vote.

Dillon said he believes opioid addiction, which “kills people every day,” deserves to be called a crisis more than racism. He said the definition of racism has changed so that “everything is racism now”.

“Racism is really a thought in someone’s head that the color of their skin makes them superior to people with a different skin color, and I don’t think there is much going on in Lowell as much as the people claim it, ”Dillon said. .

All of the other candidates have said they think racism is a public health crisis.

Thompson said she knows it’s true because she’s experiencing it, and there is scientific evidence to show how it affects people of color like her.

“So it’s hard to hear when someone would quantify opioid addiction as a seizure, or homelessness as a seizure – which I’ve been through, okay – but they don’t quantify my lived experience when I walk. in Merrimack Street and somebody yell at me the N word at me, and then I have to go to work, be friendly and frugal, and I have this weight on me and this knot in my stomach all day, ”said Thompson.

Opara commended the school committee for passing the resolution declaring racism a public health crisis and recognizing that it is an issue that needs to be looked at holistically. He said when the city council rejected his resolution, “it was perhaps the saddest evening of my life in a long time.”

He said racism is often not understood by those who don’t.

“So what we urge people to do is not to get defensive, but rather to listen. Listen, ”Opara said. “You have two ears and one mouth, so listen more and talk less. “

Martin said any conversation about racism revolves around an element of power that disadvantages people of color, minorities and entire groups, especially in healthcare and education. She said it’s important to recognize that the school district has systemic issues like any other district in the country.

“I think the difference we can make here at Lowell is being able to look at these issues with clarity and really do the important work that comes with recognizing that there is a problem, because every time we dismiss a problem under the mat is always going to come back 10 times worse, ”said Martin. “It takes real courage, I think, to be able to see it as a problem, to recognize the role we can play in it and to be able to work together to find real solutions for our students and our families here in the city. “

Doherty said in July she had tabled a motion calling for a report on the school department’s efforts to provide a more inclusive curriculum in the city, and it’s an important part in the work to reverse discriminatory practices. in place for centuries across the country. She said many people are learning about the civil rights movement and think it is all a thing of the past, but many are learning more and more that racism is alive and well in many ways.

“You have to look outside your own circle of experience to be open to understanding that for me the national health crisis is not necessarily that hateful and overtly racist person who shouts a comment or treats someone disrespectfully.” , Doherty said. “These are people like me who feel that we are not racist, we are trying to live together in peace and move forward, but are unwilling to recognize that there are issues and systematic issues that keep a group at bay. ground while favoring another group. “

Peters said that at one point he had two families in Lowell and a tenant, who was black, asked if she could manage the property for him, and he agreed.

“That night a man crossed the street as I stood there, watching her, crossed the street with a fire canister and said he was going to use it on my house,” said Peters. “And the next night the man came in with a brick and threw it out the window. We are not above racism in Lowell.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed, and it will require everyone to work together as a group, he said.

Two debates remain in the series. The school committee candidates for Districts 2, 3 and 4 will be in place on October 8 and the city council candidates for Districts 5, 6 and 7 will be in place on October 14, both at 6 p.m.

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