Creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for students, staff and teachers is essential. Schools should exist to serve all students regardless of race and gender.
Being Black at predominantly White schools my whole childhood negatively affected me. Being the only Black person or even the only Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) student in the classroom made me feel alone in a way. Rarely seeing teachers and other students that looked like me made me think, why do I have to be so different?
Going to Franklin changed that for me; seeing that there were all kinds of affinity groups like the Black Student Union (BSU) and clubs for other minority groups was something completely new to me. Having a Black principal is special. Chris Frazier, the Principal of Franklin, explains that “[having a Black principal] gives our community an additional perspective and gives our students a possibility to have a leader that looks like them.” He says, “Franklin has had African-American or Black principals and I am honored to be sitting in this room as well.”
Being heard and listened to is something I didn’t experience until I came to Franklin. The school is a Predominantly White Institution (PWI), but there is a light shone on BIPOC groups, and the diverse experiences of students are acknowledged. Before Franklin, I spent a lot of time feeling judged, not included, and always having to represent my race. Not only was I the only Black kid in my class, I would also be the only Black and Muslim student. I felt separated from my classmates. Every time the class would talk about 9/11, I could tell other students were thinking, “go look at the girl with the scarf, she must know everything about that.” I went to a school where there was barely anyone that looked like me. I had no idea how to approach the comments I would get at that age, and no one to guide me. Having an immigrant parent that didn’t know how to approach that as well meant I had to figure everything out on my own. When I finally decided to speak up in middle school, I felt unheard, and the situations that happened to me were dismissed. I went to my school’s White principal and told him about my experiences, including: the time when a student walked past me and said: “kill all the negros,” seeing the n-word being written on walls, hearing White peers say the n-word repeatedly, a student asking if I had a wig on, and a student talking about how my religion Islam was stupid and that it shouldn’t be a religion. All of these experiences occurred under White leadership.
At Franklin, where the staff is much more diverse, I feel more comfortable talking about race as well as racial issues. Representation is also very important. Keixa Bridges, Franklin counselor and BSU Advisor, says that, “I think that it’s important for all schools to have Black leadership represented, because it is very important for Black students to see people who look like them in positions of power so that they know that it’s possible.” Frazier agrees with this, explaining that “there’s this age-old adage that students will be what they see. And so we recognize that we teach who we are, in most cases, I can understand that if [students] don’t see someone in the front of the classroom that looks like them, if they’re not showing up in the curriculum, that can be a discouraging experience for some of our students.”
Charles McKinney, Franklin Student Success Advocate, says, “I would also say that diversified leadership reflects our school community and allows everyone the opportunity to be represented at the table.”
For Black staff at Franklin, being seen as a leader can be a powerful experience, especially because Franklin is a PWI. Frazier explains, “that’s something I take great deal of pride in. It’s not easy but I recognize that over time as people get to know me and trust me and our administration team, they recognize that my intention is to better the school and community. Having conversations with students and families, building a school we are all proud of, feeling respected, feeling included, and feeling welcomed.”
Franklin has also held and organized multiple events and programs specifically to amplify the voices of Black youth and their families, or to provide affinity spaces. Franklin Talks began last year, which consisted of four school-wide conversations about race and racism held in second-period classes. Frazier describes Franklin Talks as “the opportunity for us as a whole school to, four times a year, have conversations about race.” That is why Franklin Talks exists, so that conversations can happen if they are not already happening at home. So that people can hear each other’s perspectives and learn new things. It could be the next step to turning racial topics into a normal conversation. “What we’ve really tried to do behind the scenes is advocating for more affinity partners that are coming into the building and working with our students and families of color,” explains Frazier. “So we’ve got the I AM Academy, we’ve got the youth empowerment program [both which] do some very specific affinity work for our students,” adds Frazier. Another event specifically for Black students and families was Black Family Night, which happened last year. “We were able to invite our Black families to come together and there were raffles and just a lot of good information that was provided to our families and students with regards to the resources and supports that are available,” says Frazier. He goes on to explain that “sometimes families don’t get that [information], it is not in the newsletter in some cases, and they don’t know, so I wanted to be very intentional about ‘this is a space for you, come get some information for the benefit of your students.’”
Throughout his time at Franklin, Frazier has emphasized supporting students of color and will continue to do so. “[We’ve] been intentional with how we are supporting our students of color in terms of our hiring decisions, in terms of our curriculum, in terms of the opportunities that we’re trying to provide so that they feel that this is their school and [their] families feel the exact same way.”
Having people that you can talk to about problems and topics which they can relate to makes people feel more comfortable. Franklin should be a community where you feel welcomed and supported and where you’re being listened to. Continuing to have Black leadership is a must if Franklin strives to be a comfortable and positive community for all.