STARR: Students Talking About Race & Racism

STARR: Students Talking About Race & Racism

August 15, 2020
Category: Program
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A group of multiethnic students in a classroom wearing masks while smiling and communicating with each other.

This summer, the COVID-19 pandemic made our regular youth programming impossible. NCCJ had to cancel both planned ANYTOWN 2020 sessions even as the nationwide protests and conversations about policing and systemic racism made it vitally important for young people to have opportunities to come together, process their feelings, and learn how they can take action to make a difference.

To address this need, we created STARR: Students Talking About Race + Racism, a brand-new, 3-day program for high school students.  STARR is a hybrid (part virtual, part in-person but physically distanced) program that provides students with a safe space to ask questions about race and racism without fear of judgment.

We piloted STARR in July, in partnership with the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. Students learned about the pivotal role Greensboro and High Point played in the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, and how longstanding racial injustices affect them and their communities today.

Participants held conversations around the history of race and racism in the United States and how the systems created centuries ago continue to impact our day to day. They discussed privilege and the different ways it manifests in our lives. We held space for self-reflection through a variety of writing exercises to think about our own identity and place in this world. We inaugurated new programs on cultural appropriation, micro-aggressions and activism and even were able to fit in a visit to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in downtown Greensboro to learn about Greensboro’s role and history within the civil rights movement. These three days were intense and packed with information but productive and empowering for both the participants and staff volunteers.

“I realized that us young adults really do have the power to change things.”

Sachi was introduced to NCCJ virtually in April, when we began offering virtual youth programs in the weeks following the stay-at-home orders. “NCCJ makes me feel like my ideas matter,” she says. “The first program I attended back in spring was the Digital Teen Hangout. I didn’t know anyone there, but I got to share my ideas and I felt cared for.”  Sachi is now a regular at our monthly Ambassador meetings, and last month she joined us for STARR.

Here’s what these STARR participants had to say about the experience:

“What I’m going to take away is that there’s multiple perspectives to everything and I’m going to try to remember that.”

“This camp really improved my people skills and my ability to listen to others and their opinions. I’m going to take that wherever I go and I really appreciate it.”

“I feel like I have more tools to be a better ally to people of color and to better educate the people around me, like my family and friends, as well.”

“I realized that us young adults really do have the power to change things.”

Planting seeds for a more inclusive and equitable future

The impact of programs like STARR is not always immediately visible.

In the short-term, we often notice “light bulbs” going off in the room as students engage in difficult conversations.

Over time, we also see the seeds planted by programs like STARR begin to sprout.

In fact, STARR was co-designed by NCCJ’s program staff and volunteers who attended ANYTOWN as teen delegates themselves, anywhere from 21 to 9 years ago, and who have continued in their own social justice journeys and stayed involved with NCCJ over the years.

At the end of our time together at STARR, each student was given a rosemary plant to take home.

Kelly Dawson (ANYTOWN ’97) told our STARR program participants that “much like a plant, you must take care and water your social justice journey. This journey is neither linear nor easy, it takes time and attention and if left forgotten, it will begin to dry and wilt, much like a plant does when neglected.”

What’s next?

Despite the challenges posed by this pandemic, NCCJ continues to carry out our mission of fighting bias, bigotry and racism and building more compassionate communities. We look forward to a time when we will be able to safely convene ANYTOWN again, but in the meantime we’re committed to helping teens feel less isolated and more connected by giving them judgment-free spaces where they can be themselves and feel seen, accepted, and valued.

Interested in NCCJ’s youth programs for yourself, your teen, or your organization? Let’s talk! Email us today, or call 336-272-0359.