Working together for a change

Student leaders from area schools meet to discuss the topic of race


Missy Griffith

Participants of the Race Summit hold up hearts with each other, demonstrating unity

Ashley Meyer, Spotlight Editor

Student leaders from fourteen different St. Louis area schools came together for the first annual Student Summit on Race on January 15, where they were given an opportunity to speak up and out about the topic of race.

These fourteen schools each had eight school leaders and two sponsors representing them. Most student leaders were chosen by their sponsors based upon how passionate they were about the topic, as well as how willing they thought they would be to offer suggestions and do the leg work to make the suggestions become realities.

This summit was put together by Education Plus, and led by their Director of Learning and Career Advancement, Drew Schwartz. Beginning the event, Schwartz and youth motivational speaker Koran Bolden gave an introduction to the day and kept everything upbeat, while reminding students that they would be dealing with a serious topic.

“After the situations in Ferguson, we saw an opportunity to allow students to bring solutions to the table. Instead of us as adults being the role models, we wanted to flip the script and see the latent potential that students would have and give voice to them with a space to be able to offer solutions,” Schwartz said.

The committee’s number one goal for the day was to help students feel empowered by giving them access to a forum where they could be heard.

“Students now have a reason to be heard, a reason to speak out, and a way to get involved in something that is bigger than ourselves in a collaborative effort,” Bolden said. “Today is a day sparking a movement that I am pretty sure will go far.”

Race Summit committee member Tami Bopp began with an icebreaker that had the students identify their leadership skills based on an animal. The students wrote down these animal’s characteristics and then worked together in those leadership groups to begin their discussion for the day, led by educational leader Dr. Charles Pearson.

Pearson asked the students to come into the event with four agreements of courageous conversation that they should keep in mind for the day. These agreements were to “stay engaged,” “speak your truth,” “experience discomfort,” and “expect and accept non-closure.”

Students first spent time thinking individually, then with their school groups, and finally with the groups they were put in based on their leadership animals about their personal definitions and feeling on the terms race, racism, and racist.

After the icebreaker, Bolden challenged student leaders to individually illustrate the current reality of race relations in St. Louis to help identify their starting point. From there, Schwartz had them write down and draw their visions for what they want their ideal St. Louis to be and look like. Student leaders took time to write down different barriers they might face and how they might overcome them.

Working in groups again, students turned their ideas into a three-minute presentation where they described their solutions for a better St. Louis. Some groups of students chose to do the presentations of their ideas with other schools, while others chose to work just with their own.

“When the students said ‘can we join with another school?’ that was a pivotal moment for me. That was a game changer because it exemplified student voice. Not only did we provide an opportunity, but students actually changed the idea we originally had,” Pearson said.

After hearing the student presentations, committee members comprised a list of common themes all of their suggestions included. The student leaders voted and the winning theme they would focus on in all of the school’s was the idea to create sister schools and school exchange programs.

To end the day, each school created an action plan that they would start and follow for the next month. These student leaders and committee members will meet again February 25 to discuss their progress.

“I feel like it was very interesting, we had to think for a long time to figure out what we wanted to do, it was very beneficial and we are going to keep working hard to get it done,” senior Racquel Addison said.