Central Bucks South hosts social justice summit
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Central Bucks South High School hosted a social justice summit Jan. 15 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of equality. The summit ran from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and was open to all students in grades 7 to 12.
The event was sponsored by organizations including the Bristol Township School District, Bucks County Commissioners, Bucks County Jewish Coalition, Centennial School District, Central Bucks School District, CB Cares Educational Foundation, Jack and Jill Chapter of Bucks County (a nationwide community service group), the Peace Center, Pearl Buck International (a charity focusing on educating children), Second Baptist Church of Doylestown, and Temple Judea of Bucks County.
Central Bucks West junior, Humna Rub, stated that she attended the summit because she was interested in “learning different perspectives” other than her own and “would love to have more honest dialogue with everyone.”
Pastor Robert Hamlin of the Second Baptist Church was one of the summit’s guest speakers. During his speech, Hamlin spoke about King’s legacy and celebrating equality, freedom, and justice through peaceful protests.
“The holiday is an occasion of thanksgiving, for unselfishness, and rededicating ourselves to the causes for which he stood and for which he died,” Hamlin stated in his speech.
Kristie King, former leader of the Bucks County Jack and Jill Chapter, also spoke at the event. “What today is about is how we can become better citizens, how we can become more caring, more enlightened, more sensitive, more brave, and more courageous,” Kristie King said. “Our charge for you today is for you to open your minds, is to open your hearts…is to really leave here more brave, leave here more courageous, and to leave here with the tools you need to stand up, to step up, to say something, and to do something.”
Two students also took the stage to share their experiences with racism in school. The first student to speak was Rose Harmon, a senior at Truman High School. Harmon attended the summit last year as well.
She shared with the audience the story of her grandmother, who raised her and taught her about her culture as a Liberian. Harmon touched on the importance of education, stereotypes surrounding black people and more specifically around black women.
“We are described as loud, ghetto, and aggressive,” Harmon said. “I want the world to see me as my own person, not who they think I am.”
Harmon voiced her frustration with ignorance regarding African society and people and the liberal usage of the n-word. She stated that it was “a word for slaves” and felt that it should not be used in a joking manner.
The second student to speak was Jayla Johnson, a junior at Council Rock North and president of the school’s equality club, VOICE.
Johnson delivered a speech about a racist incident that occurred during spirit week. Two students approached her and asked how she would feel if they wore the Confederate flag and Klu Klux Klan attire on Pride Day. Johnson took the incident to the grade principal, whom she spoke with later in the day. The student was permitted to wear the Confederate flag because of the first amendment, The Central Bucks Superintendent John Kopicki spoke briefly, giving his thanks to those who sponsored the event. “I appreciate all of your efforts,” he said. “Many things went on behind the scenes to pull this off.”
The final guest speaker was Doctor Joseph Davis, a former teacher and administrator from North Carolina and current administrator working in Ferguson, Misouri. Doctor Davis graduated from Harvard University.
“I was invited to speak by Superintendent Kopicki who is a personal friend,” Doctor Davis told The Playwickian. “To see so many students on a Sunday was awesome!”
“I appreciate this community coming together and doing what you did today,” Doctor Davis stated in his speech. “I think it’s noteworthy that people who have the authority to… have the conversations about race… As a country we don’t do a great job talking about race, we run from it often.”
Doctor Davis continued his speech, focusing on “unity in the community” and his personal journey of self discovery and how race factored into it. Doctor Davis stated that identity should go beyond demographics and that everyone should make an effort to consider the experiences of those who are different from them.
Doctor Davis told the Playwickian that he hoped students would gain “a deeper commitment to become justice champions and equity warriors.”
The summit was eye-opening for some students. “I learned that many people my age are not aware of current issues,” Rub said after the summit ended. “When I shared examples of discriminatory things people have said to me, they were surprised and didn’t know that I as a Muslim was discriminated against.”
Summit Facilitator Laura Lomax has been involved with the social justice summit for three years and was invited by Barbara Simmons of the Peace Center.
“The main takeaway would be empowering students to recognize and address discrimination, based on race, sexual orientation, gender, age, able-ness,” Lomax told The Playwickian.
Martin Luther King Jr. had significant impact on Lomax. “I grew up in the 60s and Martin Luther King Jr. was a key leaders of the African American Community as well as an anti-war (Vietnam) activist,” she said in an email interview with the Playwickian. “His concept of the beloved community and non-violence, where all cultures peacefully co-existed and forgiveness was the cornerstone. As an African American who grew up in the 60s, I have been very affected by race. I also grew up in a very non-diverse area of Bucks County. Race has been something I thought about and continue to think about daily. 40+ years after my teen years in Bucks County, my teen nieces and nephews are experiencing the same bigotry as I did. The important thing to not, however, is that not all ‘others’ are bad, or racist, or hateful. We should make sure before we react that we discover who we are interacting with, not assume.”
“It has caused me to see the ways in which too many people have allowed race to divide us rather than unite,” Doctor Davis said in regards to his experiences with race. “ As a black man I have experienced prejudices by people in authority. Not having access to advanced classes while in high school had a huge impact on my preparation for college. This problem persists and we all have to be willing to bring attention to it and take action… we all have a responsibility to speak up whenever and wherever injustices appear. The moral Arc of America is long and I believe, like Dr. King, that it bends toward justice.”