Community Leaders Encourage Incoming RBR Freshmen Class to Promote Racial Harmony
During the month of July, The Red Bank Regional (RBR) High School building is busy with myriad of educational programming to better prepare its students for September. The largest group, Summer Slam saw 110 students in attendance for four weeks to aid their transition to the academic rigors of high school. The SOURCE, which operates Summer Slam, endeavors to make the program fun and interesting by infusing academics (which includes Math, English, Science and Global Studies) with special programming or events like this year’s athletic challenge, team-building skills (conducted by the YMCA Camp Zehnder in Wall Township) as well as visits from influential community members.
This summer’s guest speaker was educator, author and community activist Gilda Rogers of Red Bank who visited the students twice during Summer Slam. On her first visit, she introduced the students to her on-going project to renovate the historic T Thomas Fortune House in Red Bank; she returned the next day to discuss ways students could combat racism. Accompanying Gilda for that second meeting was Sid Bernstein with whom she cofounded the group Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society (CDOS).
The two programs dovetailed well as one of the action items of (CDOS) is to engage young people in diversity through the arts including visiting museums and landmarks. (The overall mission of CDOS is to encourage better race relations within the community by sharing personal experiences in a respectful, non-threatening and non-judgmental environment.)
T Thomas Fortune was born a slave in 19th century America and rose to become an accomplished orator, civil rights leader, journalist, writer, editor and publisher. He settled in Red Bank in 1901. His home was declared a national landmark in 1976. Over the past few years, Ms. Rogers has led an effort to renovate the house into a community cultural center and museum.
Ms. Rogers states, “This is a special place in their community that students should know about and a place they can come and visit to see living history, as well as learn the importance of social justice for all people.”
She also foresees holding art exhibits for students which will culminate in a permanent exhibition.
When she returned with Mr. Bernstein to visit the freshmen, they explained the genesis of the group they co-founded in November of 2014 as a response to the outrage experienced throughout the country regarding the publicized deaths of young black people by law enforcement.
She told the students, “Mr. Bernstein approached me to explore what we could do to prevent this from happening in our community.”
They hoped to seek common unity by providing a forum in “an atmosphere where people feel and know they are among friends, to encourage everyone to seek closer relationships through dialogue and understanding the other person’s deepest fears and thoughts.” The group meets at the Pilgrim Baptist Church every third Thursday. The public is invited to attend.
Sid Bernstein, a retired Red Bank business owner, told the children about his earliest experiences with racial discrimination from the time his best friend and he couldn’t visit the same beach together or sit together in Red Bank’s movie theatres because of forced segregation.
“Today,” he told the students, “We no longer have force segregation, but instead in many ways we have voluntary segregation. That is the barrier to achieving true integration— shared life experiences.”
The two distributed questionnaires to the students eliciting their thoughts on prejudice, racism and cultural diversity. They engaged the students in dialogue and asked what they thought could be done to improve race relations in society. They then encouraged the students to start a chapter of Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society in Red Bank Regional High School to seek that same understanding in a school composed of a diverse population.
SOURCE Director Suzanne Keller comments, “Our students were very attentive to their presentation and over 40 signed up to be part of an RBR version of CDOS called, Students for a Diverse and Open Society under the direction of the SOURCE.”
Yocelin Lopez, one of the students who volunteered to join the group, stated, “It is a good idea because, although people are different, we are all the same human beings and it’s a good idea to all talk about it.”
Her peer, April Varcela added, “It is a good idea to form a group in school, because other people get to see others’ points of view having different friends from different races. Some people are treated differently because of their races.”
Gilda Rogers recalled of the discussion, “Several students explained that they were from small, schools where the great majority was white. They explained that they chose to come to RBR specifically because they wanted to be around other people of different races and ethnicities. I think that is very profound.”
Summer Slam student Zuri Montesir, commented, “I think we can really impact this generation and change the way people think today.”Anyone wishing to learn more about the Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society can contact the organization at: CitizensForADiverseSociety@gmail.com ; Phone: 732.687.4944.