CENTREVILLE — The Queen Anne’s County “Sunday Supper” series, discussions on race relations within the county, continued with the eighth gathering of invited guests. The mission statement is: “To promote understanding of racial issues and strengthen relationships in order to make Queen Anne’s County a more loving and compassionate community.”
This most recent supper met at the Kennard African American Cultural Heritage Center and Museum in Centreville. The center was the former location of segregated Kennard High School, the only all-African American high school in the county until it closed in 1967 with the opening of Queen Anne’s County High School, which integrated the county’s public schools. The former school was recently renovated through efforts of its alumni association and rededicated as a cultural center and local African American history museum.
The evening opened with 12 tables with assigned seating set for dinners to be served. All tables were seated with people of different racial backgrounds, ages and professions, all bringing a varied group of life experiences to share at their tables.
Before discussions began, program co-chairs, longtime county educators Janet Pauls and Brad Engel, welcomed the nearly 100 guests. Pauls said a student participant that evening asked her, “What has changed in the county since the suppers started?” She and Engel both indicated that they felt some things have changed for the better — some awareness of the issues and needs among several different racial groups within the county — and some things have not changed — a more broader cross-section of people within the county should be invited to participate in future supper discussions.
They introduced Queen Anne’s Deputy Superintendent of Schools Greg Pilewski to speak on the topic “Looking at Our Schools through the Lens of Equity.” Pilewski spoke very briefly, but assured everyone, “QACPS has been totally focused on providing equity to all students in the county schools.”
Equity and equality are different. Taken from a published statement from the Interaction Institute for Social Change, it says: “Equality suggests providing every student with the same experience, Equity means working to overcome the historical legacy of discrimination, marginalization, and under-investment that disadvantages specific groups of people, especially defined by race. Equity requires providing support tailored to the specific needs of students. Equity in education demands that we hold the same high expectations for all students, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic background.”
The introductory activity for everyone was to watch a video that showed how people reacted to a young African American male teenager coming into a small inner city store to buy groceries for his sick mother. The owner of the store, of Asian racial background, seemed suspicious of the teen, as if he expects the young man to attempt to steal something and run from the store. Also in the store, an elderly caucasian lady, who also seemed to be alarmed by the teenager. As it turned out, when the teenager came to the counter and paid for his selections, the senior lady was seen shoplifting some item by placing it undetected into her large purse.
The impressions from the video was that in a large society we never know what goes on in people’s private lives and should not judge people by stereotypes. Each table was asked to discuss their impressions of the meaning of the video as the introduction to the this Sunday Supper program.
In later discussions, the question was asked, “What have you noticed in schools in your immediate areas that have gotten your attention?”
An African American woman responded, “In all the schools in our county that I’ve visited, I’ve notice that no one in those schools front offices looks like me.” The point she was making was that the schools didn’t seem to be making an effort to be inclusive of different racial groups as first impressions when going into schools.
Everyone who participated appeared engaged in wanting communicate at each table. All of the tables being in the same large room, it made it difficult to hear the people siting at the same table, and in some cases, sitting right next to you. People had to raise their voices to be heard. There was a lot of enthusiasm to communicate personal experiences.
During the followup to the round table discussions, it was suggested that in continuing with future Sunday Supper discussions on race in Queen Anne’s County people should move to smaller rooms after dinner to have their discussions so they could hear one another. One person complained the same people kept coming. Different people within the county need to be invited to attend, the group said.
In previous supper discussions around the county, different groups, such as law enforcement with county teens have been invited together, local religious leaders with residents, Hispanic groups within the county, and this most recent meeting was the third time county educators and students were invited to meet with local residents.
The next Sunday Supper is planned for Nov. 10 at Kennard African American Cultural Heritage Center and Museum. The business community will be invited.