The Dialogue on Race Summer Summit hosted around 200 community members at Nellie’s Cave Park in Blacksburg on Saturday.
The Summit happens twice a year and is organized as a way to address racial situations in the area. With people of color making up around four percent of Montgomery County’s population, the gatherings are a way to promote peace and discuss difficulties facing these residents in today’s environment.
There were a large number of newcomers to the event, and seating filled up fast. However, there was plenty of food prepared by guests to keep the crowd full and ready for discussion. This gives the event a more welcoming vibe, as if the crowd were simply at a summer cookout at a friend’s house.
Each summit has a different topic; this one asking questions of what it is like to be a minority in Montgomery County’s public schools. Around 20 school officials were in attendance, from Superintendent Mark Miear to different teachers in the MCPS system.
The goal of theses discussions is said to be for improvement and change in Montgomery County. Residents of all walks of life came out to discuss the future of race relations in MCPS. Students, parents and community members prepared to discuss tough subjects such as African American student data on academic achievement, discipline and their own experiences.
This year’s event focused on issues of interest in public education such as discipline bias, achievement gaps and the scarcity of black teachers and administrators.
The forum also included a viewing of a new teacher recruitment video created by local high school students. In the video, students express their thoughts about the need for more African American teachers.
“One of the main things that we have done this year is to shift our focus to specifically target our recruiting toward minority candidates,” Annie Whitaker, the HR rep for MCPS, said. “We felt that it would be very powerful for candidates to hear from our students in the video and why they wanted to see teachers that look like themselves in their schools.”
Whitaker took the video on the road and showed it to the state superintendent office, which saw the value in the work and said that these efforts needed to be replicated on a statewide basis.
“The things we’ve been doing recently are to take the temperature of African American relations today,” Julie Dunsmore, an associate professor of psychology at Virginia Tech, said.
This year Virginia Tech partnered with the program to do various studies on race and psychological impact, specifically the psychology of diversity.
Following this, the crowd was broken up into groups to discuss a variety of topics in a smaller think tank. One of which was chaired by Warren Reid, who led the discussion on law enforcement. The group was broken into three groups, looking at racial profiling, racial makeup of the police personnel and police community relations.
Reid has been working to determine the instances of racial profiling in the community for a few years now and said that the local police departments have been more than willing to do whatever they can to assist in the effort. Currently, data is being collected to see if the disparities are correlated with African Americans in the area.
“When we look at data and see disparities, we can’t automatically assume that it is a result of racial profiling,” Reid said. “However, we are collecting data to determine that. We are the only county in the state to collect data on all police stops.”
The Dialogue on Race is a forum that uses all of the work and studies collected to determine the state of racial matters in the community and apply new knowledge to the situation. The next Dialogue on Race summit will be held in January of 2018.