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Highland Park HS Leaders Start Substantive Conversations on Social Issues

Highland Park High School Hosted Three Discussions on Issues of Race and Society
Loretta Ross
Feminist organizer Loretta Ross was one of many speakers who came to be a part of the first-ever RE:Think HP discussion series. Deven Trivedi

HIGHLAND PARK, NJ—The week of April 7 featured three nights of in-depth discussions at Highland Park High School, including talks covering a range of issues related to race, from civil and human rights to affordable housing.

The discussions were made more interesting because of the choice and involvement of competent and reputable panelists, all of whom were personally invited by student leaders at Highland Park High School such as Oscar Lee.

Each discussion was centered on a subject, ranging from education inequality to criminal justice.  And each was followed an interactive question and answer session where audience members could interact with the panelists.

The first discussion focussed on the concept of 'appropriate whiteness' and the acknowledgement of the existence of 9 universal human rights. 

Feminist organizer Loretta Ross, who made the trip from Atlanta to speak at the event, made a powerful point when she stated that an ongoing problem people are faced with is not knowing their own rights.

"It's kind of hard to fight for rightsyou don't know you have," Ross said.  "And I swear it's a conspiracy that we have human rights that we don't know about."

Ross also empowered the audience, made up of students, faculty and Highland Park residents, to continue the conversation when they got home and further educate themselves about their inalienable human rights.

On April 9, independent filmamker and journalist Raven Rakia continued the discussions and spoke about the disproportionate enforcement of some drug laws amongst low income african american and latino communities.

Rakia also put in perspective the business side of prisons, one that is dependent on a consistent flow of inmates and related funding to remain afloat and profitable.

The discussions were then focussed toward issues related to housing discrimination by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a civil rights reporter.

Hannah-Jones spoke of zoning policies that were often times in the past, racially motivated rather than based on what was best for the people of a community.

She also spoke about how the impact of multiple generations of discrimination has left many current generation African-American and Latino youth to not have 'generational family wealth' something caucasian youth more frequently has access to when they consider purchasing the first homes of their lives.

The final discussion on Friday April 11 focussed on the representation of minority characters and race on television today.

The panelists, Melanye Price and Emily Nussbaum shared their thoughts with the audience about what they saw within the many stories displayed on television and what the implications of these depictions may be for present day society.

Over the course of the week the panelists included:

  • Loretta Ross (Feminist Organizer and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective Co-Founder)
  • Raven Rakia (Freelance Journalist/Filmmaker)
  • Daniella Carter (Trans Women of Color Collective)
  • Nora Hyland (Rutgers University)
  • Dan Battey (Rutgers University)
  • Nikole Hannah-Jones (ProPublica Civil Rights Reporter)
  • Melanye Price (Rutgers University)
  • Emily Nussbaum (New Yorker Television Critic)

The events were also made possible through the help of HPHS teachers such as the group’s advisor Adam Gold.

More information about RE:Think HP is available online at www.rethinkhp.com.