The City of Milpitas is home to a community that is 65% Asian or Pacific Islander, 17% Latino, 14% White, 3% mixed race, and 2% African American.1 There are over 2,500 English learners within our school district2, with a score of 53 on the Ethnic Diversity Index.3 There are also a number of services that are offered to students with varied abilities, provided by the special education teams throughout our district.4 To say that diversity is important to keep in mind when thinking about how to engage with our community as a whole would be an understatement. The reality is that we need to find ways to engage in systemic change so that our school district can provide a safe place in which the youth of our city can learn and thrive.
With recent incidents of racism and bullying occurring in the Milpitas school district, it is important to provide our community with language and tools that help to turn the negative experiences of our young people into opportunities for learning and growth for all. For the evening of December 11th, the Milpitas Community Educational Endowment5 and The Milpitas Beat asked me to co-host a Community Conversation to engage people in their personal journeys in finding their own language and identifying tools that can help them move forward from such negativity. It was an honor and a privilege to serve as co-host, and my hope is that this was just the beginning of our community’s journey toward greater efforts to achieve equity and inclusion for all Milpitas residents.
The evening began with a land acknowledgement6, to recognize that Milpitas was built on the land of the indigenous people of the Ohlone and Tamyen tribes. I also asked all of our speakers to state their pronouns7, as a way to acknowledge that each individual has a right to claim their personal identity. Community members then shared their perspectives of two specific incidents: when a Milpitas High School teacher put blackface8 on for Halloween9, and when a student with autism was being bullied by a group of classmates. Some of our speakers expressed their deep pain that resulted from each of the incidents, and explained why, even though the incidents did not happen to them directly, they were still very much affected by this type of behavior occurring in their community. Opportunities for students and families to engage in practices that foster a greater understanding of diversity and inclusion were then shared, and a robust conversation between the audience and speakers took place.
As someone who reflects on race equity, diversity, and inclusion on a daily basis, I was energized to have residents of my hometown be a part of a conversation that affects all of us. It was important for me to point out to the adults in the room that while the incidents that occurred took place at school, there are still ways for us to influence how our children perceive and handle them. I recognize that every individual is in their own stage of being able to discuss issues such as race equity and diversity, and this was just one opportunity to support those who want to build the courage to be able to engage even further in this type of personal work.
My hope for our city is that we decide as a community to take meaningful action that will help to identify and address any systemic barriers to inclusion that we are able to affect. I envision an intentional effort to engage our community leaders in their own race equity work, not just within the school district, but at the government level as well. My hope is that we also continue to have authentic and meaningful conversations as a community, so that adults can help model positive and welcoming behavior for our youth to adopt.
While I take great pride in having been a part of such an impactful community event, I know that we are barely scratching the surface when it comes to healing the scars that personal and institutionalized racism and oppression have inflicted upon the many people of color and of varied ability within our community. As the parent of a 2nd-grader, I want to be able to tell my son that his community is doing all it can to make the world a more accepting and empathetic place for him and his friends. We must not let the discussion of equity and inclusion stop with this event. Now we must take action to explore how we can work with our school district and other leaders in our community to change the system in order to create safe and supportive learning environments for all students. Join me in moving this conversation forward, so that our children can stand on our shoulders, as they are the key to building a stronger Milpitas.