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Friday, February 2, 2018

Civil Rights Team begins “No Name Calling Week” with an all school assembly by Lorraine Glowczak

The Civil Rights Team at Jordan-Small Middle School (JSMS) designated the week of January 29 to February 2 as “No Name Calling Week.”

As a way to begin and introduce the program, the team invited Brandon Baldwin, Program Manager of the Civil Rights Team Project headed by the Maine Attorney General’s office, to present an all school assembly on Monday, January 29 at 1 p.m. 

The JSMS Civil Rights Team with Brandon Baldwin
The 45-minute presentation was entitled, “The Power of Words” with a focus on bias-based language.
After a brief introduction by Principal Randy Crockett, Baldwin first explained that bias-based language includes insults that are offensive and include hurtful words and phrases. They also include expressions that demean or exclude people because of age, sex, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, social class or certain physical or mental traits.
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Baldwin began his presentation with a personal story to show how words can affect people deeply and why it is inappropriate.

“When I was in the fifth grade, I was growing quickly and had out grown my winter coat,” Baldwin began. “My mom took me shopping and I found the perfect coat. It was a red, puffy, White Stag
brand coat and I loved it. Not only was red my favorite color, but I loved the white stag pendant which hung at the bottom of my zipper. I couldn’t wait for the first cold day so that I could wear it.”

The cold day finally came and he was proud of that red, puffy coat as he stepped onto the bus. But his excitement was soon destroyed. “When I sat down with my older brother’s friends, one of them said to me, ‘That coat is so gay.’”

Baldwin never wore that coat again. Ever. That is how powerful one word or one sentence can affect an individual. “I remember feeling horrible and never wanted to be seen in it again,” Baldwin said of that childhood moment.

As an adult looking back, he shared insights on the many ways a word that gives a sexual orientation to describe an inanimate object was inappropriate then and still is today. 

He continued with his presentation that included a poem by an African American poet, Countee Cullen who is famous for the following poem, entitled, “Incident.”

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, 'Nigger.'
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.

Baldwin pointed out that in the seven months eight-year-old Cullen visited Baltimore, where he had many experiences, it was that one bias-based insult that he carried with him for the rest of his life. “This is how words can be powerful and damaging,” explained Baldwin.

Baldwin also explained that not only are these insults hurtful and long lasting, but they are against RSU14’s harassment policy.

The students listened quietly throughout the presentation and appeared to absorb the important message that was the week’s focus.

Laura Kulaw, who goes by LK, is the JSMS Civil Rights Team Advisor and Health Teacher stated that the students seemed very happy with the presentation. “They personally approached Brandon after the assembly and thanked him!” she said. 
The Civil Rights Team (CRT), which began as an organization last year, has already created many events to build awareness and education around this important issue.

“The team created a ‘Mix It Up’ at lunch day where students were encouraged to sit with students they didn't know very well and get to know them better,” stated LK. “I gave them suggested topics to talk about such as, if you had one super power what would it be and why, what is your favorite season, favorite sports team, an accomplishment they were proud of, etc. We also highlight Black History Month, Women's History Month and Native American Heritage Month by displaying accomplishments of these groups around the school. Last year we also had a Day of Silence event where students took a vow of silence to represent LGBT students who were silent because of bias related harassment, bullying and stigma. The CRT made rainbow ribbons for their classmates to wear in solidarity.”

The team members, who meet every Wednesday at 2:15 p.m., include Cameron Landry, Stella Feenstra, Addison Starcher, Brianna Streaky, Vanessa Berry, Fiona Harmon, Katei Cockfield and Mackenzie Gervais. Parents are welcomed to join the group or be involved with the team in many ways. If interested, one can contact LK at lkulaw@windhamraymondschools.org. 

As for the team itself, it is “a group of kind, committed students who really care about making the school a warm, safe and welcoming place for everyone,” began LK. “They are dedicated to highlighting how to make the school community a place they can be proud of! I know without a doubt that I am super proud of them!”

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