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Anti-racism workshop takes aim at issues facing the country

Thurmond at anti-racism training eventFrederick News Post link to article

February 11, 2017

The game starts with a deck of cards.

The people sit at the tables silently memorizing individual sheets of instructions as the dealer shuffles the deck and begins dealing. By the fourth pass around the table, the dealer runs out of cards and the last two people at the table are left short.

The person next to the dealer throws down a card. The next follows and so forth around the table until everyone has thrown a card into the middle of the table.

Then, eyes glance up across the table at who each person thinks is the obvious winner waiting for him or her to take the pile of cards, but no one moves. It gets uncomfortable until finally someone, confused, takes the cards.

As the game moves on, people get bolder. Taking piles the person next to them knows they did not win.

This is what life is like, because everyone is playing by a different set of rules.

An anti-racism training workshop hosted by the Frederick County Human Relations Commission, Thurmont Ministerium and Mount St. Mary’s University explored the historical, structural and systemic terms that define racism in the U.S.

Tirrany Thurmond, director for the Center for Student Diversity at Mount St. Mary’s University, asked the group of adults how the card game made them feel.

“Stupid,” “helpless,” “angry” and “joke” were a few of the word the attendees threw out. Among them, the new president of the NAACP chapter in Frederick County, Willie Mahone, former Frederick Police Chief Kim Dine and Quaker Friends Meeting School founder Annette Breiling.

“That’s where we have to begin,” said the Rev. Sue Koenig of Graceham Moravian Church and member of the Thurmont Ministerium. “Receiving and listening to each other’s stories.”

Thurmond grew up in a majority white area and was the only black girl on her high school cheerleading team, homecoming court or to graduate with honors, she said. She went on to attend a historically black college, and there, she learned the words to describe the anxiety she felt.

It is burdensome to be expected to be the representative for an entire race simply because that person is the only person in a space of that background, Thurmond said.

When she reflected on her experience growing up in a majority white area, she said it was “lonely.”

Breiling said she was sympathetic to Thurmond’s experience.

“I thought about ways I can continue to uphold and embrace people in my community,” Breiling said. She is no longer at the helm of Friend’s Meeting School, but the school has given admission and financial aid priority to minority students since it opened, she said.

Mount St. Mary’s University hosted a similar training in 2015, and Saturday’s workshop expanded on that groundwork.

“I think one of the outcomes was a tremendous new awareness,” Koenig said of the 2015 event, which encouraged them to offer the workshop again.

The group explored the difference between human, cultural and social capital and how each impacts a person’s social mobility. They also tackled commonly heard phrases like “all lives matter,” “I don’t see color” and “race is not real” and how they are hurtful to combating racism.

“The hope is there will be some concrete things people will want to do as a next step,” Koenig said.

Tim Wolfe, a sociology professor at Mount St. Mary’s University, suggested that attendees:

  • Find or create opportunities to have meaningful interactions with people of different backgrounds;
  • Read a wide array of materials;
  • Organize or get involved with existing groups to work on a particular issue.

People do not need to become historians to combat racism, Wolfe said. The idea is to understand history and how it continues to play out so that people can take steps to change it.

“We must do the hard work confronting that history,” Wolfe said.

*Staff photo by Bill Green: Tirrany Thurmond, director of the Center for Student Diversity at Mount St. Mary's University, leads a discussion at Saturday's training.

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