Thousands protest on South Delaware St. near the Bay Meadows campus as a part of their route from San Mateo City Hall to the police station.
Photo by Willow Taylor C. Y.
As nationwide protests persist into a second week, fueled by legal victories against police brutality and amidst state reopenings, communities within the Bay Area have also rallied. I sat down with three leaders of social justice efforts in the Nueva community for their perspectives on the protests and current political environment.
Alegria Barclay, PreK–12 Equity & Social Justice Director
How are you feeling about the current political situation surrounding this context of the conversation about race?
I feel like I cycle through various emotions. And sadness is probably the dominant feeling—grief, on some level. And one is oriented towards anger in general. Exhaustion is another one mostly because when you’re in this kind of work, it can sometimes feel repetitive like, ‘Here we are again, doing it one more time.’ That’s a hard feeling to work with. Also I think it’s hard to see other people suffering and knowing that there’s only so much you can actually do. That’s a hard feeling to hold.
What have you been seeing or hearing among the Nueva students in response to the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement?
Because we’re in the midst of shelter-in-place, it’s hard to know what people are seeing or accessing. If not for this pandemic, we’d be at school and people would be talking about it. There’d be lots more interaction, engagement, sharing, and also a chance then to process, which is always helpful for strong emotions. A few have written to me, wanting resources
or asking questions, but because [we’re not in school], it’s actually hard for me to get a pulse of where students are at. If the protests continue with the intensity with which they have begun and we began to see more and more of a governmental response, it would be hard not to [ignore], even if you’ve been really actively avoiding or not wanting to engage.
I think it also depends on where you are. I live in a city that has a very early curfew and a lot of the businesses had their windows smashed, so it was very visible to me. That may not be true for other people who are living in places that are relatively quiet and aren’t seeing kind of protests unfold so close to home.
We’re already at an emotional high because of [the pandemic and] everything else. And to add on this—I can see why some people maybe step away or step back.
I’ve seen and heard that some people are feeling a helplessness in the face of these protests but then also shelter-in-place, and are not really sure what to do. What would you say to them?
What I’ve told a few people is that all the protests are an important part of social change. Protests certainly have their place and their impact, particularly ones that are responsive and reactive to the urgency of now. [But] that’s not the only or even always the best way to make long term change. At the same time, there are so many other ways to take action. I always think about what the long term commitment is that will make the change we want to see. That is so much about yourself and your behaviors and your choices, and being really cognizant and self aware about those. It actually takes a lot of work. In a sense that’s more important than if you went to one protest.
I know that Twitter has long been a fountain of misinformation, but then also it’s often used because it’s so current. I know
protestors have live-tweeted a lot during the protests. What’s your stance on following those tweets?
So I don’t actually follow a lot of social media for many reasons, but I think it’s helpful. I was in Bangkok before I came here, and there was a coup while I lived there. Our best source of information was one Twitter feed from an expat journalist who lived there who had a drone or something. So he was just the only source of information of where you could go and what was happening. So I definitely see the importance of citizen journalism in some moments. I used to teach digital citizenship and I was a librarian before this, so I think it’s always important to vet your sources. Corroborate as much as you can. Are there multiple people who are recording this and talking about it? I don’t mean that in a sense that you’re automatically dismissing someone’s experience or story, but we all have a bias, and we all come to things from a perspective, so [take] as many chances as you can get to follow a multitude of Twitter feeds or people responding to the same incident.
Do you have any final thoughts or last words of encouragement?
The thing that is most important to recognize is that you may be disturbed, distraught by what’s happening in the world and it may make you question yourself and want to think about how to be a better anti racist. You have to be someone who opposes this kind of discrimination, and so much of the work is internal. It’s really just about you and how you consistently, intentionally commit to making choices that move against racism. That’s actually the hardest work to do. It’s so much harder actually to transform yourself. But that, I would say, is actually the most meaningful work you can do.
[Some people think] the beloved community is a cliche, and it’s not. If you cannot envision the future you want to build, then all you’re ever doing is fighting against something. You’re never fighting for something. And fundamentally, you have to imagine what it is you’re fighting for, so that you can actively take steps towards that. What is it we want? And what do we want to make? What is the community we want to create? Like everyone else, as an independent school, we have a lot of work.
Alison Williams, Middle School SEL Teacher & MS THRIVE Coordinator
How have the past couple weeks impacted you and your mental health?
It’s been a really emotional couple of weeks. I feel saddened that another black life has been lost and that we find ourselves in a really similar space that we’ve been in time and time again. But I also feel a sense of hope, because of the protests and the demonstrations, and particularly because so many of them have been run and led by young people. It does feel like we are at a pivotal moment in our history where change might happen. I think you have to stay hopeful in these moments, despite the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Anecdotally, I’ve been seeing some feelings of helplessness among students.
Yeah. And I think for young people, it’s tricky because there is power in being of age and being able to vote or being able to make decisions on your own, whether you want to get out into the streets and protest or not. Then [there’s] also the level of having to worry about health and a global pandemic. Sometimes signing a petition or donating doesn’t feel the same as the visceral experience of being in community with other people or demonstrating in a different way. But I definitely think folks need to know that [signing a petition or donating] is just as equally important. And we’ve got to figure out whatever we can do within our homes—sometimes that’s even just doing the personal work. In what ways have we been socialized to understand racism and understand our own racial identity and the experience of others?
There’s a lot of internal work that we could be doing in our own homes. If you’re feeling like, “I don’t know what to do,” I would encourage folks to start on ourselves and think about the ways in which we are complicit within a system of racism.
Have you yourself participated in any protests?
I attended a protest here in Oakland that was led by Oakland Unified Students at Oakland Tech. It was really incredible. It was predominantly young people and high school students.
Over the weekend, I felt like I was doing the inward work and making sure that I was taking care of my own needs, but then by Monday I felt compelled [to protest] because I wanted to, and wanted to support the next generation of activists. I felt like it was the right time and space for me to show up.
How do you think the visibility of these protests and both the peaceful and violence side might be affecting students at Nueva?
As with any type of any media that we digest, I think you have to have a really critical eye about who is telling the story and finding other outlets and counter narratives so you can get a full picture. [As with] civil rights movements in the 60s, or Stonewall, the media is able to portray and highlight the narrative that they want people to see. If you’re focusing on what are some of the violent images and protests, that takes away from the larger message and that black lives are in danger every single day. And that’s what people need to focus on.
It’s really hard if you don’t have that visceral experience of knowing that your life could be at risk just walking down the street. I can understand why it would be challenging for someone to understand what that would lead someone to do. If you’ve lived your entire life in fear of walking down the street, going for a jog, going into a store, in your home—you’re gonna hit an edge. What I hope people do when they see violence or looting or destruction of property is pause and listen to what the message is underneath that. What are people really saying? What are they feeling? And if you pause and think about that, if you really listen, you’re going to hear grief and pain and trauma and sorrow and a plea for safety, for livelihood, to be respected and valued.
Quincy A. ’20, Student Council Equity & Inclusion Representative
First of all, I’m wondering how you’re coping with the current situation surrounding the protests and the larger conversation about race in the current context.
Of course, I’m angry. But I’m doing my best to put that anger towards something productive and to actually make a difference this time.
And what ways might that be?
There are a few policy demands, but mainly right now I want awareness about the issue. I want police officers around the country to really think before they treat black people in certain ways. And I think the protests are a great way to put the pressure on them to do that.
There has been a lot of conversation about the protests and the violence that has become mistakenly associated with it. And what so you think of that?
The first thing that’s important is to separate a lot of the violence from the Black Lives Matter movement because a Black Lives Matter organizer has never really raided a Walgreens, right? Even so, I’m somewhat hesitant to condemn that type of looting and violence because I think communities are angry. The property can be replaced, and it is replaced already, like we see in Atlanta and San Francisco. It’s already replaced, but what’s not replaced is the relationship these communities have with the police department and the black lives that have been bought off.
I’ve seen many of our peers have that feeling of helplessness in the face of all this. And I’m wondering, what would you say to that? Do you think that there are ways to alleviate that helplessness? Ways to help?
I would say that you’re not alone in that helplessness. Because I think that hopelessness is what black Americans have experienced for the better part of 400 years. But I think that hopelessness feels different this time because of the fact that
everyone else is feeling it, not just black people. I think that’s a really good sign that people are upset. It feels different this time, feels a little more revolutionary, feels like there could be change at the end of this. So I would just say keep pushing, keep supporting because we’re going to keep marching on and it’s gonna work.
How do you think that the protests and the events leading up to the protests are affecting Nueva students? And then how do you think these events and protests are affecting African American students in particular?
I actually don’t know how the protests are affecting Nueva students as much. I definitely know Nueva students have gone to the protests, which I really appreciate, but I’m not really sure other than that. For Nueva black students, I haven’t connected with too many people over quarantine, so I’m not sure I can really speak on that—but at least for me, it’s been really nice to see how much support there is and how upset people are. It feels like people are as upset as I am.
I’m wondering what you think of the misinformation going on—the reporting on the protests that aren’t entirely honest by perhaps exaggerating the link between violence and looting and the protests?
I do think that that’s actually a much larger issue than people understand because the strategy of nonviolence provides what the police are doing to you is reported on, and that’s not really the case right now. With Fox News, for example, a lot of right leaning or far right news organizations are twisting what’s happening at these protests and creating a narrative, which I think
makes the strategy of nonviolence less valuable and makes the strategy of overt violence against the police more strategic which I think is very dangerous and very sad. I do condemn the misinformation and I think it’s a really big danger to the movement that people aren’t seeing what the police are doing.
How do you think people can combat that misinformation?
I think most of it is de-platforming. A lot of these news organizations or these news people will say very provocative things to stay relevant. I think where everyone comes in is just ignoring them, not really even reacting to the provocative things they say, just letting them fade into irrelevance, and promoting good, unbiased news sources.