DOVER — People who turned out for a community forum on racism and stereotypes Wednesday night were challenged to think about who created the fears that drive people apart.
About 200 people participated in the forum at Dover High School.
The Dover community is working through racial issues after a video of 11th-grade history students singing a racially insensitive song about the Ku Klux Klan set to the lyrics of “Jingle Bells” went viral after it was caught on camera and posted online by a student.
Teacher John Carver was placed on paid administrative leave and no decision has been made regarding whether he will be fired.
School Superintendent William Harbron welcomed attendees to the session Wednesday, saying his office has been working on addressing racial issues within the district since July. He said the forum is just the beginning of long-lasting change.
“We have a journey to go on. We have a journey to talk about things that are uncomfortable, to talk about racism and white supremacy,” Harbron said. “This is just the start. This is not something to cross off a checklist.”
Mo Nunez of Great Schools Partnership in Portland, Maine, and Michele Holt-Shannon of New Hampshire Listens facilitated the session.
Holt-Shannon reminded participants that everyone comes from different backgrounds, bringing different experiences and perspectives to the smaller group discussions.
“Some of us grew up talking a lot about racism. Some of us were taught it wasn’t polite to talk about at all,” Holt-Shannon said.
While broken into small groups, people were asked to note on a journey line their own personal experiences with race and their earliest memories of interacting with people of a different racial identity.
They were also asked when they first experienced an act of racism.
During discussion, members of the groups talked openly about the lack of racial diversity in Dover and reverse racism experienced in other parts of the country.
They also discussed not knowing enough about social issues to recognize racism and discrimination if they see it.
A number of people talked about wanting to understand people from other cultures, but not having the confidence to develop a deeper relationship with others different than them.
In addition to hosting the forum, the Dover School District is working on training staff members on racial diversity. Seacoast NAACP also plans to offer support for DHS Project D.R.E.A.M., a student-funded group promoting diversity and respect at the high school.