The Spiffy Chick vs. The Elephant In The Room
Yes, we have an elephant problem. First the good news, or the bad?
Seeing as how we’ve become pretty adept at handling disappointment, I’ll extract the bad news first, much like the calcified sandwich remnants recently removed from your kid’s backpack from March 13. A lunch we all would have especially savored, had we known it would be our last “normal” one for who knows how long.
Despite the long list of superlatives describing our community, I recently learned Orinda schools are not immune from disturbing acts of racial aggression. My sense is that many readers will be as surprised to hear this as I. My shock, which is precisely part of the bigger white privilege conundrum, had me feeling like a giant Pollyanna pushover, a sensation strangely reminiscent of my OIS Bulldog Kennel orientation with small but mighty (General) Linda Judkins. Anyone else remember her eye-opening Patton-esque speeches before hordes of hungry students descended? I equated volunteering at the Kennel with catching up on gossip and spying on my daughters, under the guise of absentmindedly schlepping bagels and pricey flavored water to a bunch of squirrelly middle-schoolers. Instead, I learned miniature con artists could flush out a newbie parent right away. We stayed on high alert, quizzed them about their date of birth at the pickup windows and tried not to relinquish any free orange chicken. To clarify, this memory had nothing to do with race, just my naivety.
Naturally, we prefer to see our children and our community in the best possible light, but that can lead to unpleasant incidents being ignored. Racism lurks everywhere, even right here in Lamorinda. In the words of Emmanuel Acho, creator of the popular You Tube series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, “In America, we’ve got to do a better job of discussing. You can’t address a problem you don’t even know exists.”
None of this is easy to hear, but the good news is breaking through the clouds like a ray of sunshine at a frigid Saturday morning swim meet. Orindans are dedicated to action. From local bookstores to church and civic groups, to our high school students, their parents and Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) faculty and district officials, groups have been working all summer to bring this beast out into the open. I recently sat down, six feet apart, from former Educational Foundation – Orinda President Ellen Zapalac. Because of the recent creation of the One Orinda consolidated fundraising initiative, this dedicated community leader has traded her E, F and O for an M,E,D, I, P and G: the Miramonte Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Parents Group.
I know, I’ve just thrown the alphabet at you. But before COVID Distractibility Syndrome kicks in, and you start wishing this was a crossword puzzle instead, stay with me. This group isn’t fluff, like one of those clubs we joined in high school that met maybe twice a year, for that bonus photo in the yearbook and to pad the ol’ transcript. Like me, joining the French Club solely to enjoy hot Southern Maid glazed donuts, our improvised version of French patisserie. Clearly, we have evolved from the ‘80s — the ED&I students held a rally August 4 at the AUHSD offices to demand 1) re-instatement of the Inter-District Transfer Policy, 2) an accountability policy from the school district to issue consequences to students who have been perpetrators of racism and 3) provide a more diverse curriculum.
More good news: the Miramonte ED&I has a true tour de force at the helm, Amy Berryhill, co-owner of Spiffy Chicks, a successful home re-organizational firm. With her home visits temporarily sidetracked due to pandemic safety precautions, Berryhill is channeling her enthusiastic organizational vision into coordinating awareness efforts that will hopefully oust this elephant from our living room. She, who can miraculously transform a train wreck of a room into an enviable model of spaciousness and efficiency, is applying those same skills to the darker recesses of our collective community closet. And, because this is California, I should add that no elephants will be harmed during the removal process.
Even if we weren’t simultaneously scrambling to revamp our entire educational delivery method because of a world-wide pandemic, just by itself a thoughtful and effective response to the Black Lives Matter issue is enormously complicated. No one is completely sure how to initially proceed, but it totally helps to have insightful faculty members who have been paying close attention to this issue for years. Even more good news: Miramonte educator Steve Poling, who has lived in the Lamorinda community and taught at Miramonte for over 20 years, will be closely involved with these efforts.
Zapalac explained one of the first initiatives for the ED&I group was to host a virtual book discussion group on August 25. The group read How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Orinda Books partnered with the ED&I group and donated 20% of book sales to Dr. Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. “Steve Poling, who teaches a very popular ‘Deconstructing Race’ class at Miramonte, generously stepped up to lead the discussions,” Zapalac added.
“My role in this community book group is to help encourage and facilitate ‘courageous conversation’ about race,” Poling said. “With the help of many parents and teachers, I hope to sustain honest and illuminating conversations. I believe that how we talk, and more importantly, listen, to each other about race, racism and whiteness is just as important as which books we read,” he added. In a rare collaborative — rather than competitive — spirit, Miramonte and Campolindo high schools will co-host this virtual Racial Awareness Book Club led by Poling on a regular basis.
Uncharted territory. But this group has worked all summer to establish a presence, so that meaningful dialogue and change can follow. Not only does the ED&I group operate hand in hand with Principal Julie Parks and the Miramonte administration, it has the full attention and support of the Acalanes Union High School District.
The ED&I group has a calendar of virtual events scheduled into winter. For additional information, visit Miramonte Equity on the Miramonte Parents’ Club website, and follow the group on Instagram (@mhsparentsdiversitygroup), or email them at EDI@mhspc.org.