Delegate Candidate Karen Simpson: To Heal Racial Tension in Our Schools, Leaders Must Act

Delegate Candidate Karen Simpson, District 31B

There are many effective ways to relieve tension: breathe deeply, meditate, exercise, play, listen to music, or SCREAM!

These techniques are generally effective only when the person has control over the factors that are causing him/her stress. However, control is a luxury rarely found in relationships.

Conflict in relationships is normal, but unresolved conflict becomes increasingly complicated and heated.

Community tension is rooted in unresolved conflict within relationships. Tension from unresolved conflict smolders and builds when it is ignored for years, or even for centuries. Tension like this requires outside intervention. A timeout or a strongly worded admonishment from an elected official is not enough.

The first question a therapist would ask a community is: Do you want to heal?

If the community does want to resolve the conflict, or at least relieve the tension, how do we get a community to breathe deeply?

How do we get a community into a public, open equivalent of a counseling session?

Further, what state candidate is stupid or naïve enough to attempt to address a problem that has been festering for centuries?

A candidate who knows about healthy relationships and resolving conflicts.

High schools prefer to be recognized for their academics and athletics. They prefer not to become famous for a noose, a Confederate flag, or racial slurs.

If there were only one such incident, it would be reasonable to assume it was an aberration, perpetrated by a misguided individual who could be disciplined to resolve the issue.

Our county’s high schools have seen an alarming frequency of threats and racially charged incidents in the past school year, which may indicate that the incidents are not aberrations, but are coordinated, intentional acts of terror by a white supremacist group such as the one that organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last August.

However, some alumni and parents of students say that the issues in our schools are about bullying between students from different racial groups, but this only shifts the blame and confirms racial tension.

The public is not privy to the response by schools to such incidents because confidentiality laws prevent disclosure of such information by school officials. Therefore, the public cannot determine whether such responses are appropriate.

But, the public can see that the response is almost always reactive, leading to many different opinions about what happened, why it happened, who did it, and who was targeted. Most of the stakeholders feel that their concerns are not addressed, which leads to fear and mistrust.

Everyone agrees there is a problem, but the absolute silence by the people with authority to do something and to gather input from other empowered members of the community is deafening.

Relationship issues do not resolve themselves either among individuals, or in communities. They do not go away by ignoring them.

Effective therapy begins with an honest assessment by a neutral professional. The starting point to healing does not begin by telling everyone to play nice and share their crayons.

Researching the cause, and monitoring the resolution and progress, leads to healing.

In addition, it is crucial to recognize when a treatment plan isn’t working and to make modifications as necessary. If the tension continues to increase, it is safe to conclude that applying the same plan that has been in place for over ten years with very little success will not become a sudden and magical remedy.

Let’s stop trying to hold our breath until the “problems” graduate.

Rev. Stephen Tillet and the Anne Arundel County NAACP have requested that the community address these issues proactively. They asked for an assessment and are anxious to be part of the solution. They have made the first move towards resolution.

Is the community willing to meet them in “therapy,” to resolve these issues so that our schools can become known for their educational excellence and not their antagonistic environments?

There are three steps that can proactively address the tension and achieve measurable success:

  1. Assessment
  2. Intervention
  3. Monitoring

To be effective, these steps should be coordinated with the community, Board of Education, students, teachers, and parents.

Let’s begin with an objective assessment to determine the root cause of the tension, develop a strategy, and establish benchmarks. Anne Arundel County Public Schools could collaborate with Anne Arundel Community College, any number of the universities in the area, and even the media to survey students, parents, guardians, school personnel, and any other interested parties.

The study would reveal the appropriate intervention strategy and lead to recommendations of any legislation necessary to implement needed change, and our community colleges and state universities could assist in incorporating anti-racism and/or anti-bullying strategies in all subjects of learning.

As a state delegate, I would sponsor legislation to establish a Citizen Review Panel that would review study findings, school policies, procedures, staffing and practices, and recommend improvements and monitor intervention strategies. This would increase transparency, generate community support, and demonstrate the positive impact of intervention.

I know citizens’ review works because I designed the Maryland Child Protection Citizen Review panels.

Remember, the first question to ask is whether the community wants to heal.

Are you ready to end the feud in the neighborhood? Let’s work together.

Karen Simpson is a candidate for State Delegate in Anne Arundel County’s District 31B. Karen earned her Bachelor’s in Psychology at Radford University, her Master’s from Towson University and is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance.



This message has been authorized by: Friends of Karen Simpson, Donna Flaharty, Treasurer

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