Novi High School
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Thursday, May 21, 2015 from 5-8pm
@Novi High School
For just three hours May 21, visitors to the Novi High School auditorium lobby will see what has been happening for years: housing discrimination in metro Detroit. A special exhibit, We Don't Want Them Here, tells the compelling story of metro Detroit's housing history through a racial lens. Via historic documents, photographs and personal narratives, the exhibit will open the viewer up to personal accounts of the formation, challenges and eventual destruction of communities that once stood within the local area. It's one of the subjects taught at Novi High in Seth Furlow's class, Social Justice Dialogues. "We discuss mostly the notion of oppression and privilege, at first through a racial lens, but also cover topics such as poverty, gender, LGBT issues and religion," Furlow said. The class took about three years to develop and implement. With help from partners at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and Farmington Schools (which developed the original curriculum), it started this school year in Novi. About 50 students enrolled in two semesters and as many have signed up for the 2015-16 school year. "Our Novi students really were the ones who became aware of this need and really pushed us to keep working on getting the class started," Furlow said. The immediate impact it's having on students is evident right now, but it's the long-term implications that, hopefully, will create the biggest change. "It's important that we don't repeat the bad parts of history," student Chloe Allen said. "The more we understand these issues, the more likely it is that we can prevent them from happening again." In addition to the recent sub-prime mortgage crisis, students are currently learning about red-lining and other practices preventing African Americans from buying suburban houses. "This historical perspective will really connect the idea that some of these awful practices of the past are still happening, but just in different ways, today," student Isabela Coenca said. Eye-opener Once they began studying the topic, Furlow said students were surprised. They didn't realize it was not legally possible for African Americans to obtain the same kind of mortgages as whites and they were unaware of the outward protests that occurred as a result of some neighborhoods becoming even slightly integrated. "I think the level of institutional racism was shocking to them," Furlow said. "Many have seen, heard of or experienced individual racism before, but it was quite eye-opening for them to see this on a level being pushed by local, state and federal governments." Now the Novi community can get educated too through the We Don't Want Them Here exhibit, created by a group within the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion and part of the Race2Equity Community Engagement Campaign. According to that group's website (http://www.race2equity.org/exhibit.html), the exhibit has toured throughout metro Detroit since 2010 and has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. The exhibit has been at libraries, schools, colleges, places of worship and business organizations. The exhibit will be on display 5-8 p.m. Thursday, May 21, at Novi High School. "Most people don't know that Detroit is the most segregated metropolitan community in the United States, so learning about how this came to be will help people become more culturally conscious as we work towards a more equitable society," student Meaghan Wheat said. As classmate Cordon Willis pointed out, regardless of our interests, opportunities to learn from actual stories of historical discrimination are not often available. "We need to look at our history if we want to create a better future," Willis said. How the exhibit came about "The We Dont Want Them Traveling Exhibit came about after the constitutional ban of Affirmative Action passed in Michigan in 2006," said Dez Squire, MSW, JD, who is the exhibit coordinator of Race2Equity Project, Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion. "An interfaith group, convened by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion in 2007, began researching as to why legislation like affirmative action was necessary in today's society." Squire added that during this period, interfaith members saw a PBS series called Race: the Power of an Illusion, and were surprised by the impact a person's zip code had on an individual's future opportunities because of the United States' history of institutional racism throughout major policies like the Federal Housing Administration and historical moments like the 1967 Uprising. While designing and working on the exhibit, Rozenia Johnson, the exhibit's curator, stated that "it was important to tell not just the history of race and housing, but to highlight unknown heroes and put faces to different historical events." "Ms. Johnson recalled having brainstorming sessions with other Race2Equity organizers as 'there were specific people Race2Equity wanted highlighted given their historic significance but that may not have necessarily been known. It was important to highlight the pioneers or individuals who made a significance contribution.' In addition to the brainstorming sessions, many of these pioneers were identified through newspapers or literature written during time," said Squire. firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @TheNoviNews