Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jefferson Middle School: A Racism Free Zone In Eugene, OR

[I assume that we all know how deeply racism is embedded in our society — perhaps almost a universal expression of human xenophobia. If this really is the case, then perhaps age appropriate measures as those sketched below should be introduced in all of our educational systems — Nursery through higher education? AFAMHED is the African American Higher Education List. I recall in my kindergarten school days being asked to draw five human figures to be filled in with appropriate colors — black, brown, red, yellow and white (blank). David Hume suggested that most of us are disposed to feel humane (altruistic) sentiments towards others, but that these are weak and need to be reinforced by our educations. Any who work with young children know that their attitudes — for better or worse — are shaped early in their lives by their experiences and the attitudes of key persons — parents and teachers — in their lives. The case for tackling racism at all learning stages, thus, is strong — if one really wants to curb this evil deeply rooted in our cultures. Ed Kent]


Subject: [AFAMHED] Jefferson Middle School: A Racism Free Zone In Eugene, OR
Date: Wed, 16 May 2007 05:51:40 -0500
From: S. E. Anderson
Reply-To: S. E. Anderson

Our long-time friend and anti-racist organizer, Bahati Ansari, began the Racism Free Zone in Eugene, Oregon, many years ago. She offers an update (below), which I think will be of great interest to anti-racistorganizers, particularly those working in schools. Please share widely.   (Thanks, Bahati!)

Margery Freeman The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond –
Northeast Regional Office

Date: Mon, 14 May 2007

Racism Free Zone (RFZ) Our Dedication to the Racism Free Zone Jefferson Middle School is a Racism Free Zone. That means that racism and other forms of discrimination are not tolerated by students or staff. All people are welcome in this school. No one is called by a name other than
their own or put down or isolated for who they are.

To become a Racism Free Zone, a site must have in place four pieces. First, there must be training. Every year staff go through training sessions and workshops that include workshops on racial sensitivity, cross-cultural communication, and cultural sharing.

At the beginning of each academic year, all Jefferson students receive a training or refresher on what our Racism Free Zone means as part of Jefferson’s Orientation. In the winter, just before our Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, the eighth graders train the sixth graders on how to deal with harassment through a Leadership Conference.

A publicly displayed RFZ Declaration is critical to our program. At Jefferson, the decision was to have the students come up with the wording of the declaration. After all, students were the first to organize and demand that something be done with the harassment common in their halls. Jefferson’s Declaration is displayed in the front hall with the signatures of dedicated students and staff.

Since the Declaration was first posted in the main hall, Spanish-speaking students have translated the Declaration into Spanish to hang alongside the English version. Following in their footsteps, several Asian-American students learned the Chinese Lion Dance and performed at Jefferson to raise funds for the Declaration to be written in Chinese (the third most spoken language in the Jefferson halls). A local brush-paint artist, rendered the RFZ in Chinese.

In order to be an RFZ, students and staff members publicly proclaim themselves as an RFZ every year. In addition, each year, Jefferson enters an RFZ float in the Eugene Celebration Parade; and, each year, Jefferson’s proud entry has been recognized with an award. The Eugene Celebration RFZ Float fulfills an important component of the RFZ…to make a public statement that this place is a Racism Free Zone.

Rededication is crucial to the health of an RFZ. The Rededication Ceremony at Jefferson happens during the annual Marin Luther King Jr. Celebration in January. At the center of the celebration is the RFZ Rededication ceremony where the school principal is presented with signatures from Jefferson Middle School students and staff dedicating themselves to the RFZ principles. How the Racism Free Zone Project Began By Misa Kwai Joo 2001 Jefferson used to be a very troubled school with a tough reputation. Some perceived it to be a racist, unsafe, mean school environment.

In the fall of 1983, a sixth grade student, Zakee (Elliot) Ansari, saw one of his classmates draw a picture of a burning cross and a Black man hanged. The student gave it to his social studies teacher who then hung it up by his Garfield poster. Zakee went up and politely asked the teacher to take the drawing down. The teacher said, “Oh, Elliot, does the picture offend you?”

Zakee answered, “Yes it does. Please take it down.” The teacher accommodated. As Zakee returned to his seat he saw a student sitting toward the end of his row draw another picture of the same thing and watched him give it to the teacher who again hung it up.

Zakee went up to the bulletin board and ripped down the picture and ran out of the room. He threw the picture down on the principal’s desk. The principal rolled his eyes as if to say, “Elliot, what’s the problem this time.” Zakee grabbed the picture, turned and fled home.

Zakee was very discouraged. He told his mother, Bahati Ansari, what happened. His mother, Bahati, went into the teacher to discuss the situation. The teacher defended his right to put up the picture. Zakee’s mother then went to the principal. The principal said that the KKK was part of his history and he would allow the picture to stay up. The mother jerked her sons out of school. She made an appointment with Superintendent, Margaret Nichols and finally felt heard. The Superintendent immediately wrote a District wide letter describing the incident and saying that nothing like this should happen in any school. This was not just a Jefferson problem. However, for Bahati Ansari, Jefferson must clearly respond to her request before she would put either son back in school.

The process took a long time. People called Bahati to tell her she was wrong for keeping her children out of school. She received threats and name calling by people who drove by her home. She was told by colleagues that she was starting trouble, and just let it alone. At the point of her greatest discouragement, Bahati Ansari had the honor of hosting Rosa Parks on her visit to Eugene. The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement noticed Bahati was dejected and asked after her. She listened to Bahati Ansari and heard her pain. Ms. Ansari felt tired, like giving up. Rosa Parks gave Ms. Ansari inspiration, along with her personal body guards to attend a meeting, and lifted her up just when she needed it. She said, “The good news is that when things seem at their worst, it will be better. Don’t give up.” Eventually after many months, Jefferson administration agreed to Ms. Ansari’s suggestions for full staff training. On the District level, the Superintendent, along with Bahati’s suggestion, organized a Racial Justice Task Force to formulate a process to investigate how buildings respond to racial incidents.

Three years later, two Jefferson teachers, Cathy Cheleen and Thor Maydole, heard that Bahati Ansari had developed her own training called the Racism Free Zone. They requested the four hour training for their two sixth grade classes. The young students wrote the first RFZ Declaration and became the first Racism Free Zone in the nation during the academic year, 1986- 1987.

Pete Mandrapa joined Jefferson staff the next year and his sixth graders were determined to make the whole school a Racism Free Zone. The sixth graders worked on the RFZ Declaration together. Everyone committed themselves to a school where everyone would be able to attend school safely, where everyone would be accepted for who they were, where everyone would stand up against racism. The Declaration was presented to the school at an assembly, Spring Term, 1989. Pete Mandrapa reminded the principal that to be a true RFZ, the staff had to receive training from Ms. Ansari on racial sensitivity and cultural awareness. He said, “You can’t be an RFZ by just hanging a sign on the wall.”

Eventually, Dr. Bob Bolden became principal in 1990, and he, Katherine Gorham and Pete Mandrapa organized an RFZ training through two of Ms. Ansari’s colleagues, Marian Malcolm and Guadalupe Quinn, since Bahati Ansari had moved to Maryland. That year, the first Martin Luther King Jr. Assembly was organized and Jefferson marched as the RFZ entry in the Eugene Celebration Parade.

Jefferson joined Spencer Butte Middle School(1988) as the first RFZ schools in the nation. Since then there are RFZ schools, banks, even cities around the country. Bahati took her training on a national level. It is now called NRFZ for National Racism Free Zone Institute.

In 2000, Principal Paul Jorgensen invited the NRFZ and Bahati Ansari to have an office at Jefferson Middle School. Ms. Ansari points to Jefferson as a showcase model RFZ school.

Jefferson was once a troubled school. Now, Jefferson is a role model in the city and the nation of what a community should be like. We march every year in the Eugene Celebration as an RFZ. We put on a major re-dedication assembly in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. every year. Our students are seen as leaders in the community. The impressive thing is that the school turned around because the students took leadership and insisted upon it. A Racism Free Zone means: • everyone is to be called by their name and their name only • everyone belongs • everyone should be able to go to school in a safe environment, safe from intimidation, malicious teasing, harassment, name calling, alienation • everyone should confront harassment as well as other negative acts which are against the RFZ • there are clear, serious and immediate consequences for racial harassment or any other harassment Since 1982, Bahati has gone on to create projects all over the nation and abroad. She recently spoke at the UN Conference Against Racism in Durban and presented the RFZ Model to the world. Next year there will be several projects starting in South Africa.


Jefferson Middle School, Eugene Oregon Cal Young Middle School, Eugene, Oregon Madison Middle School, Eugene Spenser Butte Middle School; Eugene Adams Elementary School, Eugene Lane Community College, (in formation) Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA John Serbu Youth Facilities, Eugene St. Cloud State University, Minnesota City of Eugene, Diversity Committees Looking Glass ETC, Eugene Community Survival Center, Baltimore Western Rivers Girls Scout Council , Eugene McKenzie Elementary School, Oregon Human Resources of the State of Atlanta Johannesburg, SA (information)

*The RFZ program is a trademark of The National Racism Free Zone Institute. For workshop and consultation information, please contact: Bahati Ansari, Exec. Dir./Founder 505-217-9458

Annual MLK Celebration.

Jefferson Middle School’s Racism Free Zone Declaration

We, the students of Thomas Jefferson Middle School declare our school to be a Racism Free Zone. Our school will be free and open to all people without regard to cultural or color differences. No racist remark or harassment will be allowed. Any such actions will result in serious consequences. Our school will be respectful to people of all races and cultures.
All people will be welcomed here. We will do our very best to get rid of racism from our school and the world.

A remarkable place to learn. Jefferson Middle School: Institute of Multicultural International Education and Technology. © Jefferson Middle School Site by DesignWorks Studio Bahati Ansari Leadership Institute (C) Home of the National Racism Free Zone Project(c)

“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” Bondei proverb

Social Activism is not a hobby: it’s a Lifestyle lasting a Lifetime

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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