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AASA Film Viewing Generates Discussion on ‘Race Within the Vortex of Education’

In the outskirts of Chicago, an affluent high school with a diverse student body grabbed the attention of a film director and the result was an award-winning 10-part docu-series “America to Me.”

At Thursday’s Thought Leadership forum, a diverse audience of superintendents shared reflections, advice and concerns about race. Moderator LaRuth Gray, scholar-in-residence at New York University, called the session an opportunity to discuss “race within the vortex of education.”

One of the short film clips that attendees saw was “There’s Nothing Funny About Race,” in which an Oak Park River Forest High School student, Jada, who is an African American, tells her white teacher that making light of race bothers her. She considers race is a serious issue. Her teacher appears clueless about the impact of his behavior.

A lively discussion followed that discussed race, teacher intentions versus crossing the line and the apparent lack of leadership intervention. The incident at Oak Park was not isolated. One conference attendee shared that a similar issue occurred in her school district. A student complained to her mother, who slapped a lawsuit against the district (it was subsequently dropped). As a result, sensitivity training is now standard.

“Start with what’s right – equity,” said Mike Salvatore, superintendent of Long Branch, N.J., Public Schools.

Addressing racial prejudice is an important issue and Sybil Knight-Burney, superintendent in Harrisburg, Pa., and it impacts students deeply. Last year, her daughter participated in a history contest and was introduced to a judge, holding her hand out. He would not shake it.

“She asked me, ‘He wouldn’t shake my hand. Is it because I am black?’” And I responded the only way I could, ‘Of course not, baby. It’s because your light is so bright that he couldn’t see it.’”

Participant Media’s America to Me: Real Talk campaign is offering all 10 episodes of America to Me and the Real Talk guide to educators for free on the Film Platform site for the rest of this school year.

To sign up: (1) Go to; (2) Input this code into the “Conference Code” box (this is case sensitive):  AASA2019; (3) Check the box to receive updates from Participant Media’s America to Me: Real Talk campaign (share best practices and send out blueprints for change – how teachers, administrators and students are using “America to Me” as a catalyst for conversation and change that disrupts everyday racism in schools and communities across the country; (4) Check for an e-mail from Participant America (also your spam/junk folder) for a link to activate your registration via email. (5) Click to activate your free registration. It will take you to a confirmation page. You will then receive a final email with registration details before you can start using the tools and site.

If you are interested in helping pilot a school-wide free trial of “America to Me” that accesses interactive lesson tools like chat, polls, real-time data and tailor-made lesson plans, contact

(Liz Griffin is senior editor with AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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