In late December, a few days before winter break, a racially diverse group of about 45 Milton High School students crowded into a classroom after school. Unlike many of their peers across the country, they were not holding an end-of-the-year club meeting or exchanging white elephant gifts. Instead, in response to the increased national discussion about racial profiling and alleged police brutality, they chose to hold the inaugural session of what they’re calling “Real Talk.”
“We presented statistics about Ferguson,’’ the Missouri city where a white officer fatally shot a black man last August, “the shooting of men of color in the last couple years, and the rates of incarceration,” said Sindhu Banerjee, a junior at Milton High School. “Then we went around a circle and everyone got a chance to voice their opinion. At the end, we created an action plan’’ and planned to hold another such session.
Motivated by nationwide protests in response to the well-publicized death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson and similar deaths in New York City and Cleveland, students at the school and nearby Milton Academy staged a solidarity protest earlier in December attended by more than 600 students and faculty members.
This Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Milton High will host a panel discussion on civil rights issues past and present. Entitled “50 Years Later: Why the Struggle for Civil Rights Is Still Relevant,” the event was organized by the school’s diversity committee.
“One of the things we’d like to do is initiate dialogue about the civil rights movement and about issues today,” said Larry Jordan, a teacher who helped organize the session. “People should talk to their neighbors about adversity, injustices, and the common ground that we all share. A lot of times these are things that we don’t get to talk about in school.”
Fletcher H. Wiley, a prominent attorney, will moderate the dialogue — what he calls a “fireside chat” — with three panelists: Kenneth Guscott, William “Mo” Cowan, and J. Keith Motley.
Guscott, a local entrepreneur and activist, was the head of the Boston NAACP from 1963 to 1968 during the height of the civil rights era. Cowan was appointed in 2013 by Governor Deval Patrick to fill John Kerry’s vacant Senate seat. Motley is the University of Massachusetts Boston’s first African-American chancellor.
Wiley will open with a discussion on the history of the civil rights movement and African-Americans both nationally and in the Boston area, before opening the conversation to current issues. The event will conclude with a Q&A session with the audience.
“I’m really excited to hear from them,” said Banerjee, who said he’d heard many reports that Wiley is a powerful speaker and that Guscott is well versed on the issues blacks have faced in Boston.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. The event, in the Charles C. Winchester Auditorium at Milton High School, is free and open to all.
“Issues of race and personal dignity are not black issues, they are American issues,” said Wiley, encouraging the public to come. “It is important for citizens to openly discuss these issues and not bury their heads in the sand and act like they don’t exist.”