IPS board room

Inside the John Morton-Finney Center for Educational Services, where the Indianapolis Public Schools board meets. (Recorder file photo)

Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) on May 12 held a virtual racial discussion, “Let’s Talk: An Honest Conversation About Race,” which focused on how systemic racism affects students— inside and outside of school.

Kristian Stricklen, IPS chief communications and engagement officer, was moderator. Panelists included IPS School Board of Commissioners President Michael O’Connor, Vice President Evan Hawkins, Racial Equity Office Director Patricia Payne and Superintendent Aleesia Johnson.

The district’s racial equity initiative requires training for all staff —  “everybody who touches the life of a child: school bus drivers, food service people, etc.,” Payne said. The racial equity team’s vision is to establish an IPS community where student outcomes cannot be predicted by race or ethnicity.

“It’s really crazy when you know who’s going to be at the bottom, even before the test is given. That’s what we’re working against.” Payne noted.

Johnson described COVID-19 as a blessing in disguise for the district as training virtually allows the district to reach a larger number of people at once than in-person training. 

“I hope our community will respond to the pleas for justice with an affirmation that we are ready to engage so we can begin healing from our racist past, understand the impact it has had and continues to have on Black people and imagine a new future,” said Johnson. “Determining the best path forward will not be easy, but we will fail our children if we leave them a legacy of racism that we can begin undoing now.”

O’Connor said he is on a constant mission to “unlearn” his implicit bias as a white man.

“Even as enlightened as I like to think I am, I am a human being guilty of having learned a set of biases because of the system in which I was brought up,” O’Connor added. “All those systems were built to favor people like me. People who look like me call and say, ‘What should I be doing?’ The reality is, we know what we should be doing.” 

Hawkins, who has felt isolation in the business world, shared his experiences as a Black man. 

“To be a Black man in America means dealing with the microaggressions and the insensitive humor — the ‘Oh, we’re just joking. Don’t take it personal.’ It’s just downright exhausting.”

Contact newsroom intern Mikaili Azziz at 317-924-5143. Follow her on Twitter @mikailiazziz.

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