ACLU Hosts Youth Forum on Race and Racism in New Hampshire

Oct 22, 2018

2018 was the first year the ACLU-NH organized the Youth Forum on Race and Racism.
Credit Sarah Gibson for NHPR

Students from across the state convened at Manchester Community College over the weekend for the state's first Youth Forum on Race and Racism.

The gathering, organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, was meant to help students develop plans for addressing issues of race and racism at their schools.

Devon Chaffee, the executive director of ACLU-NH, says the problem of racism goes far beyond the high-profile cases last year of an attempted lynching in Claremont and incidents at UNH.

"We've heard anecdotes from high schools and elementary schools across the state about kids being bullied because of their race, ethnicity and/or nationality," she says. "We know that this is pretty pervasive unfortunately, and this is why we need to have this conversation now."

Habiba Hassan (L) and other Manchester students brainstorm next steps at the ACLU-NH Youth Forum on Race and Racism.
Credit Sarah Gibson for NHPR

A group of forum participants from Central High School in Manchester say race shapes everything from hallway remarks to academic opportunity.

Habiba Hassan says students regularly tease her about wearing a head scarf, but her greatest frustration is that lower-level students, who are disproportionately students of color, get lost in the masses.

"The AP students - the white kids - get more attention than lower-level students. It's really upsetting," she says.

Zeynab Osman, whose parents are from Somalia and Kenya, says that despite the school's diversity, there's a climate of discomfort at Central High around the topic of race and black history.

For Osman, the solution isn't to talk about race less; it's to talk about it more. 

"For Black History Month, we go to an assembly on Martin Luther King and they talk about his dream, but that's not what it's all about," she says. "He's not the only black activist. There's so much more, and I want my school to talk about it."

Osman and Hassan spent the afternoon with a group of mostly white students from Pittsfield, planning next steps for addressing race at their schools. 

A collective brainstorm from students on racism in N.H. high schools and colleges.
Credit Sarah Gibson for NHPR

Jeanne Hruska is the policy director with the ACLU. She says it's heartening to see students share stories and resources. 

"We're a very white state overall, but we absolutely have diversity, especially concentrated in a few parts of the state," she says, "One of our goals of this event was to bring youth from across the state, recognizing that youth have different experiences of race and racism in different parts of the state.”

Some of the students’ next steps include organizing school workshops to talk about race, and asking that curricula include perspectives of African Americans, Latinos, and immigrants.