By Ella Kohler
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
On the afternoon of June 7, North Street was flooded with colorful signs and calls for justice as hundreds gathered to show solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd. After the event, attendees dispersed, returned home, and put away their signs. The problems that prompted the rally, however, remain dangerously present.
So with Medfield’s rally in the past, the town is left to reflect on the event, then go a step further: Medfield must consider what changes the community needs in regards to racial justice and how these improvements can be achieved.
While they did not organize the rally, a group of young black women, including Katrina Kizito, Kayla Victor, and Izzy Andre, emerged as the rally’s leaders by initiating chants and a march down the street. Following the event, they reflected on their experience at the rally and in the town overall.
“We walked in there and it was really quiet, but there were so many people,” Kizito said. “We expected everyone to be already going at it. And, mind you, we were the only black people there. All eyes were on us and it was a lot of pressure because we had to find a way to start things.”
Speaking to her feelings about taking on this leading role, Andre said: “At first, I was kind of nervous, but then the feeling of finally just being tired of it, it really just fueled me to want to do something instead of just standing there. So, I was nervous at first, but when we started walking, my confidence went all the way up.”
Ultimately, the girls admired the rally’s turnout, as well as its peaceful nature. Still, they pointed out that the largely white crowd mainly relied on the black attendees for direction. Rather than worrying about the white attendees overstepping, the girls remarked that they would have liked to see their white peers taking more initiative.
“I would say it was a successful rally," Kizito said, "but then, there is a lot to do. You don’t need us to be there to actually chant. If you really cared about the movement, you’d know what to do, you’d know how to start it off.”
Moving forward, each young woman hopes to see further change in town. Victor noted her hope for more diverse faculty in Medfield schools, as well as curriculum improvements. “I had to learn a lot of things on my own,” said Victor. “I didn’t even know what Juneteenth was. I had to look it up.”
Andre also commented on her wish for changes in regards to how Medfield schools handle incidents of racism. “I would like to see discipline, instead of [students] being told that it’s wrong.” She found that black students themselves often had to take action and educate their white peers in these situations.
When it comes to the town’s attitude towards black people and other minority groups, both Kizito and Victor indicated that there is room for improvement. Each girl said that Medfield could be more welcoming to non-white residents, with Kizito adding that the creation of groups that helped minorities in town could be beneficial.
Making the meaningful change that these women hope to see will require much time and effort. Still, recent town initiatives provide a glimmer of hope for such change.
For example, Victor mentioned her interest in Medfield schools becoming involved with METCO, a voluntary school integration program. Recently, class of 2020 graduate Carina Christo created a petition to bring the METCO program to Medfield Public Schools and collected over one thousand signatures. According to Christo, Medfield’s superintendent also indicated his support for the program, although certain obstacles to implementing the program remain.
A new course centered on diversity serves as a similar sliver of optimism for the cause. Taught by Kerry Cowell and Zach Barrows to educators across the district for the first time this year, the class focused on topics such as race and racism, issues faced by the LGBTQ community, mental illness, physical disabilities, and identities in faith.
“This was one initial step for the district to better support our educators in an attempt to better support our students,” Barrows said. Notably, the thirteen-week course involved teachers creating new units of curriculum for their classes. For example, one science teacher planned a unit about the workings of the coronavirus, as well as the virus’ impact on marginalized communities. The school committee recently committed to running the course again next year.
Additionally, Medfield superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Marsden spoke to the girls’ desire for more black teachers in Medfield schools. Marsden said that there is currently a statewide initiative with the expectation that “school districts would really be actively seeking candidates of color so that [they] could diversify the workforce.” These active efforts include attending job fairs for African-American candidates, Marsden said.
Victor also mentioned that rally organizer Sarah Jenks had reached out about a “no tolerance policy” idea related to increased disciplinary action in response to racism.
These kinds of changes provide hope, but not comfort. As the movement loses some virality on social media, there is uncertainty about the permanence of this increased attention and action.
“It’s getting very quiet, and I just feel like everything’s going to be forgotten in a few weeks and then it will just not be there anymore,” said Kizito. She related this waning action to seeing false sunlight: “It’s just like another storm’s passed and then sunshine is out again.”
Alongside concerns that improvements will fall short, there is hope for genuine, lasting change. In order to achieve this change, Kizito spoke of actions like signing petitions and educating people. When it comes to these and other efforts for the cause, Kizito said, “I feel like it needs to be consistent and constant.”