“This is not a comfortable conversation to have, but it’s an important conversation,” Dr. Ammar Saheli said, addressing the audience of students and staff at Portola Jr./Sr. High School on a recent Friday morning.
The conversation Dr. Saheli refers to is discussing the roles race and racism play in our communities, both in school and in society at large. CEO of Saheli7 Consulting and Director of Student Support Services San Lorenzo Unified School District, with a doctorate in international and multicultural education, Dr. Saheli was invited to share his expertise to the PUSD students and staff by Kevin Bean, director of Student Services and SELPA for Plumas Unified School District.
“We wanted to bring training for students and staff around issues of racial equity,” said Bean. “I saw Dr. Saheli speak at the State SELPA Association in Sacramento, and was impressed by his passion and knowledge on the subject, as well as his ability to inspire people to have courageous conversations about race and racism.”
Dr. Saheli asked the students to share examples of stereotypes based on race. One student said, “Assuming a person isn’t as smart as you are because of the color of their skin.” The audience agreed that stereotypes exist in our society, whether we are aware of them or not, and that they are not fair or true.
Dr. Saheli told the students about instances in his life when he was treated differently because of his skin color.
“Acknowledging that we live in a racial society is the first step to undoing racist stereotypes. We can have a racial conversation, where we talk about how our society is built around our racial differences, without being racist,” Dr. Saheli told his audience, adding that he and his family talk about racial issues a lot, and it is still uncomfortable.
Bean said, “Feedback on the assembly from the community has been positive. Most students have been engaged at the presentations, which have now occurred in all four communities. A number of students in each community stayed back after the presentation to speak with Dr. Saheli. Many shared their experiences with race and racial issues in the assembly itself.” He continued, “Dr. Saheli has provided us with content that can be used by teachers in the classroom. We will continue to work with him to roll these lessons out in the coming months.”