Freedom from Bias: Poly Parents Do Anti-Racism Work

How do parents help children understand police brutality and street protests? How can we learn about overlooked parts of American history that echo in today’s headlines? 

As Black Lives Matter protests filled streets across America this spring, Poly’s Freedom from Bias (FFB) parent group stepped in to help Poly parents understand the movement–and the context. The reading and discussion group organized an online gathering of nearly 40 parents for a 90-minute discussion. They shared resources, asked questions, and strategized steps forward–for our families and for our school.

Jeffrey Mandelbaum

“Our vision for Freedom from Bias was that everyone in the Poly community would not only be included, but also engaged,” said co-founder Jeff Mandelbaum P’27. “We are not a group, but rather a movement, an initiative to raise awareness. I am a parent of a child who identifies as Latinx-Jewish, and I wanted to help foster a safe and progressive school environment, which welcomes diversity, and prioritizes inclusion and social justice.”

A Community-Driven Initiative

Freedom from Bias began about five years ago “from the impulse for a diversity reading initiative for Lower School parents,” Mandelbaum said.  Co-founder Erin Texeira P’25 wrote its mission statement:

“Freedom from Bias nurtures the partnership between the school and Poly families on issues of diversity, equity, and social justice. Poly staff are tackling big topics–from civil rights to gender bias–in their classrooms. FFB aims to help parents gain the insight and inspiration to continue these conversations at home.”

“Over the past four plus years we have selected books, articles, and some videos, covering sexism and the impact of living in a patriarchal society, as well as girls’ and boys’ challenges facing harmful stereotypes,” Mandelbaum said. “We have explored racism and the trials of existing in white supremacist culture. We have sought out subject matter that unravels ‘othering’ in all of its forms.”

“We dove in with gusto, gathering once a month, offering various reading materials on race, gender, and socio-economic issues,” he added. Among the readings were: Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Redefining Girly, Ten Ways to Fight Hate, A Community Response Guide, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, How to Talk to Your Children About Bias and Prejudice, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys, “The Problem of Othering, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, and The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism.

Freedom From Bias book collage
Community Conversations Build Understanding
Indhira Arrington

“Freedom from Bias creates a safe space for parents and members of our community to discuss and educate ourselves on diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice,” said Indhira Arrington P’29, ’31. “It has been amazing to be part of a community that is willing to openly discuss some tough and sensitive topics. I have learned so much from our readings, podcasts, and films through the years and from my fellow parents’ experiences. We have had many moments of fellowship that have brought us closer together and helped us understand our different experiences and world views.”

Susanna Chan

Susanna Chan P’29 added, “The conversations around bias and more importantly, learning about a new ‘language’ and way of speaking and communicating, which is not just reading, and listening, but also reflecting and ultimately considering your words carefully, were incredibly profound and offered a real discussion that was conducted in a safe space.”

“I’ve been exposed to the reality of how families, especially persons of color or other backgrounds see themselves and their place in the world and also to reevaluate my own as it relates to raising a child,” Chan said.  “I’m grateful for being exposed to the conversations as it definitely has helped me understand a better way to frame things or speak of things with my child, especially as it relates to fairness, instead of just referring to things as polarized ‘right or wrong.’ It has given me hope that my child will have better empathy, skills, and understanding for a pluralistic and challenging society that lies in a world that she will inherit.”

New Leadership and Plans for 2020-21

Participation in Freedom from Bias expanded to Middle and Upper School parents with the revitalization of the Parents’ Association on the Dyker Heights campus. “FFB is yet another great way to get parents to support Poly as it continues to drive diversity as one of its key pillars,” Arrington said.

Freedom From Bias logo

In 2019-20, Margo Flug P’31 and Blake Foote P’27, ’29 took on the roles of facilitators for Freedom from Bias. “As a diverse group of parents,” Flug said, “we felt we could relate to each other’s challenges and be honest about the best ways to address issues of race, social justice, and inequity.  These issues are constantly in the news—not to mention faced by our communities and our own families—most recently with anti-Asian backlash during the pandemic and nationwide protests against police brutality sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. And, of course, these complex issues are being tackled in the classrooms at Poly, as well.  Even our youngest children come home with questions about these issues as they try to make sense of these lessons, their own experiences, and of current events.”

At the first gathering of the past school year, using How to Be an Anti-Racist  by Ibram X. Kendi, discussion focused on white privilege. In February, they focused on the NYC Equity for Parents Conference on Racial Equity Literacy where Poly parents shared their experiences promoting school equity during a parent-led workshop. During Virtual Poly in May, parents attended a joint presentation about DESJ developments this year to discuss how parents might move that work forward in the coming school year.

“Another challenge was hosting a virtual parent-led forum to help each other learn about, talk to their children about, and take action against anti-Black racism,” Flug said. 

“Race in America can be seen as a ‘third rail’ in discussions and recent events have highlighted that racism has deep roots in our history, with repercussions that many of us have not acknowledged and examined,” Foote said.  “So creating an honest and open forum for talking about these issues is hard.”

Virtual Events in the New School Year

“We are planning the first couple Freedom from Bias events as virtual,” said Foote. Four Wednesday meetings are scheduled for September 30, December 2, February 24, and May 5. The virtual meetings seem to be more accessible and better attended than in-person gatherings.

Chan encourages all parents to participate. “It’s eye-opening, mind-opening, and nobody is above self-reflection leading to mindful growth,” she said.

“A healthy campus environment benefits students of all backgrounds and we want Freedom from Bias to help ensure that environment exists.”

Erin Texeira P’25

“It’s been difficult to face, once again, the hard truth that our campus environment is not as inclusive as we want it to be.  Many students of color, past and present, don’t feel welcome at Poly.”  Texeira said. “Students have been speaking out with honesty and bravery, and we are truly seeing the next generation of leaders finding their voices.”

The goals for the 2020-21 school year are to: “provide a useful learning and action community for parents seeking to deepen their knowledge about systemic anti-Black racism and how to fight it; work closely with the new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) Director, Historically Underrepresented Groups (HUGs), Parents’ Association (PA), and faculty to help amplify the voices of parents seeking to enhance Poly’s DESJ mission; co-host an event with HUGs Asian Pacific Islander (API) to address anti-Asian racism especially in the context of COVID; and provide a forum for parents to suggest and lead discussion about additional DESJ-related topics of their choosing.”

“A healthy campus environment benefits students of all backgrounds,” said Texeira, “and we want Freedom from Bias to help ensure that environment exists.” Foote added, “We are grateful that Mr. Barzdukas and his team have been responsive to students’ concerns, and we look forward to joining the first of three community events on August 11 at 12:00 PM, which will focus on anti-racism at Poly.” Poly families may register here.

For more information about Freedom from Bias,  Poly families are welcome to reach out to Blake Foote and Margo Flug. Please visit the Parent Portal directory for email addresses.