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Race relations panel challenges MFISD community to ’embrace differences’

Calvin Richard

First Baptist Church of Marble Falls Recreation Pastor Calvin Richard details moments of racial tension during a panel discussion on race relations hosted by the Marble Falls Independent School District on Thursday, Jan. 12. Staff photo by Nathan Bush

Panelists talked about instances of racism they have personally experienced and encouraged embracing diversity during a public discussion on race relations hosted by the Marble Falls Independent School District on Thursday, Jan. 12. 

The event comes on the heels of a November incident during a Marble Falls High School girls’ basketball game and a meeting last February that was held after parents told the school board about racist incidents they and their children had experienced on campuses. 

Panelists for “Candid Conversations: Fulfilling the Dream — A Discussion About Race and Relations” were community activist Bessie Jackson, The Athletic Club owner Fermin Ortiz, and First Baptist Church of Marble Falls Recreation Pastor Calvin Richard. Iglesia Conexiones Pastor Alan Ramirez was unable to attend due to a funeral.

Panelists detailed ways the school district and community could confront racism and hold meaningful dialogue on issues of diversity.

“I think it’s beautiful when we embrace that there are differences,” Richard said. “When people say they don’t see color, that’s a nice PC (politically correct) thing to say, but we all see color. Let’s embrace the fact that this is what we see. Let’s get to know what those differences are and what those similarities are. That’s what I’d like to welcome in our conversations.”

Before the panel discussion began, MFISD Superintendent Dr. Chris Allen explained its purpose.

“I think we can all agree that what we want for everyone in our community is that everyone is treated with dignity and respect at all times,” he said. “What we’re aiming to do this evening is have an opportunity to listen in the name of trying to make sure we’re being as sensitive and aware to the needs of our neighbors as we need to be.”

The conversation was led by MFISD social worker Kaitlin Puckett, a white woman who is the mother of a Black child.

“She has a perspective she can bring to this discussion that some can’t,” Allen said when introducing her. “In the name of listening and having a heart of empathy, I felt like she would be the best person to facilitate this (discussion).”

To open the meeting, Puckett asked panelists to share moments in their life when they experienced racism.

Ortiz talked about instances involving other Latinos in the area.

“I had a unique experience,” he said. “I came from Puerto Rico. Our Spanish is a little different from the Spanish spoken by the Mexican community. We sound uppity, kind of like British English against American English. I was prejudiced by the local Hispanic community because I didn’t speak the way they spoke.”

Richard talked about a cross burning in 2015 at Smoking for Jesus Ministry, a predominately African-American church in the Highland Lakes.

“This was two blocks from my house where my three kids and wife all live,” Richard said. “Literally, in 2015, we’re still burning crosses outside of churches. No one was caught. It didn’t seem to be a big deal to pursue that situation. In a small town, somebody knows something that somebody did. The fact that nobody said anything was pretty hurtful to see happen.”

Midway through the discussion, conversations turned toward an incident during the Lady Mustangs’ basketball game against East Central High School on Nov. 18. It took place in Max Copeland Gym on the Marble Falls High School campus and involved a Marble Falls student making what were deemed racially insensitive noises toward East Central player Asia Prudhomme, who is Black, as she shot free throws. 

“I have had kids tell me, ‘(Officials) are not going to do anything because (the offenders) are rich,’” panelist Bessie Jackson said. “‘They’re not going to do nothing. They’re just going to wash it under the bridge and hope we just forget about it.’ We cannot afford to do that. We cannot afford not to do something.”

As the conversation progressed, Ortiz asked if the district ever apologized to Prudhomme.

“Did anybody call this young lady personally and apologize?” he asked. “Do we know? I wanted to, and then I thought it really wasn’t my place. I should’ve and still am. If anybody has her number, I am going to call her. She needs to know that’s not Marble Falls.”

Allen confirmed with DailyTrib.com that a private apology was issued by the district and delivered by Marble Falls High School Principal Damon Adams to Prudhomme along with her team via a Zoom call as per the wishes of the East Central ISD Athletic Department.

Panelists posited ways the district can increase racial sensitivity among its student body and staff.

“It’s got to start at the top,” Jackson said. “We have to be firm in all that we do.”

To end the meeting, Allen shared his thoughts about the night’s conversations.

“We have systemic work to do,” he said. “We’re dealing with these things as a school district. We have work we know we want to continue to accomplish. We’re committed to doing some things, but at the end of the day, what it takes is everybody, neighbor to neighbor, conversation to conversation, interaction to interaction, trying to be the best version of ourselves we can possibly be.”

The full panel discussion is available to watch on the district’s YouTube page.

nathan@thepicayune.com