On March 26, 2019, an eager group of students represented DMAE at the NAACP Bergen County Chapter Conference at Teaneck, NJ, to take part in a conversation to combat hate. The event was co-sponsored by the NAACP Chapter, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, The Bergen County National Urban League, and the Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton. Students from DMAE and the Frisch School attended the special event.
“We heard from one of the original civil rights advocates – a member of the the Memphis 13 who courageously began the fight to integrate schools back in the 60s. We heard from a former Nazi on human equality,” noted Principal Billy Bowie, who led the trip. “It was a great opportunity to see and hear different perspectives on civil and human rights,” he said.
The event spotlighted two internationally known human and civil rights speakers who told memorable personal stories of overcoming hate, T.M. Garret and Dwania Kyles.
T.M. Garret, a former Nazi and Ku Klux Klan leader, spoke of his horrible actions. He said that he regretted his decisions and is working every day to embrace diversity between all races. Now, he says he “fights for equality and rights for everyone, regardless of gender and religion.”
“I feel like this was a very eye opening experience for all of us,” said junior Faith Anderson. “The guy really changed for the better and it shows that this work can truly help us be better and learn to embrace our diversity,” she explained.
Dwania Kyles spoke about being on the receiving end of racism and hate as one of 13 girls in Memphis who integrated the school system there following the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education (in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and whites students to be unconstitutional). She was five years old when she became one of the Memphis 13, supported by highly activist parents.
She spoke about a variety of things, including how she survived the “N” word and how what she experienced there made her feel proud to be an African American. Additionally, she explained that she and the other students were chosen on the basis of excellent grades, which was an inspiration to thousands at the time. But some of the Memphis 13 did not last the first year, and many left before the sixth grade. She explained that it was hard for all of them to learn how to protect themselves psychologically “so we weren’t destroyed by it as a five year old and six year old.”
“Her story really made me feel like I was accepted, and that no matter what, the diversity o] Americans wouldn’t be complete without African Americans.”
Dr. Bowie was equally impressed, and said that he thought the conference “was a powerful experience” and hopes DMAE students will have more opportunities with longer periods of dialogue on these topics and why they matter in the future.