With discussions about race gaining momentum across the country, Filmmaker Melissa Lowery is doing her part to make sure girls of color are included in the conversation. At next week’s OLN Spring Leadership Institute, she will present her film, Black Girl in Suburbia, to an audience of superintendents, principals, and teacher leaders dedicated to making Oregon’s classrooms more equitable.
Inspired by her daughters’ experiences as two of the only students of color in their classrooms, Lowery’s film features interviews relating what it’s like for African American girls to navigate through white and black communities.
“One of the challenges,” Lowery says, “is when you recognize that you are different from everybody else. It comes up the most when Black History Month or anything that’s connected with African American history is discussed by the teacher. That’s when you tend to feel isolated, different, and very uncomfortable, because you don’t understand why everybody starts to focus on you, because you are learning the same things at the same time as everybody else.”
She hopes her film sparks conversations, and since premiering the film in 2014, she’s seen that happen. After screenings, audiences have engaged in discussions that, at times, have included white people talking about race for the first time. During some discussions, white audience members have expressed a fear of black people and others have said they don’t know how to act or what to say around people of color. “When I hear things like that, it’s shocking but also refreshing that they are comfortable enough to actually admit that,” Lowery says. “The fact that they’re expressing that is a really big deal and has to be part of the conversation.”
The goal is to spark dialogue. My hope is that when people watch the movie, instead of walking out and going on their day, they have a conversation to talk about it. Then the hope is that whatever comes from the conversation, a little bit of change happens. —Melissa Lowery
You can learn more about Black Girl in Suburbia and Melissa Lowery at the film’s website.
The Oregon Leadership Network (OLN) Spring Leadership Institute includes plenary and breakout sessions designed to build the capacity of education leaders to sustain research-based equitable practices across Oregon’s education system. The institute is open to participants from OLN member organizations. Contact Rob Larson for more information about the OLN.