Tag Archives: diversity

“Diversify Our Narrative” Students Join Burbank DEI Subcommittee

Following a petition to expand classroom reading curriculum throughout the Burbank Unified School District, two high school students are now members of a district committee with a similar goal.

Burbank students Sophia Moore and Adelina Hernandez are local proponents of the Diversify Our Narrative campaign, which contains guidelines for implementing a required reading list with more novels telling stories from people of color in schools throughout the state. After receiving a heavy flow of petition signatures, the district reached out on behalf of the BUSD Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, offering the two students spots on a subcommittee to tackle the lack of diversity in Burbank educational programs. 

This Curriculum and Instruction Subcommittee consists of discussions between teachers, parents, and other administration personnel in which techniques to structure a diverse and anti-racist school program are being explored.

Moore, now a senior at John Burroughs High School, says that the subcommittee experience has opened up an extensive dialogue regarding how class readings impact the Burbank student body. 

“We talk about…the student experience dealing with the books that we read,” Moore said. “How does that kind of book and the way the topics of that book are dealt with, how does that impact students of color?”

Discussions are set to continue through the year, and May of 2021 is a prospective date for the subcommittee to submit a proposed list of books to incorporate in K through 12 classes, although the timeline is predicted to be ongoing for the group.

Local teacher and subcommittee member Emily Weisberg joined the gathering, which began earlier this summer, in order to gain knowledge on how the BUSD can improve the traditional teachings that reside in California classrooms. Weisberg says she has seen first-hand how static, limited class modules can affect students and notes the value of representation. 

“As a teacher, there is nothing more important for our students than to see themselves in the history we teach, the literature we read, and the scientists, mathematicians and artists we explore,” Weisberg said. “Curriculum and instruction have remained pretty stagnant in regards to what, and how, we teach so this was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the work being done within our district and find ways to deepen, and support that work.” 

Not only is the subcommittee geared towards discovering beneficial additions to curriculum, but also how current teachings can create lasting experiences for students of color.

 “I’ve learned how some books are actually harming children, or the way the books taught have brought on trauma for some students,” said Nadra Ostrom, subcommittee member and BUSD parent.  “The lack of diversity in literature and lack of sensitivity in teaching books with challenging content around race is very harmful to our students.”

Beyond literature, another subject which may be a focus in future talks is history. Like English classes being addressed with novels that display accurate experiences for people of color, classroom history texts often have a narrow point-of-view which subcommittee members hope to broaden.

“In general… the curriculum can do a much better job of teaching accurate U.S. History, showing more perspectives besides the predominantly white male perspective, include more groups of people, include more individuals who have made contributions to our society,” Ostrom said.

BUSD parent TeAnne Chennault became involved in the DEI Committee in 2018 after experiencing personal ignorance and racism within the school district. Chennault initially formed a group with two other local parents raising children of color who shared similar experiences, which later evolved into interactions with BUSD members regarding the best ways to introduce a committee for inclusivity and equity for students of color. 

“So many of us had experiences in the schools where our children were exposed to racist encounters or, at the very least, instances that clearly showed there was an intolerance and an ignorance in how to treat children of color, specifically black children,” Chennault said.

Following BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill’s initiative to create a stronger framework for the committee, which took place at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, Chennault has seen a greater amount of participation in the DEI Committee. Chennault hopes this shift will indicate a move towards equal representation for all children in the BUSD.

I want to make sure my daughter, and all the kids who look like her, receive a well-rounded education within the Burbank school system,” Chennault said. “I also want to make sure their unique identity as black and brown children are respected and they see themselves reflected in materials, curriculum, teaching staff, administration, all touchpoints that help children thrive.”

From a student perspective, being a subcommittee member has shown Moore the differences one can make through sharing their personal accounts and taking real action towards change.

“There [are] things that I can do and say and use my experience as a student to positively impact the things that have been impacting me,” Moore said.

“I think this whole thing has really gotten me to be hyper-aware of how much is lacking and how much power I as a student have to change the fault in our curriculum.”

“DIVERSITY” Show Set To Raise Funds For Family Service Agency

After the success of the November 2017 show, DIVERSITY: Stories of Connection in an Urban Jungle returns with a new cast and set of stories for a performance on Wednesday evening, February 27, at The Colony Theatre.

“I am excited to bring this group of irresistible and gutsy storytellers to The Colony Theatre for this one-night-only show,” commented Suzanne Weerts, JAM Creative Founder and Producing Artistic Director. “Their stories are as diverse as their life experiences, but I personally find either something I can relate to or something I am grateful to now understand having heard them share their vivid perspectives.”

“As rushed as we often are in our lives and as bombarded as we can be by information overload, I find it so worthwhile to sit for an hour and a half and just listen. Listen to Peter Skrabak’s beautiful guitar. Listen to the voices of storytellers who dare to share true tales from their lives. Listen to people who make us laugh at our misconceptions and make us think about how we can be more open-hearted going forward.”

The cast of the 2019 show includes: Maia Akiva, Lawrence Dotson, Jules Ford, Candace Nicholas-Lippman, Jenny Mosley, Oscar Sagastume, Ellen Switkes, Lan Tran, Janette Valenzo and Betty Yee.

The cast of the 2019 “DIVERSITY: Stories of Connection in an Urban Jungle” share their perspectives at The Colony Theatre on Wednesday, February 27. (Photo By Ross Benson)

Burbank resident Skrabak plays guitar from 7:00 – 7:30 p.m. to open the event. Proceeds from the 90-minute show benefit Family Service Agency. Weerts’ events have raised nearly $12,000 to date for FSA.

“I hope that people walk away from the DIVERSITY show feeling we’ve watered a seed of change within them,” commented Ford. “Hearing the powerful, relatable stories from these people with so many different perspectives may just wake up a part of them to make them feel more connected with others, regardless of their race, gender, or identity. We’re all people, and we’re all in this together.”

“I know that coming to terms with having a child who doesn’t behave along expected gender norms can confuse or even scare some parents,” Ford added. “My hope is that those parents that recognize themselves in my story will be able to reach out to their LGBTQIA kid with love and compassion, recognizing and accepting their truth, especially if they haven’t yet taken that step themselves.”

“PROGRESS is what excites me most being in a show celebrating this theme, a show celebrating, honoring, and listening to stories from individuals of all different backgrounds, races and ethnicities,” said Nicholas-Lippman. “It’s a chance for us to begin to really understand one another instead of using preconceived notions, stereotypes, etc. to pass judgment. This show offers the space for a conversation to occur. And that is progress.”

“Through DIVERSITY, Suzanne is offering a platform for the conversation to be had,” she added. “It really just takes a conversation. My hope is simple… an understanding. Hate, prejudice, racism, etc., all stem from a lack of understanding. Because people don’t take the time to talk to one another, to listen, to educate themselves on those who look different than them…hate creeps in due to ignorance or lack of understanding.”

The cast of the 2019 “DIVERSITY: Stories of Connection in an Urban Jungle” share their perspectives at The Colony Theatre on Wednesday, February 27. (Photo By Ross Benson)

“Having the opportunity to raise money and awareness about the valuable work done in our community by Family Service Agency is important to me,” Weerts added. “FSA provides mental health counseling for students in all BUSD schools.”

“They work with victims, families and perpetrators of domestic violence as well as provide support for veterans, homeless families and foster youth. Challenges with mental health and mental illness cross all gender, racial, and cultural lines. Everyday, the dedicated therapists at FSA are working to ensure that the stories they hear can result in happy endings.”

“This show demonstrates that even though we are different we are all people who are trying to make our way through life the best way we can, with the challenges we face,” said Akiva. “The piece I’m sharing is a big part of my personal healing story and it’s very empowering to share it and be honest and vulnerable and not hide the parts of my life I am challenged with. My journey is another side of what people who are confused about their (gender) identity, go through.”

“The most empowering (and I do not use this word often) instrument we each possess is our personal story,” added Yee, who currently serves as California State Controller. “Unique and owned by each of us that no one can take away, our personal stories have the power to help us find the ties that bring us together, affirming time and time again we are of one common humanity.”

Tickets for DIVERSITY: Stories of Connection in an Urban Jungle are $25 for general admission and can be purchased in advance here or at the box office ahead of the show. More information about the show can be found here.

The Colony Theatre is located at 555 N. Third Street in Burbank. Parking is available in the adjacent parking structure.

“Diversity” Show Raises Funds For Family Service Agency

Diversity: Stories of Connection in an Urban Jungle appears at The Colony Theatre on Monday, November 13, for a one-night-only show. A collection of true stories told live on stage, Diversity runs the gamut from the humorous to the poignant. All proceeds from the performance benefit Burbank’s Family Service Agency.

Produced and directed by Burbanker Suzanne Weerts, Diversity showcases live music by Burbank resident and award-winning guitarist Peter Skrabak and the irreverent country-comedy duo Mommy Tonk.

Diversity

Storytellers Hedia Anvar, Katsy Chapell, Megan Dolan, Carlos Lacamara, Liza Marquez, Janora McDuffie, Horus Ra, Lila Lee Silvern and Suzanne Skrabak share their interesting and often hilarious takes on experiences with immigration, interracial marriage, racism, neurodiversity and cultural challenges, according to Weerts.

“After several years of performing in/sharing my stories on stages across Southern California in other people’s shows, I decided to produce my own,” commented Weerts. “In 2016 and 2017, I co-produced/co-directed the two sold out Listen To Your Mother shows at The Colony Theatre as benefits for FSA.”

“Through those shows, we were able to raise over $6000 for FSA while raising awareness for their important work in the community,” she went on to say.

“As Family Service Agency prepares to celebrate their 65th Anniversary in Burbank in 2018, it is all the more important that their work with the mental healthcare and preventative programs on 19 Burbank campuses, the three long-term transitional shelters and support programs for battered women and their children and homeless families be recognized and celebrated.”

“Every person who connects with FSA has a story, and often times ones that involves seemingly insurmountable challenges. The meaningful work done by FSA in counseling and mental health services is always aimed toward ensuring those stories have positive outcomes.”

“Productions like Diversity and Listen To Your Mother use the time-honored tradition of storytelling to get people talking about similarities in our experiences and the challenges we all face and help us to see how more alike we are than different.”

“I wanted to bring Diversity: Stories of Connection in an Urban Jungle to the stage because my heart has been so heavy in the wake of divisive rhetoric in our country,” added Weerts. “When we put out the call for submissions, we had no idea what kind of stories we’d receive. And certainly the show has taken a different form than I might have predicted with tales that are brilliant, surprising, heartbreaking and hilarious.”

Weerts expressed gratitude for story curators Marsha Ramos, Dan Tirman and Stan Sellers, who helped select the stories, and Jennifer Hughes for graphic design. She also noted the Burbank Human Relations Council is a sponsor of the show, “knowing the value of promoting understanding and cooperation among the diverse groups that compose our community.”

The show is supported by JAM Creative and is also sponsored by Cusumano Real Estate Group, Alisa Cunningham Properties, Universal Studios Hollywood, Volpei Gussow Real Estate Group, Color Images and Susy Shearer Photography.

Diversity: Stories of Connection in an Urban Jungle has one show at The Colony Theatre on Monday, November 13, at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $25 and available in advance here. The Colony Theatre is located at 555 N. Third Street in Burbank, with ample free parking available on site.