Letter writers discuss suggested initiative to make Haddonfield more diverse

A letter to the editor from Rebecca Bryan, Laura Colee, Sarah Lawlor and Nadia Vanderkuip in response to Mr. Schafer’s letter.

We are writing in response to the letter by Mr. Schafer describing his suggested initiative to make Haddonfield more diverse by bringing in 5 Camden students each year until we reach a total of 65.

We appreciate the statistics cited, which appropriately demonstrate the profound disparity between Haddonfield and nearby Camden. We also appreciate Mr. Schafer’s “getting the conversation going” and sincere desire to help. That said, our experience working at UrbanPromise Ministries in Camden, and Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia, lead us to believe that busing children from Camden to go to school here, only to return to living in concentrated urban poverty, is not addressing the structural racism prevalent in our local community.

We are particularly troubled by this statement: “What will these Camden kids gain from this? A chance to be productive citizens, to stand tall, to become the new movers and shakers, to give back, paying it forward.” We work with youth who already meet these criteria and more, and yet continue to face an uphill battle because of racial bias and lack of adequate funding for school (after FAFSA etc). Plus this smacks of bigotry, objectifying Camden youth by suggesting they are non-productive, and unmotivated. No child is born not wanting to learn. No child shows up to school not wanting to learn. But the toxic, intergenerational stress of growing up as a person of color in this country would wear the best of us down.

Instead of placing the burden of introducing diversity on a bunch of 5 year olds, perhaps we should take a hard look at our hiring practices at the school level. Where are the people of color in our teaching staffs at our schools?

What if we took the time to get to know our Camden neighbors and find out from them what they need? See how incredibly resilient they are, instead of passing judgment on them? What if we addressed structural racism in our town, making it a place where people of color would want to live? What if we named the white privilege of which so many of us are oblivious and began to work towards lessening it? The variables here are complex, and a simple solution — which satisfies a need for a quick fix — won’t work.

We are willing and ready to engage in thoughtful conversation about race here in our hometown. People of color think about and speak of race every day, because they have no choice if they want to navigate our society. It is past time for our predominantly white community to educate ourselves about our roles in disparity as well.