Inspired by unrest in the country following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, a Facebook group has made its mission to provide support to people of color in Medford and teach others about race.
Group administrator and creator Britani Raynor, who is bi-racial, started Empower Support Medford on June 3 with hopes to build a network of non-white people in the community. It soon expanded to 400 members who wanted to understand race relations in the township.
The space provided Natalie Devlin and Patrice Cherstal a place to inform the township about a Black Lives Matter protest on June 10, but Raynor explained it was not the group’s first action plan.
“It was good to see the support in Medford’s people,” she reflected.
Raynor moved to Medford in August from an undisclosed, but close location and remembered being on the phone with a friend as she admitted not knowing many people of color in Medford. But Raynor did not want to face pressure in coming forward with group members’ personal stories.
That’s where Empower Support Medford came into play. Members whose stories could not be shared publicly for privacy reasons recounted numerous stories of life in the township, including dealing with racism and frustration with the school system not fully educating children on race.
“I have had very small instances of teaching moments to people,” Raynor recalled. “The biggest micro-aggression I get in Medford is that I look ‘so exotic,’ ‘so different,’ or ‘What are you?’ before ‘How are you.’”
But Raynor said her experiences have been largely positive. Having learned the experiences of others, she noted, the group teaches about the lives of non-white people and how to comfortably talk about the typically uncomfortable conversation of race.
The group has initiated a virtual book club, with the first title being “How to be Anti-Racist.” Members read each book and join virtual meet-ups to learn how to make racism and discrimination dinner-appropriate conversation.
Shawnee High School teachers in the Facebook group help others learn about the public curriculum on race, the country’s history with racism and how to change it. But outreach is not limited to the confines of Facebook.
“Personally I want to go out to the Medford Police Department and see if they have a liaison we can speak to there,” Raynor explained. “We want to walk a little before we run.”
She denies her group is “starting a race war,” as other Facebook groups have alleged. Raynor’s group has sought to instead open discussion on race at the local level for those willing to participate..
“People who believe that they are not ready to open their hearts and minds to the conversation of race,” she firmly stated, “until they do that, there is not much I can do to change it. But we will be here with open arms when they are ready to have that conversation.”
People of all backgrounds are encouraged to join the group, as long as they’re ready to “be vulnerable and accept things that may be hard to accept.”
Raynor has continued researching police and township laws and policies, examining why there aren’t more people of color in Medford and if the deeper reason lies within residents themselves. She and other Facebook group members want to get answers to the question through interactive lessons and conversations.
Prospective members can request to join the group by searching Empower Support – Medford in the Facebook group search.