Four students from Portland’s Grant High School were invited to the White House recently as finalists for the “South by South Lawn” student film festival.
Their film, “A World Without Racism,” has been part of a wider conversation about racism at their high school. One of the students involved in the project, Dylan Palmer, was at the center of a racially charged incident last year. At a varsity soccer team dinner, teammates made racist comments, and one player referred to Palmer by a racial epithet. Palmer, one of two black students on the team, was deeply troubled by the incident.
“Nobody really seemed to recognize the harm it was doing,” he says. “I was just sort of in awe that they would be doing this when we were around too.”
After the team dinner Palmer spoke to his parents about what happened. The conversation brought up a lot of emotions, and initially they felt they had to take action against the players involved. Later they decided it would be better to take a more measured approach.
“After we sort of talked through all the emotion, we realized that this is not an isolated event. Racist things are happening everywhere all the time. We needed to do something that would create growth in all the people involved instead of just punishment,” says Palmer.
Since the incident, Palmer and other members of Grant’s Student Equity Team have been working with the school’s administration to address the issue of racism in their community. They have been organizing school-wide “race forward” talks, where students are able to share their own thoughts and experiences related to race in a group setting.
“These are conversations that a lot of people aren’t having, and even for a lot of people of color who are having these discussions they’re not usually talking about it with their white peers or their teachers,” says Palmer. “It’s going to be uncomfortable, and I think that’s the point. We’re trying to normalize it.”
The idea to produce a film about race was a result of these discussions. Two members of the Student Equity Team, Finn Hawley-Blue and Mackie Mallison, had been making videos to aid in the discussions about race. Eventually they teamed up with Palmer and Khiarica Rasheed for the short film that was submitted to the “South by South Lawn” film festival. The film features a poem written by Rasheed about how to end racism, accompanied by shots of students from Grant.
“The whole purpose that we entered it in the first place was to spark conversations elsewhere, outside of just our high school.” says Mallison. “We want these conversations to be had everywhere because racism is everywhere.”
When asked how working on the film has changed his perspective Hawley-Blue says he has learned most about his own role in this discussion. “I’m in my own learning process with this work, but a lot of it has been finding my place as a white ally, working with people like Mackie and Dylan on the film.”
As for the wider conversation about race at Grant, Palmer is cautiously optimistic. “I think it’s done a great job of spreading awareness and making the school more open to change, and so it may be difficult to see the actual change come from the conversations, but they are doing good things.”