Castlemont High School students celebrated Unity Day last week, attending workshops centered on the impacts of mass incarceration, gentrification, and racism on people of color in America.
The annual event engages students in educational workshops about Black and Latino culture and exposes them to aspects of history that are not regularly taught in schools.
In response to the racial tensions that existed in local high schools during the late 90s, Unity Day was created by a group of East Bay youth as a way to mobilize their peers to effect positive change.
Presented by Youth Together – a local nonprofit working with high schools to resist violence and racism and improve communities – the two-day event was held on Sept. 23 at Castlemont and Sept. 24 at Skyline High School, designed to empower young people to contribute to the change that is needed in their schools and communities.
One workshop at Castlemont dissected the school-to-prison pipeline and examined the factors that contribute to the system that disproportionately affects Blacks and Latinos.
Statistics show that one in 15 Black men and one in 36 Latino men are incarcerated, compared to one in 106 white men, according to Devonte Jackson, of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, who presented the workshop on mass incarceration and the criminalization of people of color.
Another workshop challenged students to identify the ways in which institutional racism affects education. Some laws disparately affect certain groups of people more than others, said Eric Adams, presenter of the workshop.
Before Assembly Bill 420 was passed last year limiting the use of “willful defiance” as a reason to expel students, Black and Latino youth were disciplined more than other students based on a vague rule against defiance, Adams noted.
Students were encouraged to not only talk about these systemic problems and the impacts on their communities but to also think about what can be done.
Nikita Mitchell, a #BlackLivesMatter activist and Castlemont alumna, used the game of soccer to illustrate the way in which society has applied unjust rules on people of color.
You can either “play the rules or challenge the rules to change the game,” said Mitchell during her workshop with students in Castlemont’s Man-Up class.
The day ended with music and performances.
Jose Alejandre, site organizer at Castlemont for Youth Together, said the organization will continue to create a safe space for students to discuss these issues, seek solutions and become the leaders who will bring change to their schools and community.