The Conversations Count team: Toni Gray (second from left), Nalani (second from front left), Riley (second from front right), and Kellie Tutkowski (second from right)
August 1, 2017
Produced by Katie Kuhn, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County
Did you feel like you “fit in” in high school?
This is a complicated question, and the answer can change depending on the day. Most teenagers experience at least a moment of self-doubt, of feeling different, of feeling that no one could possibly understand.
Brookfield East High School is a big, beautiful building situated between trees, fields, and neighborhoods in Brookfield, a western suburb of Milwaukee. The 2010 U.S. Census reported that 90% of Brookfield residents identify as white, and this is reflected in the demographics of the school itself. For students of color at Brookfield East, navigating the high school experience presents challenges that many of their white peers – and teachers - do not understand.
A few years ago, a group of students, teachers, and community members decided to change that. Riley and Nalani were sophomores when they founded SAFE Club, which aims to create programming around issues of difference and provide a safe space for students of color to come together. The mission of SAFE Club is reflected in the Equity Team, made up of Brookfield East teachers committed to increasing awareness of racial issues and creating opportunities for conversation and growth.
Today we talk with Riley and Nalani, founders of SAFE Club and recent graduates of Brookfield East. We also hear from Equity Team member and English teacher Kelly Tutkowski and Toni Gray, mom to Nalani and Diversity and Inclusion Project Manager at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The group discusses their recent efforts to enhance awareness of race and racism through the “Conversations Count” event series, as well as their personal reflections on dealing with race and difference as a Brookfield East student, teacher, and parent.
United Way was proud to support Brookfield East in their Conversations Count event series by providing sponsorship for refreshments and staff to help in planning and act as note takers. Conversations Count is a conversation series similar to United Way’s Community Conversations, which work to gather public knowledge to inform our work and that of our partners.
This summer, the Brookfield East Equity Team will take YWCA’s Unlearning Racism class. Listen to our interview with YWCA CEO Paula Penebaker and Racial Justice Director Martha Barry as they discuss the course and how listeners can get involved.