High school students ‘Stand Against Racism’

Art project connects academics with activism

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

April 20, 2012
  Posters by North High School students, like the one pictured here, will be on display at UMass Medical School as part of the Central Massachusetts YWCA’s Stand Against Racism.

On Friday, April 27, communities across the nation will take a Stand Against Racism with local chapters of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). With its goal to unite those who share the vision of a society free of racism and discrimination, the Stand Against Racism has been held on the last Friday in April since its inception by the Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, YWCAs in 2007.

A ‘stand’ is any private or public event hosted by an organization, company, school or church where participants gather to pledge that they will stand united against racism. This year, YWCA Stands Against Racism will take place in 70 cities in 36 states, including Worcester, where more than 40 local organizations will stand with the Central Massachusetts YWCA. Among them is UMass Medical School, which in partnership with North High School is involving city teenagers with a project that unites learning in the classroom with action in the community.

At the suggestion of the Medical School’s Diversity and Equal Opportunity Office, North High art teacher Jason Harthan recruited 35 of his students to become official stand participants by creating posters that protest racism. The original, hand-painted posters will be on display in several locations at the Medical School’s University Campus in Worcester and South Street campus in Shrewsbury from April 23 to April 30.

In addition to engaging youth in social change, the poster project satisfies several Massachusetts arts curriculum frameworks, including one that requires students to demonstrate their powers of observation, abstraction, invention and expression with artwork that conveys a personal point of view about issues and ideas—in this case, that racism still exists and that it cannot be ignored or tolerated. “The students are proud of their work and look forward to having many UMMS employees and visitors view it,” said Robert Layne, MEd, director of UMMS outreach programs, which include the Worcester Pipeline Collaborative, a major supporter of the Health Sciences Magnet at North High School.

The poster project is one of many creative approaches to end racism that will be put forth at the daylong Central Massachusetts YWCA Stand Against Racism. The schedule will culminate with a Public Stand on the Worcester City Hall Common (or the YWCA in case of rain) from 3 to 5 p.m. featuring community speakers and performers. All are encouraged to join the rally, which is free and open to the public.