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An observance by any other name: City Year event draws more than 200

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 15. 2018 9:46PM

Katy Easterly Martey and her 4-year-old son, Theo Korley Martey, listen to a speech at the City Year New Hampshire Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday in Manchester. (MARK HAYWARD/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Organizers of a Martin Luther King Jr. cele­bration scrubbed the controversial title “Unpacking Whiteness” from a workshop on Monday, then went ahead with an event that drew more than 200 people, including Mayor Joyce Craig and city religious leaders.

The three-hour event — the first public King Day celebration by City Year New Hampshire — included speeches, a volunteer fair and workshops.

The “Unpacking Whiteness” workshop, which was designed to address topics such as systemic racism, implicit bias and white advantage, drew criticisms from some late last week once the topic was announced.

City Year changed the name to “Unpacking Social Identity” and scratched the original title from printed material.

Bruce Mallory, co-director of the University of New Hampshire-affiliated New Hampshire Listens, ran the workshop. He told participants that he has presented the workshop in communities such as Claremont and Durham, where schools have experienced racial issues.

He said the title is meant to be provocative.

“We’re all walking on eggshells and reluctant to get into open and honest conversations,” Mallory said.

City Year organizes and oversees some 70 young adults who volunteer in the city’s eight Title One elementary schools. Executive Director Pawn Nitichan said she changed the workshop name after consulting with the Corporation for National and Community Service, which channels federal funding to the organization.

City Year cannot engage in political activity under the conditions of the federal funding, she said.

She stressed that the celebration and workshops are geared toward the City Year and other volunteers. City Year volunteers come from around the country and represent various races, genders and social backgrounds.

“We believe a diverse group of people coming together serves as a great example to our students. To do so, we must break down barriers among ourselves,” Nitichan said.

More than 200 people attended City Year New Hampshire's "Building Our Beloved Community" Martin Luther King Jr. Day event Monday at the Manchester YWCA. (MARK HAYWARD/Union Leader)

More than 200 attended the opening celebration, held in the gymnasium at the Manchester YWCA. 

Smaller workshops drew about 25 people. Other workshops topics included micro-aggression, the gender spectrum and bystander training. Another title was also altered: The term “Black, Brown, and Red Youth” was replaced by “young people of color” in a title about hip-hop culture.

A critic of the agenda, at-large school board member Richard Girard, said he’d like to review the material passed out at the event and view any videos.

He said he has consistently supported City Year, but will rethink doing so if he believes that divisive topics are introduced to elementary school students.

“What happens now, I don’t know,” he said.

The opening celebration drew volunteers from Americorps, Vista, Senior Corps and Volunteer New Hampshire. 

“I encourage you to speak up for what is right, fight for what is just,” Mayor Craig said.

The Rev. Eric Jackson, pastor of Brookside Congregational Church and president of the Manchester NAACP, said the goal is a country in which all are treated equally.

“We cannot get there unless we have difficult conversations,” Jackson said. “Through these conversations we can work to make the dream come alive.”

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