Tri-Town turns out for Black History Month conversation on identity

Feb 23, 2021

Thinking about race and identity is like brushing your teeth, according to educator Christina Brown.

“People don’t say ‘I brushed my teeth this month, so I’m good,’” she said during an Old Rochester Regional school district community conversation on identity and belonging.

More than 60 Tri-Town residents turned out on Feb. 23 for a Black History Month virtual discussion, hosted by ORR Director of Student Services Craig Davidson and led by Brown.

The Plymouth resident works with the district’s anti-racism subcommittee.

“People generally brush their teeth every day, and people are generally appreciative if there is something stuck in their teeth but someone lets them know,” she noted.

“We’re going to get stuff stuck in our teeth when we’re thinking about race and talking about identity,” Brown continued. “So we really have to think do we let people know when they’ve had a misstep?”

Featuring plenty of time for introspection and interaction, the conversation bent towards the intensely personal — at one point Brown described her son’s hoodie falling away to reveal his skin color, frightening a neighbor — and the universal importance of identity and belonging.

“If some children are experiencing racism or sexism or homophobia or transphobia, then other children have to be old enough to learn about it,” Brown said, adding “we cannot solve what we cannot talk about.”

The discussion also focused on helping children reflect on and talk about race and identity in a way that allows them to empathize with and understand each other.

“Children who have strong identities have better outcomes,” she noted.

Participants did activities to discover blind spots, broke out into smaller groups, watched a video, and answered poll questions during the conversation.

They often shared personal stories that they or their children had experienced that focused on identity.

One woman described how her young daughter had brought home unfavorable impressions about China due to Covid-19, while another told the group that her son was asked if he was part of a cartel.

A major theme of the evening was that just creating an open, supportive dialogue around identity is beneficial for people of all ages.

“It’s really about how we engage in conversations that support positive identity development across all different identities,” Brown said. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

“I certainly hope the conversations will continue in the Tri-Town community,” she added.

The Black History Month discussion will continue on Thursday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m. with a virtual conversation called “Who Me, Racist?”

For more information, visit the ORR Bulletin Board at