crossing borders

What do you do when… a child asks a sudden, challenging question about race?…you overhear your child using racial language on the playground? How can we address issues of race, class and power in our children’s own lived experiences? Find the words and share your experiences with Border Crossers new roundtable discussion series.

Border Crossers’ mission is to bring together students from segregated communities in New York City and empower young people to become leaders for social change. The social context is startling: New York City has the third most segregated school system in the country and 90% of students of color attend schools with less than 3% white population. This week’s post is On Crossing Borders by Sachi Feris, NYWC member and founder of Border Crossers (www.bordercrossers.org).

We are afraid of coming together because we are so separate. We are afraid of the inequality that divides us. Afraid of acknowledging it, talking about it, and doing something about it. These fears are founded. Inequality is systemic and we are just individuals. Inequality is not my fault, or your fault, and certainly is not the fault of any child, even a child who benefits from the system it supports. But inequality does exist and it will go on existing, and children see it, feel it, experience it, form ideas about it, and are harmed by it, on both sides of the divide.

Bringing people together across borders does not create inequality—inequality exists whether or not we come together to acknowledge it. Acknowledging it, however painful as it may be to folks on both sides of the border (for different reasons), is a step in the right direction. A step in the direction of empowerment. A step in the direction of cross-border community. A step in the direction of true, grass-roots driven change. Inequality is systemic but systems are nothing with out the people who make them—and we need people who are willing to cross borders, break down the divide, in order for systems to change.

This is the driving vision behind Border Crossers. None of this happens overnight and the on-the-ground building of this vision may even take steps that appear to be walking in reverse of our goal. I have heard doubts and criticisms about the concept of crossing borders. Fears about reinforcing students’ stereotypes, questions about the utility in pointing out to the “have-nots” how little they have or making the “haves” feel guilty about how much they have, critique that this is a “band-aid” solution that does not get to the core of dismantling segregation.

But the legacy of segregation we are still living with will never be undone without organizing communities to see the great benefits of coming together, difficult as it most certainly feels for us, as individuals, to cross borders. By our very patterns of movement, we can be a piece of shifting power dynamics, in an act of crossing borders, we become the change to come.

Like any good program, Border Crossers is nothing without the people who run it—teachers, parents, and administrators who buy in and believe in its potential to create leaders and change makers in students. Students who will have the ability and inclination to reach out across borders, to take daily risks in moving out of their comfort zones, who will see themselves as capable of creating change in their families, classrooms, and communities. Students who will take these skills with them wherever they go in life—to the South Bronx as a community organizer, or to the halls of a Fortune 500, which are so in need of responsible and ethical action. Students who will be people who want to live in diverse neighborhoods so that neighborhoods will be built to meet their demands, who will want to send their own children to a diverse school, schools that barely exist now, but are much closer than our minds will let us imagine, if only we want them enough.