First, a clarification. The headline of last week’s article, “Redstone incident exposes local prejudice” was written by editor Raleigh Burleigh, not Gentrye Houghton. The intention was to highlight that prejudice is felt locally, and not only in Redstone as noted in the article. I realize now that the headline is vague and accusatory and I apologize to the village of Redstone, its residents and businesses.
At the same time, I recognize the experience of the [HS]2 students was a culmination of incidents, some of which were not intended to offend. Whether racist comments were made by locals or visitors, however, that these visiting students held a restorative circle to process events of the day merits a larger circle of conversation, in my opinion.
As affirmed by responses to the article, Redstone is a place that prides itself on inclusion and charm. Those qualities are not threatened so long as we are willing to see beyond our blind spots and validate the experiences of others. This is work that we are all challenged to contend with, The Sopris Sun included, as we unwind generations of injustice. The process is messy and vulnerable and I appreciate every person that has lent their perspective on what occurred.
By Gentrye Houghton
Special to The Sopris Sun
The High School High Scholar “[HS]2” program at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) brings roughly 70 students of color to their Carbondale campus each year for a summer of community, outdoor challenge and rigorous educational instruction. This year, the [HS]2 program ventured to the village of Redstone for the Fourth of July celebration but vacated the event early due to overt racial discrimination.
“Fourth of July was the most harmful day of this summer, and likely the most harmful experience I’ve seen our students face during my [seven years of] involvement in [HS]2,” said program director Annie Oppenheim.
Oppenheim described the events in Redstone which were reported by students after the fact: “One student was called the N-word; one young woman with long colorful braids was told that her hair was ‘cancerous;’ a group of students was asked if they ‘were their own parade;’ parents checked whether their children felt safe in the presence of our students at a craft table and vacated stores when our students entered or pulled their children closer to them when our students passed by; in one store a student was told they ‘couldn’t afford’ a purchase and another establishment told students they ‘had the right to refuse service.’”
Overall, Oppenheim said students reported feeling like they were in the movie “Get Out” when describing how they felt watched, threatened and unsafe. They reported onlookers taking out their phones and filming scholars walking down Redstone Boulevard.
The Fourth of July incident was the most overt instance of racial discrimination [HS]2 students have faced in the Roaring Fork Valley, but it was not the first. Students have also reported receiving off-putting remarks during Carbondale’s First Friday events, and [HS]2 staff members recall watching as employees followed students around during a visit to an Aspen thrift store. In fact, [HS]2 administrators originally chose to attend the festivities in Redstone hoping that the Village would provide a more “low-key” and welcoming atmosphere.
[HS]2 is a college access program that was founded in 2007 for students who may be the first in their families to attend college and/or come from a low-income background. Attending students identify as Black/African American, Latino, Asian American or Native American and live in either New York City, Denver, Fort Worth or New Orleans. They participate in the program free of charge thanks to support from the program’s donors.
The program is a three-year commitment, five weeks per summer, which focuses on course work in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and college counseling. They typically spend around six hours every weekday attending academic classes on the CRMS campus and participating in the active program, which includes exposure to outdoor recreation and the arts through activities like rock climbing and ceramics. Students graduate from the program ready to apply for college.
Renee Ramge of Redstone has been part of [HS]2, in some aspect, since its inception. “Of all of the kids I’ve met, every single one has such a beautiful success story,” Ramge said. “When people talk about influencing change, this is the kind of program that is achieving that.”
She continued, “[[HS]2 students] are super contributors to this world. I look forward to going to lunch with them and imagining what kind of impact they may have as a doctor or what type of scientists they may become. It’s exactly what needs to happen in our society.”
[HS]2 can be a mechanism to invite and welcome more people of color to the Valley, according to Oppenheim. She said this year’s staff is the most diverse in the program’s history. Ramge’s daughter used to teach a music class with the program and commented on how wonderful it was to see a student from that music class return this year as a math teacher, and he is not alone. As the program has matured in years, a growing community of program alumni has returned to give back to [HS]2 and seek employment in the Valley.
During the Fourth of July events in Redstone, [HS]2 staff made the difficult decision to return to campus early. “We held a restorative circle that night, creating a space for students to vent, share their experiences and support one another. The mood was low. Students felt that their physical safety had been threatened.”
To date, only one Redstone business owner has reached out to issue an apology, and Oppenheim spoke about the power of owning mistakes and the impact that can have. “It was incredibly sincere, and many of us, staff and students alike, were shocked,” she said. A few Redstone individuals have contacted the program, but there has been no formal or larger-scale acknowledgment of the incident.
“As an ally, it’s important to admit I have blind spots,” Oppenheim explained, “like I tell our students, ‘I love you, I’m doing my best, and tell me when I’m in the wrong.’”
As program director, she feels responsible for the safety and experience of students while they’re in her charge. She says it’s on us to make sure they feel safe and this summer seemed to be a blaring beacon of how much work this valley needs to heal and become a more inclusive community.
“It’s our job to educate ourselves,” said Ramge.
If you’d like to learn more about [HS]2 or how you can get involved, visit www.hs2.crms.org