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Racial healing will not come from punishment

Dierdre G. Paul

I would never tolerate violence or poor sportsmanship on a playing field. I would never excuse the hurling of racial slurs or claim that using them in “trash talk” is acceptable in interscholastic sports whether it’s a past practice or not. And in case you’re wondering, there should be ramifications for what happened between Dwight Morrow and Dumont’s men’s basketball teams during their Feb. 7 game. But just as importantly, proportion and the right perspective matter.

A tense fight between spectators was captured on 51-second video during a football game between Jackson Memorial High School and Brick Memorial High School minutes before Jackson won the New Jersey Central Group IV state football championship State Interscholastic Athletic Association in 2015. regarding the fight, interim Brick School Superintendent Richard Caldes captured the incident like this. “The actions of a small group [do] they do not represent what the district and the city are about.

What has been called a “women’s basketball riot” occurred during a University and Newark Tech game in January 2020. Video captured more than 40 people arguing on the court. Both the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey courts have been embroiled in a situation that Senator Paul Sarlo, an NJSIAA commissioner, says is “unprecedented” for allowing interscholastic sports to become entangled with both courts than with politics.

In January 2022, a fight broke out during a wrestling match between Gateway/Woodbury and Timber Creek. A questionable call from a referee resulted in both teams, wrestlers and trainers, storming the mat. Video footage showed a flurry of punches being thrown by several wrestlers and even sliding across another wrestling mat.

Why do I mention these incidents? Is this “how about that?” No. These incidents are referenced because what happened at the Dwight Morrow-Dumont match pales in comparison. Additionally, none of these incidents resulted in punishment as heavy as tomorrow’s Dwight Administration handed out that resulted in the team’s season being cancelled.

I have been a resident of Englewood for 38 years. My family and I moved here from Norwood as we wanted to live in a more diverse and vibrant community. That move has become the right one for our family. Over time, I have come to know and like many of my neighbors. In fact, I like to say that “we are our brother and sister’s keepers here in Englewood.”

So, it should go without saying that I care deeply about young people and Englewood, as well as what we’ve all experienced coming out of a global pandemic. I have no interest in apportioning blame. Instead, these experiences have led me to invite all of us to look at these young people with compassion. Not some, all.

All of our children have lost so much in the past three post-COVID-19 years. They have been isolated in their homes, unable to go to school and unable to return even remotely to normal until recently. So while there seems to be something wrong on both sides here, the more pressing issue is that these are young people who deserve our sympathy.

They desperately need school officials and adults in their lives who are willing to go beyond the harsh punitive disciplinary actions that too often target black kids. In New Jersey and nationwide, black boys receive the most expulsions, out-of-school suspensions, and special education referrals. Why would Englewood educators want to continue this pervasive and corrosive practice?

A teachable moment presented itself here. It is up to us to use it in a way that promotes racial understanding, reconciliation and healing. From hearing to those involved and online, it appears that bad referee calls and racial slurs are long-standing problems for Dwight Morrow’s athletes. But, as the legal basis of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka: “Racism can only be eradicated through human interaction; honest conversation and a desire to see the humanity in each other.”

Indeed, we all need and deserve it.

Dierdre G. Paul is an education scholar and is the Republican municipal president of Englewood.

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