Our youth representative for SMVA trust, Maya Rau-Murthy, has focused in the past year on two causes; anti-racism and mental health. She co-led an anti-racism education initiative in her town, Yorktown, NY, USA. The petition for racial justice in curriculum grew nationally and now includes 30+ schools nationwide including in New Jersey, Texas, California, and New York. Key goals to be addressed within the petition include revising and expanding the current anti-racism curriculum to address ongoing systemic and institutional racial issues (post-1965), diversifying the teaching and administrative faculty, mandating extensive diversity, inclusion, sensitivity and unconscious bias training, and forming a diverse committee of administrators, teachers, students, parents, alumni and other active community members to spearhead this effort.
To achieve this, Ms Rau-Murthy, collaborating with students and alumni from other schools, have created a grass roots program which can be replicated in other schools. It includes outreach to the local community, politicians and legislators, parents, teachers and administrators.
Anti-Racism Education: Yorktown Racial Justice Alumni Coalition
- Co- lead an anti-racism education initiative, the Yorktown for Racial Justice Student and Alumni Coalition.
Ms Rau-Murthy worked with a group of current students, alumni, and community members dedicated to promoting racial justice at Yorktown Central School District (YCSD),Yorktown, NY, USA.
The group has been working to bring an anti-racism curriculum to YCSD. The coalition wrote an open letter to the Yorktown administration in the form of a petition which has gathered the support of over 5,500 community members including parents, teachers, alumni, students, town council members, and local politicians from both parties. They have also been working with other schools nationwide to consolidate our knowledge and create a collaborative national movement for anti-racism education. They have been collaborating with over 30 schools nationwide, including in California, New Jersey, New York, Texas to create anti-racism education resources and the know-how to start anti-racism movements within one’s community.
The petition includes some key goals, which the district must address in the near term and future. These include revising and expanding the current anti-racism curriculum to address ongoing systemic and institutional racial issues (post-1965), diversifying the teaching and administrative faculty, mandating extensive diversity, They Inclusion, sensitivity and unconscious bias training, and forming a diverse committee of administrators, teachers, students, parents, alumni and other active community members to spearhead this effort.
The District published a public letter (June 16) a day after our petition, using some of our language and meeting some of our demands.
After garnering large support for this anti-racism education initiative- including from the local politicians and council members, the group was able to seek an audience at Town Hall (July 7th). They presented the petition which was well received and by town leaders who gave their support for this cause.
To research the extent of racial injustice within our school system, we sent out widely surveys to collect community stories-over 100 members of our community responded with stories of racial injustice they had experienced or seen, and ways in which their suggestions for what they wanted changed in our community. These stories were emotionally moving and it was shocking even for us to see how deeply rooted racial injustice was in our town.
The group met with the Board of Education (July 27. Video of meeting)
They decided to work with us and meet our anti-racism education demands. We then wrote a resolution/proclamation around our demands for anti-racism education for our town board to vote on.
Since then we have been meeting with our schools at a semi-regular basis to monitor their progress, and we are pleased with how far they have come and the changes they have made. Our school created a task force with 30+ staff members for elementary, middle and high school. They have created task force subcommittees for each of our petitions points- anti-racism education, mandatory unconscious bias training, and hiring diverse candidates. They have been working with a third party (Dedication to Community) to create the mandatory unconscious bias training. For the anti-racism education, they have been working with library specialists to improve the books within our library. They have been working with BOCES to create an updated balanced social studies curriculum K-8. For high school, they have been working with specific history and english teachers. For hiring diversely, they have joined the Putnam Northern Westchester Coalition to be a member of the diversity job hiring fair. This coalition works specifically on diversifying the application pool and focuses on retaining hires.
SMVA Trust is proud of the changes and initiatives led by the youth in their home towns and schools.
Ms Rau-Murthy and the youth coalition have been speaking widely with the community, parents, teachers, and council members, to understand how best to bring racial justice to Yorktown and have these important conversations in the community. To build empathetic members of our society and community leaders, we must equip our students with the resources to critically engage in difficult discussions and teach them what is truly going on in the world. These conversations must start at a young age. Education is a key part of this movement and all change must start at home.
Ending Mental Health Stigma in South Asian communities
Maya Rau-Murthy is Director of Content for a nonprofit, 1pal, centered around ending the stigma for Mental Health for South Asians in America.
1pal aims to stop the stigma around talking about mental health in the South Asian-American community by providing educational resources. Instead of shying away from cultural norms, spirituality, or things unique to being Desi in America – we hope to embrace that and explain mental health from a lens that is relatable, but still backed by scientific research.
What has already done in this past year:
- • Created content that highlights South Asian specific research and/or takes scientific mental health papers and makes them more easily readable and relevant to the community. Some examples of this: how to find a therapist, specific skills to use in a mental health crisis, how to talk to others about mental health, how parents in the South Asian American community can be supportive, myths around suicidality, domestic violence awareness etc.
- • Hosting free workshops for communities which are recorded and posted online including
- – Partnered with a Sikh Gurdwara to present a workshop in Punjabi on anxiety and depression. Presenters discussed anxiety and depression from a Sikh lens, and talked about their own experiences. An open discussion followed.
- – A workshop on addiction with presentations from a clinician and a university professor who specialize in the field of substance use and addiction.
- • Interviewed South Asian professionals, to showcase providers in the field while also spreading education information around mental health easily accessible to our community via social media.
- • Community Stories: We have created a space for members of the South Asian American community to share their personal stories and experiences around mental health.