“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Margeret Mead
Jones comes from a long line of community leaders. Her grandfather was a well-known and respected police officer and her mom has been in charge of elections and basically ran Venango County for several years. Wofford, a white woman with bi-racial children has experienced the full-force of racism through her children growing up in an overwhelmingly white county.
Make no mistake, Venango County is overwhelmingly white. The schools employ few if any people of color. According to Jeff Polley, another local activist and educator, there are very few people for students of color to turn to who look like them. Jones, Wofford and Polley see this as a problem and perhaps one of the reasons "subtle" racism exists in the halls still. Racial slurs and jokes are bantered around in locker rooms and hallways as if it is OK. Black students generally accept the banter because it's supposedly meant in jest, according to Polley. But it is a systemic problem that has never gone away.
"Some people are just so clueless of their white privilege that they think what they are saying is alright," Jones said. She said getting people to understand white privilege is a hard sell. "People think they always need to go on the defensive," she said. Saying things like "I'm not racist, but..." usually leads to saying something racist, Wofford pointed out.
VIABLE is hoping to do something about this.
The group seeks to build relationships with schools, civic organizations and law enforcement to bring about systemic change. The fact that some people are listening is hopeful, Wofford said. She has already met with the new Franklin School superintendent, who comes from another more diverse school district. The hope is to get diversity training in the schools in order to affect permanent change.
Wofford has presented a plan that focuses on ending racism in the hallways through continuous training and support, focusing less on "Holiday and Heroes" teaching such as delegating teaching of Blacks in history to Black History month. Making Black history part of the ongoing curriculum, recruiting and retention of people of color within the schools and stricter policies on the uses of racial slurs in classrooms and hallways... these are all the goals and means to overcome racism, according to Wofford.
She said she hopes to connect the schools more closely with parents and students. She hopes these connections lead to better planning throughout the school year. She also believes starting at the elementary school level is important for long-term change.
"Nothing grows in the comfort zone," she said.
The rallies are good for awareness the organizers say, but they are focused on the bigger picture.
"Rallies are like a wedding, but, we want to now focus on the marriage," Jones said.