After two town hall meetings at local churches, Jefferson City Public Schools will begin its own series of community meetings on diversity Tuesday.
Tuesday's discussion will be 6-8 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City, 1105 Lafayette St.
That meeting is the first of three to be hosted by the school district following a photo shared on social media last month. The photo featured four young people, three of whom were identified as Jefferson City High School students. The youths posed in the photo in front of a car that had racially insensitive and other offensive imagery drawn into dust on the trunk.
The incident sparked a response from the community and the school district that's gone beyond punishment for the students involved and outcry over the photo itself. At the town hall meetings, community members shared their experiences of inequities and disparities in their relationships with the school district and other local institutions; by the second town hall, the conversation had shifted into how to go about fostering diversity within those institutions.
"From my lens, (it's been) positive to start the conversations," JCPS Superintendent Larry Linthacum said Wednesday. While the district did not host the town halls, Linthacum has been among those at the forefront of the discussions and in receiving feedback from the community.
He wasn't ready to give specific details of the district's upcoming series of discussions, but he said "it's going to be a much different format."
He added there will be time for questions and answers at the discussions, but a lot of what he expects will happen will be to ask for input and solutions from the community once the district gives "an update of where we are and plans moving forward."
JCPS Board of Education President Steve Bruce said Friday one of his main takeaways from the town hall he attended was "that we have some patrons and families that have (had) a totally different experience with our school district" than his own family or others he knows. "That really bothers me," he added.
He gave credit to Linthacum for taking the approach he has since the photo incident. "A lot of other folks might have chosen to do something lesser," Bruce said.
Once the district's three scheduled meetings conclude in the first full week of November, "regardless of what form the discussion takes after that, we have an obligation to ask Dr. Linthacum to put together the information he heard," at all the community discussions and "marry those (perspectives) against areas that the school district can perform better in," Bruce said.
He cited hiring a more diverse JCPS workforce and taking minority history into account as examples of areas to perform better in as a district.
He also acknowledged, though, "We can't make decisions and have impacts in a vacuum" — something the town halls have hinted at was lasting change in the institutional cultures of Jefferson City will require people and organizations acting in concert.
Bruce said it's human nature to want to turn away and focus on more comfortable issues to solve or discussions to have, but "you don't have that luxury when you serve in a leadership position." He added it's "very heartening to me" that local people are undertaking the efforts.
The second of the district's three scheduled community discussions on diversity will be 6-8 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Hawthorn Bank Community Room, 3600 Amazonas Drive.
The third discussion will be 6-8 p.m. the following night, Nov. 8, at Mid-America Bank in Holts Summit, 580 Karen Drive.
Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church is hosting an event of its own Monday. The event, titled "Healing Racism: From Chaos to Community," will be 6:30-8 p.m. at the church, 415 Lafayette St.
The event's description on Facebook invited people to join "as we continue the much-needed conversation on racism and white supremacy in our communities and our institutions, including school and church."
The title of the evening refers to a publication of Martin Luther King, Jr., "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?"
The description noted, "Faith Voices will gather to imagine together the next tangible steps that we might take to see real transformation and reconciliation in our community. We believe that together we can 'face the challenge of change.'"