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The Smoke Signal

The Student News Site of Minnechaug Regional High School

The Smoke Signal

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Mrs. Norris Speaks on SoCA

Minnechaug Teacher Kelly Norris talks about the school’s Students of Color Alliance, and the importance of combating racism in the community.

Around the dark classroom, desks are grouped in clusters, one of which hosts Naima, Savannah, and Shawnee, who are working on planning a dine-out night for SoCA. When Chipotle doesn’t work, they choose Moe’s, which leads them to get passed around from phone operator to phone operator like a game of hot potato.
On the walls behind them are illustrated posters of young social justice advocates, fighting for causes like indigenous land rights and reducing gun violence. On the front whiteboard is a map showing Native territories and historical figures in the United States, while a Civil Rights timeline is displayed in the back. A picture of Malcolm X is tacked up on a bulletin board.
The classroom belongs to Kelly Norris, an English and Creative Writing teacher at Minnechaug Regional High School, and the advisor of the Students of Color Alliance, also known as SoCA.
“I think I started working with kids at summer camps, which led me to subbing, which made me good money in my early twenties,” says Norris on the beginning of her teaching career.
The summer camps that Norris taught at in those days were in the Boston area and were populated mostly by inner-city kids of color. It didn’t take long for her to notice the economic inequity present. The camp – located right beneath risers at a stadium – was perceived by Norris as being an unfair experience in comparison to more affluent kids who get to attend camps with swimming pools and other such amenities.
“I wanted to help kids have a brighter future,” she says.
Another anecdote she shares is about the lack of funding that schools with mostly non-white students tend to get.
“When I was substitute teaching, I taught a group of eight or ten black special ed boys in a basement classroom. I could tell systemic racism was a factor in the quality of the space, but I didn’t have the language to describe it at that age,” says Norris.
Indeed, since public schooling is funded by local taxpayers, schools in low-income areas receive less funding, resulting in fewer resources and lower pay. This leads many teachers to leave for more affluent schools, leaving inner-city students with a lower-quality education.
These observations led Norris to form SoCA -then known as the Black Culture Club – during her first year at Minnechaug in 2003.
“It was originally called the Black Culture Club, then SoCA, then Diversity and Culture Club, then SoCA again,” says Norris.
The reason for the name change, she says, was because non-black students of color also wanted to join the club – but felt that the nature of the title excluded them.
Combating racism is a personal matter for Norris as well. A racially charged incident with a student years ago made her realize how prevalent the issue was in the school community.
“My daughter is biracial, and a student wrote ‘N-word lover’ on the board. It really freaked me out.”
Adding salt to the wound, Norris first saw the message on her whiteboard the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Though the student was suspended, Norris felt the urge to take action and has been involved in social justice for several years now.
As for SoCA’s plans, they are currently arranging the aforementioned dine-out night, as well as tossing around field trip ideas. One such field trip is to attend the Sutton Connections Conference (which they attended this past year) in March 2024. It’s held annually at Sutton High School and hosts workshops focusing on social justice.
Another plan of theirs is the speakers that they’ve been presenting at Minnechaug.
Xiomara DeLobato, Chief of Staff for the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (or EDC) presented for Hispanic Heritage Month on October 17. Annawon Weedon, a consultant, presenter, and performing artist, presented for Native American Heritage Month on November 21. Lastly, Tem Blessed, a hip-hop artist, is set to give a speech during Black History Month on February 13.
Whatever happens, hopefully, the future of SoCA is as bright as Norris always wanted her students’ lives to be.

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