African American Chamber of Idaho to host critical race theory panel

Community members engaged with the African American Chamber of Commerce of Idaho. Blake Jones / Idaho Education News

The African American Chamber of Commerce of Idaho will host its own discussion on public school indoctrination Monday night, in what its president says is an effort to “correct misinformation” spread by Idaho politicians targeting alleged leftist teachings.

The group, which advocates for Black businesspeople in the state, is hosting a virtual panel consisting of educators, chamber president Kathryn Jones, Mike Satz of the anti-extremism group The Idaho 97 and “experts in the field,” including University of Idaho Law professor Shaakirrah Sanders, Jones said.

“Our goal is not to change minds and hearts. It’s to have a discussion,” said Elicia Zahm, who is helping put on the event, in a Wednesday interview.

The panel will meet as Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin hosts monthly meetings investigating alleged leftist teachings in Idaho schools, which her task force calls “indoctrination;” after the Legislature cut into university budgets over related concerns; and as schools prepare for an academic year under House Bill 377, which the Legislature passed into law to restrict teachings the bill attributes — the chamber says incorrectly — to critical race theory.

Speakers will look to “clear the muddy waters” around critical race theory and “be a voice for educators,” Jones said.

“The popular attitude is that if we’re just nice to each other, then everything will work out, and that’s not true,” Jones said. “Racism is being perpetuated by not talking about racism.”

The discussion is, in part, a response to the indoctrination task force’s first two meetings —  where racism has been discussed, albeit from a different angle than the chamber plans to address. Speakers have said discussions of race in school cement racial divisions and alienate white students, arguments the chamber refutes. A non-member who was invited to present at the last meeting at one point defended racial profiling.

The panel will meet Monday, July 19 at 6 p.m. and will be live streamed on the chamber’s Facebook page.

Some teachers have also signed a statement composed by the chamber declaring that, “As educators, we find it imperative to clarify that prior to 2020 most educators had not even heard of (critical race theory), and it is not being taught in Idaho’s public school classrooms.”

Some signers are only including their initials or first names for fear of backlash from opponents, Jones said.

Jones founded the chamber last summer to create a professional support network for Black-owned and Black-run businesses, the Idaho Press reported. The Nampa businesswoman also created the local organization in response to the death of George Floyd, who was killed by Minnesota Police officer Derek Chauvin after Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, killing the Black man; Chauvin was since convicted of murder.

Check back Tuesday morning for full coverage of the event.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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