Breakthrough Day: 50 Year Anniversary

By Jacob Swergold

On February 27, 1967 Tam Students participated in a teach-in on race relations known as Operation Breakthrough . The teach-in was an attempt to alleviate racial tensions. At the time race relations were so poor that they even escalated to a race riot. As former staff member Jewel Barrow told the Tam News in a 2016 interview “I remember the race riots, It started in the back parking lot with the African American boys and the white boys. They ended up fighting from the back parking lot…to the front of the school all the way across campus all the way to the Kentucky Fried Chicken.” This February 27, on the 50th anniversary of Operation Breakthrough, Tam will hold hold a similar event, called Breakthrough day, with an emphasis on the school’s history.

Tam principal JC Farr said “We want to be able to celebrate the past of Tam more than to necessarily say that we have large issues today, because we have came a long way, but we want to make sure that we are coming together and that we are open so to insure that everyone feels like they have a place here at Tam.” Breakthrough day will consist of an assembly and then followed by small group discussions about the history of Tam. Farr said that the primary goal of Breakthrough day is to “create a unified school.”

While the unification of Tam is important it’s hard to ignore the history behind the event. Barrow remembers the tensions leading up to breakthrough day and the day itself, as she told the Tam News in a 2016 interview. “ I remember the race riots. It started in the back parking lot with the African American boys and the white boys. They ended up fighting in the back parking lot…to the front of the school all the way across campus to the Kentucky Fried Chicken. I remember police cars just coming, just coming, just coming…It was a total mess. It was just crazy. I do believe, that [it] was just a part of what was going on in the country, the riots, the protesting, and the anger came out here.”

After the end of the race riots the students of Tam decided to take matters into their own hands and discuss the issue in a peaceful manner. Barrow said “ [After the race riots ended], we had BreakThrough day, where they took a day and the whole student body went to Meade Theater. Every news channel was there, and they talked about the situation, the discrimination, the racism. Everybody broke up into groups and all across the school they had different groups, black and white together, talking about what was going on and how they could help.”

Today Tam’s student body is roughly only 4.25 percent black. However some of these students have been very active in initiating BreakThrough Day. Leader of the Students of Color Club Ann Okada said, “I hope we can shed light onto issues regarding race relations that may not be seen everyday by everyone but may be felt everyday by some students at Tam…I hope that by having these conversations, we can understand one another better within Tam, and thus create a stronger and more empathetic student body.”

This year Tam’s BreakThrough Day will go as follows: a coffee reception (located in the student center)  in which alumni are celebrated. Next students will be split into two groups. One group will go to a discussion session and the other will attend a student led assembly. Then the groups will switch. The presentations will be led by TK Dalke, Student Body President, Raqshan Khan, The Tam News Editor-in-Chief and President of Students of Color Club, and Mill Valley Mayor Jessica Jackson Sloan. To wrap the day up, from 6:30-8:30 pm Principal Farr will share the highlights of the day with parents.Equality Transformation Specialistist Dr. Lori A. Watson will present.

The reason Tam hasn’t had anything like Breakthrough day in recent years is because, as Okada said “Topics around race are often ignored, because for many, they are incredibly tricky discussions. I think most people have some sort of an opinion about race relations, especially with the political climate we are in right now…yet because we are in a predominantly white area, I think these issues are often ignored because there are many people who are simply unaffected by them.” The notion that some white students feel unaffected by race relations makes sense due to the fact that just over 72 percent of Tam students are white, making them the overwhelming majority.

While some students may feel unaffected by race relations, it is especially important to discuss race relations at this moment in time, or as Okada said “the political climate we are in right now.” Recent president elect Donald Trump has made multiple controversial statements about race throughout the course of his campaign and into his presidency. According to Fact Tank during November of 2016 74 percent of black voters felt that the election of Trump would make race relations worse. With all eyes on race relations as Trump settles into office, the first BreakThrough day at Tam in 50 years is coming at a rather optimal time.