Whiteness and Witness Panel Discussion

September 22, 2022 | 6-8pm | Mary E. Bartlett Memorial Library, 22 Dalton Rd. Brentwood, NH

While the Seacoast area, like much of New Hampshire, is heavily segregated, we recognize that this does not absolve our white residents from engaging in teaching and learning about race and racism, and building understanding across differences in pursuit of a more just and free world.

Culture is often invisible to those raised within it. White culture is treated as the “norm” and the default setting for America (and NH). 

We can make white culture and socialization visible, define what “whiteness” is as a force, and once it’s visible to our community members, we can evaluate whether or not those cultural values are healthy, and if we want to stand by them.

Meet our panelists

Rachael Blansett

“My name is Rachael Blansett (she/her) and I am a Black/bi-racial, queer, educator and consultant. The core of mywork is relationship-building, community engagement, advocating and fighting for/with those most on the margins, and cultivating educators’ and professionals’ capacities to engage in equity-based work and initiatives.

Embarking on my professional career, I worked primarily in cultural and identity centers, social justice education and community organizing before entering the realm of student affairs. Gaining valuable leadership, supervision, and crisis management skills by working in Residence Life at the University of Michigan and UC Berkeley, I decided to pivot back into full-time diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. From there, I began serving as the inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Fellow at both College of the Atlantic and Sterling College and now, I’ve started my role as the DEIJ Coordinator for the Oyster River Cooperative School District. Prior to my professional journey, I attended Iowa State where I received my M. Ed in Student Affairs with a certificate in Social Justice Education and my B.S. in Communications with an emphasis in Journalism at Grand Valley State University.

My research and academic interests align with student activism and agency, challenging anti-Blackness and colonization ideology, and theorizing/implementing accessible and liberatory practices within educational environments and professional fields. I deeply value intersectional critique and analysis, developing self love and healing from trauma, and building coalitions and relationships across queer communities of color.”

Tanisha Johnson

Currently an Exeter, NH resident, Tanisha was raised in New Jersey and spent much of her adulthood in Pennsylvania.  Tanisha has a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. Tanisha currently is the Child and Family Services Director for Community Action Partnership of Strafford County. 

As a mother, her passion has always been around empowerment and activism and this ranges from feminism, racial and social justice, and youth services. 

In July 2020, Tanisha co founded the Black Lives Matter Seacoast Chapter. BLM’s mission is to dismantle anti-Blackness, fight against racial injustices and police brutality. 

Tanisha serves on various community organizations boards along the Seacoast, she is a DEIJ trainer, advocate, and speaker. 

Tanisha is the Co-Host of the podcast The Conversations We Should Be Having. This podcast is with the Chief of Police of Eliot Maine and discusses new approaches to talk about race and justice. 

One of her favorite quotes that sums up her career and life is To quote Sojourner Truth, 

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”

Kevin Pajaro-Mariñez

Kevin Pajaro-Mariñez (he/him/his) is a first-generation Black Latino with Colombian and Dominican roots. He was born in Queens, NY, but was raised in the wonderful city of Providence, RI. Kevin attended the University of Rhode Island where he earned his bachelor’s in Communication Studies. Thereafter, he attended Michigan State University where he earned his master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration. Currently, Kevin serves as the inaugural Assistant Director for Equity and Inclusion at Phillips Exeter Academy, an independent boarding school in Exeter, NH. Outside of his professional work, Kevin founded a community-based reading group called the Black Men’s Reading and Reflection Group (BMRRG) where Black men come together to think more expansively about masculinity. Outside of his professional and intellectual pursuits, he enjoys dancing bachata and salsa, collecting cool socks, and playing video games.

Andres Mejia

Andres Mejia, MA, is a black, latinx, bisexual, cis man who has been living in the Seacoast area for the past twelve years, and comes from a family of seven siblings, a Dominican father and powerful Puerto Rican mother out of Boston, MA. Andres serves as the Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice for the NH School Administration Unit #16, the first DEIJ director in NH Public Schools. He is a former Program Manager for NH Listens, Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, and he is a current member of the NH Listens Advisory Group. He serves on the Board of Directors for Black Lives Matter Seacoast, is a member of the Leadership and Planning Team for the Endowment for Health’s Race and Equity Series, and serves on the Leadership Team for the NH Equity Leaders Fellowship Program after participating as a fellow in Cohort 6.

Andres has spent the past twelve years working across the state of New Hampshire implementing race, equity and diversity initiatives, hosting workshops and facilitating courageous and difficult conversations between community members, police, politicians, farmers, business people, students, teachers and many other constituents. Andres dedicates his energy to spearheading underrepresented student support and helping leaders across higher education and secondary educational systems—from student organizers to faculty and administrators—to become more culturally aware of folks marginalized within people of color and LGBTQAI+ communities and folks of various other marginalized groups. Outside of his work schedule, Andres loves to travel, explore delicious restaurants, and go out dancing.

Allyson Ryder (moderator)

Allyson Ryder holds multiple roles seeking to address oppression and find liberation in NH. She currently serves as a facilitator and Regional Ambassador for the Soul Focused Group; a Social Change and Leadership Development consulting organization seeking to bring about collective change.

Allyson holds a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Southern Maine with a Graduate Certificate in Applied Research and Evaluation Methods, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Southern NH University’s 3-Year Honors Program. She serves on several community boards and committees across the state. She is currently the Board Treasurer of the Black Heritage Trail of NH and Board Member and Affiliate Equity Officer of the ACLU of NH. Allyson resides on the seacoast with her wife and their four-legged children.

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