Today started with an assembly celebrating Martin Luther King. The assembly was totally kid-centered, an authentic middle school experience. There were excerpts from a play the students had put on earlier this year, Brown Girl Dreaming. There were vocalists and a bit of history of Marianne Anderson, Mahalia Jackson, and Nina Simone. A small musical ensemble of middle schoolers played “Down by the Riverside”— cello, violin, viola, bass. An acapella group, all 6th graders, sang a gospel medley. The highlight of the assembly was a secretary in the high school who is an accomplished gospel singer. She performed, “I believe I can fly.” I have been working at this school for eleven years and had no idea she could sing (and could she ever!). (Apparently she runs the Gospel Brunch at House of Blues. You better believe we are all planning an excursion there in a couple of weeks!) The assembly ended with all of us singing, “Lift every voice and sing.” This song always gets me a bit teary-eyed. I remember assemblies growing up. Some were good. Most were not. Today’s felt so authentic and sincere. The audience was enthralled, totally focused and engaged. We all felt connected.
The rest of the day was our Diversity Day where teachers, administrators, and some high school students led a variety of workshops on a number of diversity topics— dyslexia, gay families adopting, urban planning and environmental racism, economic inequities, LGBTQ, identity, transgender and cisgender, learning differences, refugees, political rhetoric, systemic racism, disabilities, mental health — to name but a few of the nearly 50 different workshops. The students moved in small mixed groups of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders with the 8th graders responsible for getting the group to their workshops and making sure all members were present. Each group got to four of these presentations.
I did a drawing workshop with the kids (“Drawing on our Perceptions”), trying to show that we often act out of stereotypes and expectations instead of really seeing the other. I introduced a variety of drawing exercises whose aim was to shake the students out of habit and push them to really look, to really see beyond their assumptions. Through these activities, students explored how what we think we see is actually very biased; that our impression of the world is not determined by our eyes but rather by preconceptions and cultural ideas. I’m not sure that they understood the real extent of the exercises, but they were extremely attentive and seriously engaged in the activities.
It felt really good today to be a member of this community. The commitment to diversity and to each other felt bountiful and generous. The experiences of the day enriched our relationships with each other. Constructively dealing with issues of diversity felt normalized. The day was genuine, sincere, inspiring.
Yes. Lift every voice. Yes. Hope abounds.