by Ava Lee ’21
Throughout the last year at The Frederick Gunn School, we have examined different issues in American society and considered what we can do as a school to learn about the lives of Black people in the United States historically and presently.
February 1st marks the start of Black History Month, a month we can use to teach the aspects of black history we are not taught in a classroom. This month is often overlooked because, traditionally, we only discuss slavery and segregation in our history classes, and only a tiny portion is taught to us. In reality, there is so much to observe and learn from current discussions of black history and how they relate to our nation’s current social issues. .
To kick off our discussions, a video was shown at school meeting to students and faculty. This video was put together by Mr. Drew and included alumni Otoja Abit ‘04 speaking about his experiences in his education, career, and life. The video was followed by multiple Black Student Union discussions led by Jayla Stack ‘21 and Ana Thompson ‘21.
Mr. Drew, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on our campus, takes the lead in planning many of our programming events on campus. In the month of February especially, he had to work on ways to engage students in remote learning regarding racial injustices in our country.
When asked if he faces problems in his job teaching diversity at a school with the majority of the student body made up of primarily white students, this was his answer: “Yes I do. However, not in a bad way. It’s not the students’ fault for not knowing. It’s our job as teachers to continue to teach and inform our studies on both academics and ways to improve yourself. Just as much as a freshman may have a tough time with Algebra I because they haven’t learned those concepts yet, the same goes for seeing and observing systems of oppression within the United States and ways we contribute to those systems daily. As we all continue learning, as teachers and students alike, we should still utilize love and grace to encourage our most uninformed students to dive into these conversations.”
Jayla Stack is a four-year senior who joined our schools’ Black Student Union (BSU) her freshman year and began her leadership role early on. BSU is a safe space on campus for students to meet and discuss current events, past issues, and any other topic. Of course, like everything, this year was different for BSU. Jayla explained that despite COVID-19 disrupting the normal routine, the club is going strong. “Black Student Union meetings have been going great. Our usual open discussion style from the past few years works great with Zoom. We have a strong group of students and faculty who attend every meeting. We welcome everyone to participate in our discussions and I have noticed that, with how easy it is to join a Zoom meeting, we have seen a lot of new faces in our meetings. BSU student leaders have mostly been focused on meeting consistently for open discussions every Thursday night at 8:30. Some nights we have a focus that drives our meeting, like a recent event, other nights we just meet and chat. We always end up having a good conversation. We like to joke around a lot too, which is always fun. I have noticed that our meeting serves as a social hour a lot of the time, where everyone comes to have fun and fulfilling discussions.”
BSU is not the only group on campus that got involved with Black History Month. Many other people on campus researched, listened, and educated themselves on the importance of the month. Jayla added: “We are working hard and brainstorming more ways we can engage and educate our community, with all the changes due to Covid. Outside of BSU, I feel that students and teachers at FGS are weaving black history, art, and joy into many different aspects of the community during this month. In my AP Studio Art class, Mr. Richards has done a great job showcasing black artists all throughout the year and especially this month. Community Service Club has introduced many Black-owned businesses to the school through virtual school meetings this month. Just to name a few examples. It’s all great to see.”
Black History Month is a time for us to learn more about our collective history and the stories of the people around us. Optimistically, Mr. Drew went into detail about what we need to talk about during Black History Month: “Everything. From the reason why Black History Month developed, to how it has been utilized, and how we don’t talk about it for the rest of the year. Aspects that need to be talked about more range from racial representation in law and [reform] in prison systems, to colorism and microaggressions, to racism and how it persists within and beyond United States borders, to forced assimilation tactics, to race and religion/spirituality, to race and representation in entertainment, to race and sports, to race and sexuality, to race and education, and beyond. There is so much we need to learn together, and we have so much time to do it. You may ask yourself if you’re doing enough, or what more can you do? Realistically, knowing more about all the subjects I just listed will get you pretty far in explaining what you can do. I encourage bringing a friend along with you on this journey!”
The month may be over, but that is not a reason to stop educating ourselves and others about the stories and experiences we will never know. Through club meetings, videos, and announcements the school used the month as a time to grow.