I hope all are well following a beautiful fall weekend and the projection of a new President-elect and Vice President-elect in Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Joe Biden’s scriptural reference on Saturday night to a season for all things, for reaping and sowing, fighting and healing, feels particularly apt after such a closely contested election in a very divided country. May we all hope for a season of healing and rediscovery of common purpose and shared aspiration as we look forward together.
Kamala Harris being named as Vice President-elect is a historic moment of hope and import as she is the first woman of Black and South Asian descent to take office in the White House of the United States of America. This is a moment for celebration to be sure. This also takes place at a moment of serious introspection about the state of racial justice and injustice in our country. While we celebrate and look forward with appropriate hope, we also note the suffering and racial violence that has so vividly shaken us to our core over the past six months. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others, leading to that of Walter Wallace, Jr. in West Philadelphia just two weeks ago, devastated not just individual families, but neighborhoods, regions and our entire country with the terror and trauma they bring to our Black brothers and sisters. And they call all of us to commit more fully to greater care, equity and justice in the larger world and within our own communities.
In the week of the killing of Walter Wallace, Jr., at AFS we created spaces for reflection, care and discussion among students and adults alike, taking note of the needs of our community at such a challenging time. Here are what we see as important needs and steps to be taken at this time.
We see a need for professionally supported therapeutic healing and processing spaces for our Black students, faculty and staff and parents of families with students of color. To that end, we are contracting with Simone Golden, a licensed social worker and certified professional coach with more than fifteen years of experience working with adults and students of color, creating spaces of growth, healing, sharing and learning. Starting the week of November 16, Simone will be leading sessions with our Middle and Upper School Black Student Unions with invitations to all Black students to participate; with our faculty and staff of color; and with families of students of color. We are completing the scheduling process with Simone and will share dates soon.
We see a need for all students to continue to grow and learn as they come to understand their own identities in the world and the impact they can have for both good and for harm. This engagement happens in age-appropriate discussions and curriculum pieces in the Lower School and in the Conscious Communities program in the Middle and Upper Schools. Mikael Yisrael works with all faculty in all divisions in creating these opportunities and conversations. The Conscious Communities program, well-established in Middle School, has now begun for all students in Upper School and the launch has given timely spaces for exploring contemporary issues in identity and race. Mikael, who is such a visionary and deeply caring all-school leader at AFS, has also created a required 10th grade class this year called Power, Identity and Social Change, another chance for students to explore critical issues and their own roles in social change.
Finally, we are always seeking new growth as a faculty and staff in our professional knowledge and skill around teaching in a deeply diverse community such as AFS. With a fair number of newer faculty and staff this year, we are engaging with the group Point Made Learning to engage all faculty and staff with a program called Look Deeper: Race, a digital experience built around the groundbreaking documentary I’m Not Racist… Am I? that follows “a group of young people and their families on a yearlong exploration trying to get at the heart of racism.” Completion of the digital course will be followed by a series of faculty and staff debriefs/dialogues to further build community and gain a deeper understanding of the core issues. This work takes place against a backdrop of myriad other professional learning groups and programs currently taking place, creating common concepts, language and engagement for all.
Please join me in thanking Mikael for his leadership in identifying these timely opportunities and resources for each constituency of the school and for his far-reaching collaboration with so many colleagues and families.
In Friends communities, we are encouraged to seek wholeness in all things. That means holding both painful realities and profound hope together as we look ahead to the next season of growth, learning and progress ahead of us, both in the AFS community and in our nation. As always, I am grateful to all who are on this journey together at AFS.