An annual tradition at AFS, Many Voices Day is a day for students and factulty to challenge themselves in new ways when thinking about diversity and inclusion and reflect upon one of our School’s core missions.
AFS asked Assistant Director of the Middle School Mark Smith and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Mikael Yisrael to reflect upon the separate Many Voices Days in the Middle School and Upper School divisions, lift up the student leaders involved and share their thoughts with This Week.
While we live our mission each day, Many Voices Day served as a point to pause, reflect, and gain greater clarity about the road ahead to ensure we continue to be as inclusive and equitable as possible. Middle School Many Voices Day 2019 gave individual voice to collective experiences. Students deepened their academic understanding of systemic racism and cultural appropriation. In practical, hands-on activities, students also considered how to leverage privilege to fight for equity and and brainstormed how to respond to microaggressions.
Many thanks to Taylor Forbes, Carin Cebula, Trey Jones, Amira Shakur, Julia Marczak, Bella Washington-Vasquez, Jabril Hampton, Trinity Graham, Jeremiah Shepherd-Baker, Ceci Aguilar, Taye McCord-Amasis, Cire Worley, and Jackson Philips who devoted their own choice time to learn to facilitate workshops, then led the activities with poise and understanding. Thanks also to Erin Timmer for her hard work and devotion to making the day a reality, as well as to Karolye, Mohan, and Shana for helping to successfully include fourth grade for the first time.
This year, our Quaker theme is Witness. Faculty and staff have been examining what it means to bear witness through language and how to build an inclusive community with our words. And, on Many Voices Day, Upper School students and faculty explored what it means to bear witness through allyship.
Bearing witness calls for us to testify; share a testimony. It requires us to validate someone else’s existence and experience. As a witness, we are called to lift up the voices and stories of the unheard and unseen, the marginalized. It calls us to engage in affirmation and advocacy and acknowledge injustice and inequities in order to address them and effect change. As a witness, we are called to move from selfish to selfless; from aspiration to action; from theory to practice; from rhetoric to reality; and, from judgment to justice. Bearing witness is to support and stand with others; to live our lives out loud for others to witness. It is an opportunity to be a living testimony and leave a lasting legacy.
In that spirit, I posed the following questions to the Upper School community during the opening assembly for Many Voices Day:
What will your legacy be? How will you let your life speak?
It is truly a gift to have annual allotted time and space to take a break from our regularly scheduled program to engage each other and connect as one community with many voices.
As a new member to the community, and after consultation with students on the Many Voices Day Planning Committee, I thought it would be a great opportunity to reimagine and restructure the program for the day. The thematic focus was allyship and the charge was to explore what it means to be an ally and how to be a good ally. It called for students and faculty to say something; to stand up and speak out; to be brave and have courageous conversations, not confrontations.
The day consisted of an opening assembly with remarks/video to frame the day as well as an Implicit Bias exercise, Affinity Group time, Student and Faculty-led interactive and intergroup dialogue workshops, two sessions of Cross-Conversations between Affinity and Ally groups across the spectrum, time to debrief within advisories, and Meeting for Worship to conclude the day.
Indeed, it was a day designed for heavy lifting, deep conversation, human connection, and heartfelt emotion. In a world that seemingly continues to put up barriers and push people farther apart, it was important for us, as a community, to turn to each other, take steps forward and towards finding common ground, purpose, compassion, and commitment to our core values. It was a day that started necessary conversations, lifted up and amplified student voice, and encouraged us to embark on a journey of deep listening, seeking understanding, exhibiting empathy, and bearing witness through allyship.