Black History Month Speakers Share Stories
Throughout February, faculty members from various departments are sharing their personal stories to Upper School students in observance of Black History Month. They include Director of Diversity and Inclusion Joanne Brown, Director of Athletics Troy Baker, Director of College Counseling Jonathan Ferrell and J.B. Fuqua Chair of Speech and Debate Shuntá Jordan.
First up on Feb. 5 was Mrs. Brown, who shared her story about having dual citizenship in both the U.S. and Haiti. Mrs. Brown focused on how she attempted to combine two different cultures in her everyday life. “The easiest thing for me to do was to assimilate to whichever the majority was for me,” said Brown. “When I was in Haiti, I was as Haitian as I could be even though I was bringing all of these American things with me; and when I was in the U.S., I was as American as I could be but brought all of the Haitian part of me as well.”
Mrs. Brown’s goal in asking faculty members to share their stories is to help students understand that even people from the same race or ethnicity have different lives and different stories. “I think by hearing the stories, hopefully, students have a greater understanding of someone who may not look like them or come from the same background that they do,” said Mrs. Brown. “I think our tendency is to want to lump everybody from a particular ethnic or racial group together when really even within our own racial or ethnic groups we have very different stories, very different journeys, and very different experiences.”
Accompanied by Ted Ward, program coordinator with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Ms. Jordan spoke on Feb. 12 about her view of Black History Month. She spoke about how she was opposed to the idea of black history being limited to one month. Ms. Jordan also described a new elective option she is leading for next year titled “African American Saga: From Plantations to the Presidency.” Mr. Ward will be involved in helping with Ms. Jordan’s new class.
Mr. Ward returned on Feb. 21 to speak about the Atlanta Student Movement, led by young college students of the Atlanta University Center. The movement sparked the effort to peacefully desegregate Atlanta. On Friday, Feb. 23, Pace students broke into small groups to discuss how issues regarding segregation in Atlanta have progressed over time. Ranging from segregation at restaurants and the movies to the workplace, the students shared their views about today’s society and evaluated how they thought the racial situation had improved from the 1960s.
Mr. Bloodworth, Pace’s third speaker, finds these assembly stories to be important because they are relatable to a large group of the student body and faculty. “It’s personal,” he said. “There are people here, whether they are students or teachers, who experience things on a different level because of their skin color.”
Dr. Baker spoke on Monday, Feb. 26, about his experience with education from the perspective of a black student. “I felt like I needed to talk about something that maybe everyone can relate to; not as much black history itself, but more my experience in education,” he said. “More than anything, I hope that there is something that resonates with the students that helps them to understand the perspective of some of their peers. I also hope that there is something that resonates with students who are here that are in the minority to make sense of the whole experience.” Prior to speaking in front of the community, Dr. Baker hoped that the things that he found interesting are interesting to others. “My biggest fear is to go on and on about things nobody cares about,” he said. “I hope that there are things that are interesting and provoke some thought.”
Sharing a personal story publicly can be risky, but Dr. Baker felt good about it. “I trust our students and I trust our faculty,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m going into a room full of people I don’t know. I feel comfortable with that.” Mrs. Brown feels the same way. “I love this community so much and it’s like family, so I was really excited that the students would get to see a different side of me that maybe they do not know,” she said.