By Ben Gott
MS English, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator
At GFA, the changes forced upon us by COVID-19 have also given us the opportunity to think differently about how we do the important work of building community, fostering each student’s sense of belonging, and engaging with important, timely topics in a straightforward, honest, and vulnerable way.
Traditionally, the third week in January has provided an opportunity for GFA students, faculty, and staff to come together as a community to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, the reality of COVID-19 meant that such large gatherings would be impossible this year—so the GFA Equity & Inclusion team decided to completely reinvent and reimagine our program for 2021.
On Thursday, January 21st, Middle School students spent time during their Advisory watching an interview between Coyle Scholar Julie Lythcott-Haims and me. I wanted to use some of Dr. King’s words to frame our conversation, while also giving Julie the chance to talk about her own experiences growing up Black and bi-racial and to answer some questions from Middle School students. Those questions, posed by eighth-graders, asked Julie to reflect on her own history and to share some words of wisdom about identity, self-confidence, and the struggle for justice:
• “Looking back at your own middle school years, who were the people in your life who helped you believe that you are somebody—particularly as a Black student in a white space?”
• “What advice do you have for young people who want to believe in themselves but find it’s hard to do sometimes?”
• “As middle school students, what are some ways that we can support the struggle for justice in our own families and communities?”Throughout the course of our conversation, Lythcott-Haims spoke honestly to students about her own struggles for self-acceptance, provided guidance to those looking to engage their friends and families in important social justice work, and reminded all of us of the depth of our own strength and character. She ended with these words: “I want to also offer that anybody who’s finding it hard to believe in themselves is often finding it hard because of the opinions of other people…They’re upset. They’re angry. They’ve been harmed. And the way they feel better about themselves is to hurt others. So one day, you’ll be big enough and old enough to say, ‘Wow. I actually have compassion for that person who’s trying to demean me because clearly they’re being hurt somewhere. It’s about them. It’s not about you.’”
Middle School students and faculty were profoundly impacted by Lythcott-Haims’s insight. When I got off the Zoom call with Julie, I started to weep. Our conversation encapsulated everything we’ve been talking about in the Middle School this year. I felt such hope and such optimism. The words, spirit, and commitment to justice encapsulated in our conversation, and exhibited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will continue to light our path forward.