Day of Courage
December 17, 2016
The third annual “Asking for Courage” day took place on Dec. 15 at the high school. The “Middle Eastern” and “Say Their Names” blocks were new additions to the Day, joining into the mix of the “Telling Your Story” and “Latinx” blocks. For the past three years this day has educated and opened discussions about race for all students and faculty in an ongoing struggle towards racial equality in Brookline and the greater world.
“Telling Your Story”
The high school’s third annual “Day of Courage” began with the “Telling Your Story” blocks, A and B. Students packed into the Roberts Dubbs Auditorium the morning of Thursday, Dec. 15 so they could listen to their peers share their experiences regarding race and ethnicity.
First to speak was senior Carina Feeney, who spoke of the insensitivity that young kids can have towards others and the pain she felt when she participated in making jokes about her own culture or trying to be somebody she’s not in order to fit in. Feeney said she never wanted to have to feel excluded again after she had been bullied in elementary school because of her racial identity.
“I stayed away from the sun during the summer to keep my skin pale for the white parts in ballet,” Feeney reflected on her attempts to be seen as white.
Afterwards, juniors Karina Lorenzo and Raven Bogues shared a powerful poem entitled “Letters from Two Girls who’ve Had Enough.” The dynamic and forceful reciting received so many cheers and so much applause during that the girls had to stop several times to let the crowd quiet back down.
“So you may assume my house is trash and rented, but you’d be wrong. You’d be succumbing to the stereotypes this country has thrived on for so long. See, because my mother worked hard for what we had. When she was young, she saved all the money her job would allow and she bought the house that I live in now. She is proud to say that she is the first in our family to make such a purchase, and in my eyes, that accomplishment will always be ageless,” Bogues said, defiling stereotypes.
“To feel equal, do you truly know what that means? To feel like I truly belong in a world where my skin color is rooted in hate, where my ancestors had to struggle just to put food on a plate and a floor to kneel and pray on,” Lorenzo said about the history of oppression towards Latinos.
Senior Tyra Pierre also recited a powerful poem about the oppression of Black people in this country throughout history. Many of her lines were met with cheers, applause and snaps from the audience.
Junior KJ McCauley shared his personal story about being a biracial student, eventually finding solace when coming to Brookline. McCauley said that growing up, he felt that it was nearly impossible to be a mixture of Black and White, either people would call him Black, White or nothing.
Next, senior Valentina Rojas-Posada spoke about her struggle to be Latina and successful in school in a world in which the only successful people she saw around her where White.
“When they want somebody who is presentable ethnic. We are the ones on the college brochures,” Rojas-Posada said pertaining to students of color who have “adapted to the white education system” and are used to give the semblance of diversity.
She also spoke about the war that had been tearing her home country of Colombia apart for the past half a century, a war that most people in the audience, she believed, didn’t know about.
Sophomore Ben Haber came next and provided the perspective of White Privilege in these issues. He reflected on how in middle school, he grew up with his clique of friends who all had racial nicknames for each other, calling him “White trash.”
“Racism is not black or white, but a rainbow of oppression,” Haber said.
Haber said he believes that racism and ethnicity should be taught about from middle school so that kids do not do the things he and his friends used to do and can be educated before getting to high school. That is why he is trying to kick start a committee with sophomore Vishni Samaraweera to get students involved and aware of racial identity issues and stereotypes.
Finally, juniors Iman Khan and Nada Alaeddin spoke about the terrifying increase of Islamophobia in the country. Khan and Alaeddin also educated the audience on the strength Muslim women have.
“We have the power to choose what you can or cannot see,” Khan said. “We have the freedom. We have the control.”
Middle Eastern presentation and stories
The E-block assembly that took place in the Roberts Dubbs Auditorium, the Middle Eastern assembly, centered both on educating the student body about the Middle East and on the stories of Middle Eastern students.
The assembly began with a powerpoint presentation by senior Selin Asma. Asma explained that because the media inaccurately represents Muslims, she wanted to educate the audience. Although the majority of the population of Middle Eastern countries is Muslim, other religions are present throughout the region as well. She emphasized that women have the choice to wear a hijab and that wearing one is not a symbol of oppression. Asma defined Islamophobia as “hatred, disapproval or fear of Muslims.”
Asma then played “Meet a Muslim,” a video featuring Muslim-Americans. One man in the video commented on why being Muslim is not the same thing as a terrorist, saying, “Christianity is to Al-Qaeda or ISIS as Islam is to the KKK.” Asma concluded the presentation by debunking myths about Muslims, including that all of the Middle East is at war and that everyone from the Middle East is a terrorist. “How can something so serious as terrorism be a joke?” Asma asked.
Iranian-American senior Kamran Sakhitab was the first to tell his story. He spoke about being taunted in fifth grade by his peers for bringing ghormeh sabzi, an Iranian stew, to school for lunch. Sakhitab focused on feeling as if he had to choose between his White and Iranian identities.
Junior Maya Kassis, a Syrian American, was the next speaker. Kassis spoke about the power of hope; hope, she said, is why there are people who chose to stay in Aleppo amidst violence, and she clings to the hope that one day she will be able to go back to Syria.
Senior Jeanine Nasser followed Kassis. Nasser spoke about her Palestinian identity and told her story of the first day of kindergarten, when her parents told her not to draw attention to herself or tell her peers about her origins. She said that she shouldn’t have to compromise her identity so that her peers feel comfortable.
Last to speak was Iranian-American sophomore Ranna Shahbazi. Shahbazi said that she loves America and Iran.
“My love for both should not be mutually exclusive,” she said.
Shahbazi finished by offering some advice: spread love and kindness, and learn to give everyone value.
The X-Block activism fair was held in the atrium where various stands promoting social justice organizations were set up and scanned by curious students. Advocates from groups such as the Reconciliation and Healing group, BLACC, The City School and the Food Project, shared insight on their organizations as well as racism and social justice issues.
Senior Elena Scotts-Lee is part of the Racial Reconciliation and Healing group based in Jamaica Plain.
According to Scotts-Lee, members of the group are taught about racism and ways to combat it.
“We spend a full year learning what we can do to deconstruct the system of racism. I have learned how deeply I have internalized many of the things that the system of racism has pushed upon me. I have come to understand how much it affects each demographic of people,” Scotts-Lee said.
Scotts-Lee said that it is important for all people to make connections about the topic of racism in order to progress.
“Many think that racism only hurts people of color, but it hurts everyone. In short, everyone should have the ability to make connections,” said Scotts-Lee.
Advocates for BLACC (Building Leaders and Changing the Community), a group from the high school, as well as The City School based in Boston were at the fair.
Senior Dayana Smith-Rose who was promoting BLACC has already created awareness at the high school through the pictures of innocent people of color killed lining the school floors as well as teach-in days. According to Smith-Rose a socially aware community is important to combatting social issues.
“If we are not socially together as a school, we cannot function and there are going to be issues within the school,” Smith-Rose said.
Collique Williams, a teacher for the leadership team at the The City School based in Boston, teaches students about social justice issues.
Williams said that there is a six week summer intensive program where they discuss these issues in seminars and classes.
“We work on looking at social change looking through a racial and economic lens as well as how folks can make change within their communities,” said Williams.
Angel Araiza, a part of The Food Project, said that students that are part of their application based program learn about social justice issues that have to do with the food system.
“The youth are very involved. They learn how to farm and they learn how to talk about social justice issues. We talk about a lot about oppression within the food system,” said Araiza.
According to Araiza, the project also discusses demographics and disparities within the food system.
“If you consider who has access to local affordable food and if you consider health disparity, a lot of the time it is people who live in places of lower economic statues who tend not to have grocery stores within a mile,” said Araiza.
The activism fair showcased many outlets of social justice work pertaining to racism, and other systematic issues.
“I’ve learned how deeply painful racism is and how much work has to be done to change this,” said Scotts-Lee.
The Latinx identity assembly was broken into two parts, beginning with the audience watching a documentary on immigration. World language teacher Pedro Mendez introduced the film Harvest of Empire by saying, “This is what happens when the U.S. invades our countries.”
The documentary focused on Hispanic countries in Central America. It began with a scene that set the stage for the theme of the movie: immigrant protesters marching for equal rights. “We are America,” one protester said. The film continued on to tell the stories of immigration in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala and the the Dominican Republic. For the latter three countries, the documentary explained how American involvement had hurt the people’s way of life, and in the case of the Dominican Republic, had even set a civil war in motion. It posed the point that the immigrants from these countries were searching for a better life than they were able to get in a country that had been affected by foreign governments.
Following the film, a panel of made up of seniors Sophie Strassmann, Valentina Rojas-Posada, Ruby Kennedy and Sarah Dreyfus, junior Ana Merida, Mendez and two guest activists commented on the topic. They affirmed their beliefs that immigrants, documented or undocumented, should be respected and protected in this country.
“They’re human, too,” Merida said, speaking to the dehumanization that she felt occurred around the topic of immigration.
Rojas-Posada finished by bringing up the recent election and calling for unity and love in the future.
“Say Their Names”
The last assembly of the day in the Roberts Dubbs Auditorium revolved around the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of Black Americans for which no convictions were made.
To the start the assembly, junior Carolyn Parker-Fairbin performed a poem about the history of lynchings and unjustified deaths of Black people in the United States and her personal struggle to make a positive impact in society.
After the poem, many students and faculty members took to the stage, one at a time, each wearing the name of a deceased Black person around their neck. First was Emmett Till, followed by Sandra Bland, Deeniquia Dodds, Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Yvette Smith, Zella Ziona and Eric Garner. After each name and the story behind each was read, the group recited the names of the victim in unison.
Junior Anthony Saunders then entered the stage and expressed his concern that he and other African-Americans may meet the same fate as these victims. The group then said his name in solidarity.
The next part of the assembly was an informational presentation given by seniors Maya Morris and Nick Lewitt. They referred to the practice of redlining by insurance companies in order to avoid selling insurance to Black neighborhoods, the school-to-prison pipeline and the higher likelihood of Black students to be suspended.
They also presented a video of former Republican National Committee chairman and adviser to President Ronald Reagan, Lee Atwater, in which he spoke about the methods that the Reagan administration used to marginalize African-Americans after the Civil Rights Movement.
Morris and Lewitt ended their presentation by affirming the legitimacy of the Black Lives Matter movement. They used various analogies to explain why the movement makes sense.
Lewitt said that it would be ludicrous to enter a cancer ward at the hospital and shout, “All illnesses matter,” referencing the “All lives matter” or “blue lives matter” movements that have arisen in response to Black Lives Matter movement.
When the presentation ended, the faculty and students who wore the names of Black victims of violence returned to the stage to a standing ovation from the audience.