Over three days, from Thursday, January 16 through Saturday, January 18, St. Mark's honored and celebrated diversity with events sponsored under the auspices of the School's Community and Equity program.
Also on Thursday evening, in conjunction with the Cultural Fair, the St. Mark's Haiti Partnership invited Jean Pillard, founder of Life Skills Haiti, to give a presentation on the work his organization is doing in Fort-Liberté and Cap Haitien to support and empower Haitian youth. Life Skills Haiti currently provides scholarships to Haitians between the ages of 17 to 24 that allows them to further their technical and vocational skills. The organization also invests in education for long-term, systematic change. Life Skills Haiti collaborates with community leaders at the local and regional level to help ensure that their work complements their efforts and is scalable and sustainable.
Mr. Pillard was a powerful speaker with an interesting background. Prior to founding Life Skills Haiti, he had served as Chargé d'Affaires Plenipotentiary at the Embassy of the Republic of Haiti to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the monumental task of restarting the strained diplomatic relations between Haiti and the UK after over half a century of broken relations.
"It was a tremendous evening," commented faculty member Elise Morgan, a veteran of the St. Mark's Haiti Partnership program. "It was extremely informative and an opportunity for members of the Haiti Partnership to continue to think deeply about the work they are doing with respect to their partnership with St. Marguerite's School in Latournelle, Haiti."
Following both the Cultural Fair and the Haiti presentation, there was a showing of the HBO film True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Equality. The film tells the story of Alabama public interest attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, who for more than three decades has advocated on behalf of the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned, seeking to eradicate racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.
On Friday, a series of workshops highlighted the first half of Community and Equity Day. The workshops were facilitated by presenters from the Global Youth Leadership Institute (GYLI), a national organization that delivers transformative educational programs that foster global pluralism, collaborative leadership, and environmental sustainability that help students and teachers become fully engaged citizens of the world. GYLI endeavors to build more democratic and socially just communities through access to and experience of multiple perspective and narratives that foster deep connections to the earth and to each other, inspiring collaborative, multilateral action. The four pillars of GYLI curricular offerings are collaborative leadership, multi-cultural identity, religious pluralism, and environmental sustainability.
Throughout the morning, St. Markers in Forms III through VI took part in four workshops. One, on gender and leadership in the Lower Center, was led by Roxanne Kruger, a program coordinator for GYLI. Another, on cultural identity and understanding, was led by GYLI's international program coordinator, Ingrid Valdez, and took place in Taft Hall. A third, an active and dynamic program on mindfulness, was led by author, business strategist, coach, and trainer Ambrose WB in the main gym of the Michel Faculty Athletic Center. Finally, GYLI executive director Matt Link facilitated a workshop on climate change and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in the Black Box Theater.
After lunch, the entire St. Mark's community gathered together in the Putnam Family Arts Center's Class of 1945 Hall for a "Celebration of Identity." It opened with the choir onstage under a rainbow banner declaring "Umoja! Unity" ("umoja" is the Swahili word for "unity") singing a musical expression of unity—Umoja! Then representatives of the various campus Pathways groups (student affinity organizations) delivered a series of presentations, sharing cultures—ethnic, religious, gender, and social—through song, dance, video, poetry, and more. WSAR (White Students Against Racism), the J-Team, the Asian Student Alliance, the Gender & Sexuality Alliance, the Southborough Society, Men Are Not Born-They Are Made, Los Leones, #OpenlySecular, the Black Lions Union, the Christian Fellowship, and SWIRL (Students With Interracial Lives) all had their time in the spotlight.
Special thanks goes to St. Mark's Director of Community ands Equity Affairs Loris Adams, to the program's Assistant Director Starry Zhu, and to all the student Pathways Prefects, faculty, and staff who made all of this possible through their hard work and dedication.