Saturday Summit on Social Justice Highlights Truth, Connection and Hope

It was a packed house, albeit a virtual one, at the fourth annual Saturday Summit on Social Justice (SSSJ) on Saturday, November 21.

Nearly 180 students, faculty, staff and administrators from local independent schools gathered on the screen to tackle issues of social justice during the summit, which was co-sponsored by The Masters School and Rye Country Day School.
 
The event started at 10:00 a.m. with a brief introduction from Masters’ Head of School Laura Danforth, Masters’ Director of Equity and Inclusion Karen Brown and Rye Country Day’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ali Morgan.
 
“This is your summit,” said Brown to the students in attendance, as she reminded them that this event was created as a student-led initiative. “You started this, and this is about you,” she added.

Sophia Van Beek ’21, who has attended every summit since the eighth grade, was worried a virtual one might be lacking, but to her delight she was wrong. “Everyone who was there had a reason they were there, they had a purpose. Being in that space, where we spoke about personal issues, and all had this one thing in common, was so refreshing.” 

Brown highlighted the importance of this event, especially in a year like this one. “It was a year of unheard voices rising up.” 
 
“I am aware of the work that you are doing in your schools in your communities, and I am filled with hope and with love,” stated Danforth as she thanked the students for their determination to be “agents of change.” She encouraged all the participants to “listen deeply, speak your truth and learn about each other.”

Danforth was not alone in her praise of the young attendees. “I am just in awe of how outspoken and confident our students are in demanding change and their need to be understood on their own terms,“ said Fitima Pelaez, associate director of admission.

The workshops that took place in the morning and in the afternoon delved on topics such as colorism, privilege, code-switching, anti-Semitism and more.

“I would say that I gained clarity and a sense of wholeness when we were in our affinity groups, because the conversations were very deep and full of information,” said Caleb Jakes ’22.

"I was worried some of the conversations wouldn't be as meaningful with the barrier of Zoom, but everything went even better than expected, and we were even able to connect through social media afterwards!" said Sachi Singh '21.

“They understand the importance of this work and that they are and will be the leaders in helping to make our world a more equitable and empathetic place,” added Eric Shear, upper school science teacher, Class of 2021 dean, and equity and inclusion coordinator.

“The thing I love most about SSSJ is the way students are empowered to lead and communicate in that space. That was true even in a virtual format,” said Lee Dieck, ethical leadership coordinator.

Educators found the event meaningful on many levels. “The camaraderie and spirit of open-heartedness are inspiring and renewing in my own personal and professional commitment to constantly improving as a teacher and as a supporter of social justice work,” said Department of Performing Arts Chair Jennifer Carnevale

A highlight of the day was the presentation by keynote speaker, poet Tshaka Campbell who recited several works of poetry that tied closely to his personal experience and that he says are inspired by “the struggle of life, the uncertain certainty of the universe, and what it chooses to hand you.”

Campbell ended his presentation by sharing words of wisdom which he summarized as “self-worth.” “This world will try to strip you of your value. You gotta remember who you are. You gotta live your truth.”

Van Beek left feeling very hopeful. “Every single person in attendance belonged, so sharing this one experience gave us a collective sense of community and togetherness,” she said. “Simply sharing those moments of emotion, wonder and humor reminded me why I do activist work in the first place.”
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