The following remarks were delivered to The Middle and Upper School Community during Opening Convocation:
Last July the administration returned to campus for the first time since the global pandemic forced us into quarantine in March, and we pivoted quickly to work from home. In early July Brimmer’s leadership team had their first introduction to in-person meetings. Some members were at home as concurrent learners while others were here 6 feet apart, masks on, and feeling a bit nervous. During those summer meetings, our discussion focused on what is important for you as learners, especially during a time when you are managing how to stay safe during a pandemic. We discussed what our school community would have to do if we were to be able to return to campus and learn together in person.
The pandemic is not the only challenge we face as a society. Early this summer we also felt the renewed urgency to think about, address, and take responsibility for the bias, racism, and inequity in our own community, city, and country. Numerous acts of violence against Black Americans gained international attention and shined a light on the systemic racism embedded within our own communities. Those moments and stories are now deeply embedded in this chapter of our country's history. This highlights a deep internal crisis in America — one that needs a bold call to action. Our collective wisdom, problem solving, and experience directed us to our theme for the year, “Living our Core Values and Building an Equitable Community.”
This theme pertains to the work of us all. The School’s mission and guiding principles direct Brimmer’s educators in the task of preparing students both intellectually and ethically for their future. If we are to fulfill our mission and graduate ethical citizens and leaders who can serve and work in our diverse world, we need to rededicate ourselves to educate not only the intellect of our students but also the character within each of us. Focusing this year on the four Core Values – respect, responsibility, honesty and kindness – is an important commitment.
However, as we look to our future and examine our past, we became urgently aware of the importance of equity as a fifth Core Value, especially if we want to play our part in dismantling the racism that is crippling our country. Each speaker this morning will illustrate how we will work to unpack our Core Values this year, and Ms. Christian will speak on the importance of equity.
As I reflected on the theme over the summer, I was brought back to a fictionalized account of an African American woman named Margaret Garner in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. The main character Sethe characterizes the psychological effects slavery had on its people. Reading Morrison’s novel in 1988 when it won the Pulitzer Price and then again in 2008, twenty years later, I claimed it as the single novel that changed my view of life in America as a woman.
As many of you may know, I taught AP Literature for over ten years, and when a female author makes it into the canon — that selective list of what the college board deems worthy — I cheer, especially when a black woman’s work is selected. The list has been male dominated for centuries, and we often teach what is expected to be on that test. New voices were being represented and that meant times were changing.
Morrison’s novel has appeared 13 times on AP Literature exams and has rightly taken its place alongside the greatest American novels. Black American male author, Ralph Ellison, had his novel Invisible Man hit that list 29 times, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by one of America’s great black female authors Zorah Neale Hurston has been listed 13 times. The universal theme of how the history of slavery has caused post traumatic experiences for generations of people has been chronicled repeatedly in American literature and scholars have taken note.
Despite this literary presence and brilliant story telling, we continue to fail at understanding the impact our post-slavery history has on our society in America. As you begin your pursuit of knowledge once again this year, I encourage you to join me in looking inwardly, opening your minds, and listening carefully. Let us ask ourselves to be honest, responsible, respectful, and kind when we embrace the stories of others. We can be part of the solution and build a more equitable future for everyone if we take this important step.
This will be a school year unlike any other in the history of Brimmer’s 140 years. While that certainly presents its share of challenges, it also presents opportunities for us to grow and thrive as a community. As we strive to build a more equitable community, Brimmer’s faculty will be committed to activities and conversations surrounding the inequality and social injustices that exist in America. I am confident that we have the expertise and moral courage in place to allow that to happen.