After browsing the internet searching for helpful advice on encouraging diversity at my school, I came across this informative article on the things communities might be missing in their efforts. True diversity is not necessarily present simply because multiple ethnicities are represented. Instead, it is wherever those people present feel comfortably normalized into an environment of acceptance. Click HERE to read more!
I guess I was raised to be aware of myself and my "place." About ten years ago, my mother, a painter, started a weekly art education program in the downtown homeless community of my hometown Jackson, MS, and I've been helping out--passing out supplies, giving advice, playing piano--for as long as I can remember.
I believe this website and my current efforts at my school Jackson Prep began while I was visiting some colleges last winter. An obvious recurring theme was the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. It was such a strongly reinforced point of emphasis on every college campus that I was led to initiate discussions on my own high school, Jackson Prep. I love my school and can't imagine graduating from anywhere else. I'm convinced that I have benefited from the finest classroom education available in my area. But the statistical fact remains that our enrollment of underrepresented minority students is less than 5%, despite the fact that the population of Jackson itself is over half black.
I have had multiple meetings with Prep administration and faculty and, to their great credit, have received strong support and encouragement. On their advice, I returned to UNC-Chapel Hill and met with the then Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Rumay Alexander, who emphasized the importance of progress in small, incremental steps. I then spent a morning at Vanderbilt with Chief Diversity Officer James Page, who spoke more specifically about the challenges to be expected in a high school involvement. He gave me a signed copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (ironically a native Jacksonian who went to college at Belhaven University, yards from my home), which forced me to realize that doing nothing was, in itself, a choice. I also met with Dr. Rosevelt Noble, director of Vanderbilt's Black Cultural Center, who spent most of that afternoon with me urging community building through "conversations" rather than confrontational rhetoric. Dr. Noble has since been kind enough to have ongoing conversations, both in person and via email, and has been a great source of support.
My senior year has now begun, and I have been allowed a daily period of "self-directed study" in DEI issues. My plan is to work with current members of the United Students Union, a small student group historically primarily comprised of minority students, to advance their voice and exposure. I'm excited to have the opportunity to write a column called "The Possibilist" for the school newspaper. I also plan to team with interested peers to construct a "Diversity Mission Statement" for our school, in addition to offering mentoring and advice to younger students as warranted. Of course, I'm excited to continue this blog site and hope to encourage shared participation as we all look for ways to make the school we love even better...exploring the possibilities.