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Black Excellence Made Visible

When the calendar turns to February at Maret, the hallways in the Upper School begin to fill with posters of Black trailblazers, kicking off a jam-packed Black History Month. Upper School student leaders from Black Student Union (BSU), Black Girl Magic, Handsome Black Men, and Bridging the Divide, spearhead a month-long array of social and educational activities in the Upper School. Lower and Middle School host their own programs, as well.

"One of the things that always resonates with me is seeing the profiles of the different Black figures that BSU puts up. I was one of the people that put [the posters] up a couple of years ago. Seeing them every year and knowing that tradition will continue is comforting," says Tiara Dupee ’22.

Students agree that these posters are an important visual representation of “different types of black excellence.” Masai Jenkins '22, leader of BSU and Handsome Black Men, adds, “In my time at Maret, I have learned to appreciate the smaller things. Even though I may know a lot about them, others may not… if someone stops to look at blurbs, we’ve brought awareness and touched somebody.”

For Sage Saada Saar '22, leader of BSU and Black Girl Magic, this year’s Black History Month in the Upper School was a culmination of the hard work she and others have put in since the beginning of this school year. “As [one of the] leaders of BSU, I wanted to create a really strong community—be active, present, and alive in the lives of Black students at Maret. Yes, this month is a time to appreciate Black history, especially Black excellence in academia, but [it is] also about being around each other—being together and having fun.”

This combination of excellence and joy took flight in February. Lower School students were treated to an interactive history lesson on swing dancing—specifically the Lindy Hop, which originated in Harlem in the late 1920s. Lea Williams, After School counselor, took to the stage with her former student, Tyler Fullwood to conduct a show-and-tell history lesson. The assembly concluded with a handful of students and teachers performing the Lindy Hop together!

The Middle School invited the Shaolin Jazz Project to campus for a presentation about the history of two Black American art forms—Jazz and Hip Hop. Students were mesmerized by the presenters as they explored the cultural and musical connections that exist between Jazz and Hip-Hop. The assembly was an informative and entertaining way of combining music, art, video, and discussion. The multimedia presentation incorporated music samples, video clips, historical and contemporary images, a DJ demo, and a Q&A. Middle school students were left in awe—connecting dots they had not seen before.

In Upper School, students collaborated with faculty to lead activities—the BSU hosted a movie night, a Black history trivia and games event, and a spades tournament. Black History Month concluded for the Upper School with a visit from Dr. Knatokie Ford, founder and CEO of Fly Sci® Enterprise, an education and media consulting organization focused on leveraging the power of storytelling to promote social change, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. She also met in affinity with students from BSU, who had the opportunity to ask additional questions about her educational and career path. Topics covered included how Dr. Ford overcame imposter syndrome as a Black woman in the STEM field and how she discovered her passion and purpose in life.

She gave voice to what a lot of Black students, students of color, and even just students, in general, go through. Dr. Ford put a name to something that students may not even realize they're going through. It was very validating for a lot of people in the community to hear from her. I'm really happy that we were able to bring her to Maret.

Sage Saada Saar '22

Sage, Masai, and Tiara all value having heritage months, affinity groups, and programming to raise awareness, even though they would like to see more appreciation of Black history “outside of the assembly space.”

Tiara also comments, “I think it's important to have spaces [in affinity] where we're all together and just get to be… and not necessarily always coming together to talk about issues and the negative things that are going on in the world.” At the same time, the student leaders all agree on the importance of cross-affinity engagement: “We want to bring together people of different affinities as well—create a space where they don’t feel scared to engage or get canceled or say the wrong thing.”

Safe to say, these students have helped paved the way for future leaders to take these challenges and move our community toward a deeper understanding and dialogue.