“Blair is at our best when we come together as a community and lift one another up,” Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Evan Thomas said.
The hilltop was a shining example of that mantra on Tuesday as the School gathered as one for the annual Black History Month Seminars, a series of discussions led by students to provide the community with experiences that acknowledge the richness and importance of Black stories. In an all-School Meeting to kick off the event, Head of School Peter G. Curran encouraged everyone to “explore rich conversations and spirited dialogue throughout the day.”
In their sessions, students presented and led small-group discussions with their peers, sharing their research about subject areas of their choosing. Much like Blair’s J-term courses earlier this year, the opportunity for students to become the teachers promoted a stronger understanding of the subject matter for the presenters. Mr. Thomas notes that students further their learning during the day by being able to select the spaces they attend, picking sessions that resonate with them or topics that pique their curiosity.
“I was happy to see an uptick in presenters this year and the representation of the students speaking,” Mr. Thomas said. “It felt like the community event we hoped it would be.”
Inside the classrooms, students were encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions during the presentations. In “Exploring Hip-Hop & Politics” led by Zac Baker ’23, Carnegie Johnson ’23 and Ian Imegwu ’23, students analyzed selections of hip-hop music in small groups and then shared with the room, igniting back-and-forth conversations about artists’ meaning and impact, lending to more meaningful discussions about the ability to separate the art from the artist.
“My hope with this class is for students to understand there’s more to hip-hop than the stereotypes,” Zac said. “I want to shine a light on conscious hip-hop and highlight the good and memorable, political and meaningful work.”
Stereotypes were a common theme in many seminars, including “Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation” led by Nour Hassan ’24 and Petra Taylor ’24. To start a meaningful dialogue about the differences, Nour and Petra shared a video prompt with the class that ended with the question, “What would America be like if we loved Black people as much as Black culture?” The room broke into groups to discuss the meanings of appreciation and appropriation and where we see it in our daily lives.
“I think a course like this is helpful because we were able to reach out to 30 or so members of our community who will hopefully go on to make more welcoming and safer environments for others,” Nour said. “It’s something I think extends beyond Black History Month.”
This year’s Black History Month Seminar event was different from last year, with added faculty and staff workshops throughout the day. While teachers still sat in on their students’ seminars/presentations, additional time was carved out for faculty-led workshops in areas like “Intervening for Inclusivity,” “Culturally Responsive Teaching” and “‘Just Like Me’: A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Implicit Bias.” The morning kicked off with faculty-and-staff sessions encouraging thoughtful reflection and open dialogue among peers, a theme that carried on throughout the day.
“It’s important that adults model—that we do this together ourselves, learning from our peers just as the students are,” Mr. Thomas said. “It’s something I am most excited for this year, and it couldn’t happen without the adults who stepped up to run workshops, along with the faculty who supported students in crafting their own.”
After the seminars, students had optional time to gather and debrief from the conversations and subject matter of the day in groups of their choosing. At family-style dinner, discussions continued with talking points provided at the tables to work into the natural flow of the evening, concluding with a Society of Skeptics talk by Alan Brown ’98, who shared how we can all live healthier, more mindful lives.
“Lean into ways we can recognize Black experiences from the past, while connecting to the lived experiences of today,” Mr. Thomas said. “This is the beginning of conversations that will hopefully extend well beyond Black History Month.”