More than anything else, the 2020–2021 school year at The New Century School has been a testament to what can happen when a community thrives. In the midst of the many and ongoing upheavals we’ve collectively experienced, the members of the TNCS community at all levels continue to not only surmount would-be obstacles, but turn them into new opportunities to connect and grow. This echoes a sentiment expressed by TNCS Co-Founders and Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner a year ago, when they entreated the community to support each other through the crisis we faced, emerge stronger from it, and look back proudly on our conduct. Their steadfast vision of what TNCS can be and do has also grown stronger.
That’s why, having debuted a Black History Month Celebration just last year in characteristically stellar fashion, TNCS was not about to forfeit the promise to make this essential sociocultural event an annual occurrence, despite the practical challenges of not being able to gather in person. TNCS finds a way to forge ahead. While last year’s event was a celebration of music and culture and largely composed of student performances, this year’s event took a different tack to grapple with some of the United States’ societal ills—some of the very issues that underpin why Black History Month evolved. (Note that last year’s event certainly also brought its share of gravitas, especially when renowned artist Harold Caudio took the stage.)
To back up a bit, earlier this year, TNCS Head of School Señora Shara Khon Duncan and staff announced their plans to implement the Pollyanna Curriculum throughout school as one way to give TNCS students a way to talk about what they were seeing and hearing about racial and social injustice—the spring and summer of 2020 were socially turbulent not just because of the pandemic. According to their website, “Pollyanna is a national nonprofit helping academic and other institutions achieve their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.”
That brings us to the Black History Month event on Wednesday, February 24th, which featured a talk and Q&A by illustrious Guest Speaker Jessy Molina, currently of Molina Consulting (and a consultant for Pollyanna, among many other institutions and organizations). Ms. Molina founded Molina Consulting in July of 2020 in her Baltimore home after having served as the director of diversity, equity, and social justice at two local independent schools as well as working in nonprofits for the prior 15 years. She describes her path to Molina Consulting this way:
I am an attorney, a mediator, and a facilitator. I decided to move into full-time consulting work because I wanted to support more organizations and institutions to make long-term, sustainable change around equity and justice. I also had an interest in doing more conflict mediation and healing work with people and communities.
This is the best professional decision I have ever made. I am thrilled that I get to support people in healing from racial trauma every day, and in doing so, continue my own healing journey. Our bodies are carrying the weight of racial stress, anxiety, and trauma, and I’m grateful to support people to find more freedom and joy. We have to learn how to talk about race and racism in this country, and to make systemic changes with big impact. I am grateful to be part of that.
Schools are ideal places to start these conversations and to develop “racial literacy.” “Racial literacy,” explains Ms. Molina, “is the ability to understand race and racism in the context of our history, understand race as a social and political construct, understand how racism is institutionalized and perpetuated through systems, and know how how to shift practices, policies and protocols to make systemic change that leads to more equity and justice for more people.” Her presentation, “Talking to Children about Race and Racism,” was designed to help us parents understand our own orientation toward these subjects to better, more productively engage with our children. This starts from the ground up. “Parents are a critical part of helping our children develop healthy racial identities and learn how to stand up for—and build—more racial justice in the world,” she explained. “We can model being open and honest, acknowledging and repairing mistakes, leveraging our privilege for equity, and sharing resources and power. Research suggests that children learn more about racial justice from what we do, not what we say. Our children are watching everything we do—the best way to teach them is to be our best selves.”
After opening remarks by Sra. Duncan, Ms. Molina took the (virtual) stage.
The event was exceptionally well attended (thank you, zoom!), and Ms. Molina’s presentation generated some very robust audience engagement. It was clear that parents were ready to talk about this. They were also overflowing with gratitude for Ms. Molina’s eye-opening talk and for Sra. Duncan’s efforts to make the event happen.
Ms. Molina is obviously committed to her work, and the world will be a better place for it (Molina Consulting’s fitting tagline is “Training to Change the World“). “The most important part for me was connecting to my purpose,” she says. “Who am I and what I am here to do? Serving as a mediator, facilitator, and trainer helps me get closer to my purpose of building connection and community among people and supporting people to live full, free, and whole lives.” In addition, she gets more family time, which many of us are also experiencing. “I’m thankful that I get to work at home with my children. It’s a joy to help them with their homework, sneak in a favorite episode, or make cookies after lunch. It’s certainly difficult to balance on some days, but overall, I am loving the extra time we have together.”
What TNCS Students Had to Say
And let’s not forget, all that extra “together time” translates to time spent modeling an open, honest, and compassionate way to be in this world. Something is paying off, if these student presentations that followed Ms. Molina’s talk are any indication. At the behest of ELA teacher Jalynn Harris, students could read a Black History Month–themed poem (some in tanka form) they recently wrote for class or present research on a world-changing Black figure (or both in the case of one enterprising 8th grader!).
The evening ended in just about the most perfect way possible, with a beautiful rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing by high school students in Tallahassee, Florida. The audience was moved beyond description and came away brimming with thoughts and feelings about the event that could very well lead to important changes.
Resources from “Talking to Children about Race and Racism”: