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Calhoun Celebrates Radical Joy and Justice During Black History/Futures Month

For Calhouners across divisions, this year's commemoration of Black History/Futures Month was a robust celebration of classroom learning and interactive experiences. Calhoun adopted the theme of The Future if Black: Radical Joy and Justice, which as DEI Director John Gentile explains, “guided us in our purpose of centering Black lives, stories and experiences in their full, complex truths.” 

Students across divisions welcomed guests virtually, meeting with Black artists and activists who shed light on their life’s work and shared their joy with our community. Teachers found opportunities for curricular connections, highlighting Black authors, musicians, leaders and experts in a number of disciplines. A continued partnership between school administration and the Upper School Diversity and Accountability Board (D.A.B.) helped shape multi-faceted programming that explored the past while building a vision for the future.

Below are just some of the highlights from Black History/Futures Month at Calhoun:

Curricular Connections

Lower School—Early Childhood hosted its annual Changemakers Assembly, with this year's focus on honoring Black changemakers. Each cluster recorded a presentation, sharing their knowledge of such figures as Malcolm X, artist Kihende Wiley, author Vashti Harrison, young philanthropist Chelsea Phaire, animal rights activist Genesis Butler and tennis star Naomi Osaka. 

Students in Lower School—Elementary joined their peers for a special assembly featuring a performance by Sterling Strings. Based in New York, this quartet of highly trained professional musicians put their own unique spin on contemporary songs from artists like Beyoncé, Bruno Mars and Nina Simone. Watch below for their rendition of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” 

Middle School hosted a Black Lives Matter Week of Action teach-in. Teachers ran a full day of workshops for each MS grade level centering our theme. Myriad topics ranged from lessons on leaders like Stacey Abrams, John Lewis and Andrea Jenkins, to the history of race in film and Afro-Latinidad in music and art.

Upper Schoolers welcomed a number of special guests during February Town Meetings. Speakers included artist and activist Michelle Browder, writer and performer Lauren Whitehead and NAACP New York State Conference President Dr. Hazel Dukes. During their time with Upper Schoolers, these impressive leaders shared their work and perspectives, inspiring action and reflection amongst the Upper School community.

US winds and brass students honored the work of musician Scott Joplin. Joplin is known as the “King of Ragtime” and one of America's most influential composers. His musical innovations resulted in the development of stride piano, swing and jazz, while also influencing classical music in the 20th century. Student-musicians played several of Joplin’s compositions including the iconic “The Entertainer,” “Easy Winners” and “Pine Apple Rag.” 

Beyond the Classroom

The celebration extended beyond the school day to include special events for the entire community. A special evening event highlighted the talents and knowledge of musician Kozza Babumba and curator Destinee Ross-Sutton

Kicking off the evening was an interactive performance and talk with Kozza, grandson of legendary musician Babatunde Olatunji and an accomplished musician in his own right. The interactive session included drumming, storytelling and a Q&A with participants. Following Kozza, Destinee Ross-Sutton joined the community to lead a virtual tour of the exhibit Black Voices: Friend of My Mind. Featuring a number of works, the exhibit “explores rest and wellness, self-love and care, introspection and comfort to embrace beauty, often seen as an act of rebellion.”

Kozza Babumba and Destinee Ross-Sutton

Calhoun celebrated the talents of Black-identified students through the online exhibit Black@rts: Joy in Learning; Joy in Belonging. In collaboration with Ross-Sutton Gallery, the exhibit showcased work from students in 6th-12th grade from Calhoun and across the globe. The guiding theme of the show was interpretation of “joy” within contexts and communities where contributing artists feel at ease and welcomed to express themselves, embrace learning and experiment. Visit the Black@rts webpage to view the full gallery. 

Student-artist painting

Faculty were joined by nationally recognized psychologist and professor Dr. Howard Stevenson for a professional development opportunity. Dr. Stevenson is executive director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC), a research, program development, and training center that brings together community leaders, researchers and families to study and promote racial literacy and health in both schools and communities. Through his research and clinical work, he has developed culturally relevant "in-the-moment" strengths-based measures and therapeutic interventions that teach emotional and racial literacy skills to families and youth.

During the session, Dr. Stevenson presented his work, shared personal anecdotes and facilitated interactive exercises designed to challenge faculty and staff as part of Calhoun’s continued racial literacy work.