Alumni Panel Explores Race and Culture

On Saturday, October 17, as tables were being set up for various Homecoming activities, a group of current parents and students from all three divisions gathered to hear five African American alumni share stories about their experiences at Sidwell Friends and beyond. This panel, modeled after one like it last fall, was the concept of alumna Ericka Blount-Danois ’90, who moderated this event. It was produced through collaboration between the Parents of Black Students (PBS) Committee, the Upper School Equity, Justice, and Community coordinator, and the Office of Institutional Advancement.

Panelists included Camylle Fleming ’10, Joelle Jackson ’15, Ralph Lee ’00, and Neville Waters ’75.

The program began with panelists being asked about their transition into Sidwell Friends. Those who came in Lower School reflected on the ease with which they made new friends and their limited understanding of skin color as being any different an attribute than hair color or eye color or whether you were good at drawing.

Panel members who arrived in Middle and Upper School experienced more anxiety about leaving old friends behind and whether they would be accepted by their new community. While some did in large part leave old friends behind, others maintained friendships and traditions from their previous school(s) in addition to new ones from Sidwell Friends.

All alumni said that their experience at Sidwell Friends provided them a safe place to become who they wanted to be. One alumna said Sidwell Friends provided her space to figure out what her “light” was. This was valuable to her as she forged her path in college

Philip McAdoo, the School’s new director of Equity, Justice, and Community, asked the panel what they did not get from their Sidwell Friends experience. Some panel members reflected on their lack of exposure and experience handling the racially based profiling and discrimination that came in college and beyond. While the Sidwell Friends “cocoon” was protective and allowed them to know themselves and gain self-assurance, it did not prepare them for the racism they would encounter elsewhere.

Participants appreciated that the PBS held the important panel discussion.

“It was such a pleasure to hear from parents and alumni from various backgrounds about their experiences. I hope that anything we were able to share resonated with current students and parents and helped in some way or made them feel like they weren’t alone in whatever they were feeling.”

—Ericka Blount-Danois ’90, moderator

“I am always struck by the connection between the generations of SFS alumni. Regardless of when a person graduated, there is a shared spirituality that exists and permeates our collective feelings toward the institution. While individual experiences vary and specific situations have evolved—influenced by the physical layout of the School, social media, economic disparities—it is still quite unique how strangers can almost instantly recognize and know each other. I admire the inclusiveness of diversity at Sidwell Friends, but I am particularly proud that the commitment to black alumni, students, and parents is more than lip service.”

—Neville Waters ’75

“Events like this panel are crucial to strengthening the inner communities within Sidwell Friends so that we can all feel at home at the School. I look forward to more events like this in the future.”

—Joelle Jackson ’15

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