Each January, as the switch to spring semester coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Lakeside community takes time to pause, assess the school's work on equity and inclusion, and reflect on how we all, as individuals and as an institution, can learn and grow.
Over two days last week, faculty, staff, and students in grades 5-12 worked with educator, actor, writer, and speaker Steven Tejada. Head of Upper School at Maret School in Washington, D.C., and a noted equity and diversity practitioner, Tejada has also toured throughout the country with his one-man show "Boogie Down Journeys," which focuses on the powerful experiences of people of color.
Professional development related to Our Work Together
On Tuesday, Jan. 22, Tejada worked with the entirety of Lakeside faculty and staff. Planned by Lakeside's all school diversity committee, the professional development day focused on themes of belonging, microaggressions, and implicit bias and was linked to strategies in the initiative Our Work Together: Inclusion, Multiculturalism, Respect. The goal was to spend time "listening to other people's experiences, learning new information, and thinking about how to apply it to our lives and professions," said Jamie Asaka '96, Lakeside's director of equity and inclusion/director of student and family support.
Tejada began by posing a series of questions, which faculty and staff discussed in small groups. Many of the questions dealt with how each person learned about independent schools, if they or their children had attended one. "We all have different paths that brought us here," said Tejada. "Learning about the paths and histories of our colleagues – those paths change how you navigate your workplace." A graduate of an independent school, as well as an administrator, parent, and trustee, "I still don't feel like I belong in those spaces," he confided.
Sharing details about his youth, Tejada talked about how growing up in the South Bronx defines how he thinks about himself. (You can see a similar version of his talk in this TedX video.) He asked faculty and staff to think about who has access to our school, and what they do to ensure that students – especially students of color and underrepresented students – see their experiences reflected, supported, and affirmed in our communities.
"Equity and inclusion work gets more complex the better you do it," remarked Tejada in closing. "This is really about changing culture, which is not easy. But it is essential."
Working with students
The following day, Tejada was the featured speaker at both the Middle School community meeting and Upper School assembly. He performed selections from "Boogie Down Journeys," transporting students to a tight-knit neighborhood in the South Bronx. The performance touched on neighborhood and family, identity and opportunity, and not forgetting where you come from.
At both performances, students listened raptly – sometimes laughing or groaning sympathetically – as a brilliant high school drop-out said good-bye to his best friend, who was leaving the South Bronx to go off to college a world away in Connecticut. It was a reminder that it isn't always talent or intelligence or ability that determines the course of someone's life, but the thin line between having and not having opportunity. After a prolonged ovation at the end and a vigorous Q&A period, Tejada shared a final takeaway: "Be open to people. Be open to their history. You think you might know someone, but you don't know them until you know their story."