The true essence of diversity is that every person, no matter what he or she looks like, believes in, or identifies as, has his or her own unique story.
From Dec. 8-10, senior Andy Ritter, junior Zamir Shelton, sophomore Jordan Wright, and I had the opportunity to represent Malvern Prep at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) and People of Color Conference (PoCC) in Atlanta, Georgia. What ensued was a weekend of learning, listening, and loving.
There was a combined total of over 5,000 students, teachers, and administrators representing independent schools from across the country at SDLC and PoCC. The breakdown was about 1,600 students and about 3,400 teachers and administrators, with the students participating in the SDLC and the teachers and administrators participating in the PoCC.
The collection of students was the most diverse group of individuals that I have ever been surrounded by — not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but also gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, ability, and family.
The collection of students was the most diverse group of individuals that I have ever been surrounded by
The stories that each student shared were unique, powerful, and moving. I was extremely surprised at my ability to connect to many of these stories, especially those of the Asian affinity group. The feelings and experiences that the students of Asian ethnicity shared were so similar to those of my own. It was the first time that I had been able to connect to people on such a deep emotional level; it was a little unsettling. Then again, their stories differed greatly from my own as well. And that speaks to essence of diversity: every person, no matter what he or she looks like, believes in, or identifies as, has his or her own unique story.
It was also an opportunity to experience life from a different perspective. How often does one get to be surrounded by a group of people in which each individual is unique? Where there is no majority or minority? To listen to each unique person’s opinions, experiences, and struggles, both internal and external, was truly eye-opening and humbling.
Another aspect of the event that struck me was the strength and courage of the students. The fact that each was willing and able to express themselves for who they were and how they wanted to in a society that may not embrace it was very impactful for me. That strength and courage is what separates leaders from the rest of the crowd.
If one word could sum up the keynote speakers at the weekend, it would be dynamic. The speakers included Equal Justice Initiative founder and criminal defense lawyer Bryan Stevenson, peace campaigner and son of a terrorist Zak Ebrahim, Vice President of Teach for America and co-founder of Campaign Zero Brittany Packnett, baseball legend and civil rights leader Hank Aaron, Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, sister of Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights leader Christine King Farris, and many others. Each had their own story to tell regarding justice, race, power, dignity, nonviolence, diversity, change, and love.
The most incredible thing that I took away from the conference was the ability of over 1,600 students to create a family dynamic of nothing but love and acceptance in a little over two days. In family groups consisting of about thirty students, each person was willing to share his or her struggles and experiences regarding diversity and finding themselves.
There’s a special bond that forms between a group people when they meet as strangers from across the country and open up and share things that may have never been shared before.
The theme of this year’s conference in Atlanta was “Advancing human and civil rights, fulfilling the dream together”. The dynamic words that the conference revolved around were “love, change, power, dignity, forward, purpose, hope”.
When reflecting on the theme and dynamic words, I think of the Malvern community. We should all be extremely grateful, for we are very fortunate to be where we are. Malvern strives to develop leaders and provide students with as many skills and opportunities as possible, including the ability to achieve that theme.
However, what strikes me is this: over 1,600 students from across the country were able to become a family in less than three days. Are we, as students at Malvern, doing everything we can to make each other feel at home from the beginning of freshman year? Are we able to fully express ourselves comfortably and feel accepted for who we really are? Can each and every one of us say that we are achieving the brotherhood that is the pride of Malvern Prep?