Words are used to build up and to tear down, to communicate the intricacies of self and to oversimplify the complexities of each other’s humanity. When we seek to use the words given to us by society, we fail to capture the whole of who we are in this moment, and who we must become. Today’s community celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, albeit virtual, provided a powerful reminder of the power of words and the intricacies of our interwoven stories.
Twenty-six members of the Proctor community (students, faculty, staff, and Trustees) heard the words below shared by Eddie Glaude, Jr. during the opening keynote of the National Association of Independent Schools annual People of Color Conference held virtually last week. Drawing more than 5,000 educators and 2,000 students from around the country, the PoCC provides a safe space for leadership, professional development, and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. For Proctor’s cohort in attendance, the workshops, affinity groups, and speakers challenged us to think critically about our school and how we can help build a new America through our work as an institution.
We like to be right. It’s affirming, pumps us up, and boosts confidence. We crave it, moving from one island of affirmation to the next, hopscotching the confidence squares. We can be talking about sports, politics, religion, race, or the best way to fix a lawnmower. We feel good when we get it right, when we “win,” when we get that chemical hit of dopamine. Gradually, however, with perspective, we realize that being right isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes being wrong can be a good thing.
Each year on Indigenous Peoples Day we pause to recognize the Abenaki people who lived on this beautiful land before European settlers colonized it. We look out from Balanced Rock toward Mount Kearsarge (g’wizawajo in Western Abenaki meaning Rough Mountain) and honor those who first called this valley home.
Every time language is spoken or written, every time a work of art is created and displayed, it sits within some kind of larger context. My interest this week is in words, how they hang in the air or on the page and how the air is charged around them and depending on the context and who is saying them, the meaning changes. No word, written or spoken, gets to simply float in a vacuum, in a weightless state and the absence of pull. Every word carries with it a definition, or several definitions, and it carries with it a certain connotation that might be relatively neutral and light in weight, but might also be significantly heavy within a context and setting, which leads me to the question, who gets to say what when?
Usually a time of quiet reflection and rejuvenation, summer at Proctor took a different form this year. Navigating simultaneous pandemics of racial injustice and COVID-19 within the context of financial uncertainty and a politically polarized nation has reminded us our work connecting with, supporting, and educating our students never stops. Neither does the institutional work required to safely welcome students back to campus next week, while actively addressing the need to dig more deeply into the work of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice at Proctor.