As a child, Sunday was a sacred day for my family. Not for obvious reasons that one may assume, such as religion, but it was the day that my family came together (both immediate and very much extended) and engaged in what was called C.A.C.T.U.S. As a child, I had no idea what this acronym meant. I only knew that every other Sunday I went to a different family member’s house and gathered to learn about topics that centered around various professions, economic awareness (this is where I learned how to write a check) and more often than not, about our cultural and racial heritage as African American people. Our Cultural Awareness Come Together Unity Session was a time to share our various stories as well as connect via experiences, information, and food. In addition to being a community gathering, C.A.C.T.U.S. was a place where children were encouraged and expected to be leaders. It was not uncommon to see a 6-year-old reading in front of the group or being the main organizers and presenters at the annual Kwanzaa celebration. These types of gatherings created critical thinkers from a very young age. These sessions fed our curiosity, creativity, and connectedness to the world around us. Most importantly, by sharing various images of our culture, it not only validated our place in society, but it also enabled us to more easily connect to the lives of others. Our elders were intentionally doing the work needed to honor our individual experiences while intertwining our stories with the rest of the world.
As a person who grew up knowing that there was deep value in learning about my own culture as well as others, it has always been very important that I be a part of communities that value this as well. The Hamlin Lower School Assembly is an example of a time where our girls become culturally aware and, therefore, more competent in being able to be critical thinkers in our continuously diversified community. September and October were particularly rich months, where we shared various cultural traditions in many forms.
As we learn about ourselves, we learn about each other. Windows and mirrors are all around us.
During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our students who celebrate the Jewish New Year and connect to the Day of Atonement did so by sharing photos and family stories.
Diwali, the Festival of Lights, was celebrated through poetry and dance by many of our students of Indian heritage. Students practiced a traditional piece of choreography, crafted marigolds in Art, sand-painted our steps with traditional celebratory designs, and created a delicious menu for all to eat!
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a Mexican celebration of the lives of deceased ancestors and friends, was discussed in Spanish class grades K-4. The learning extended to a beautiful altar that was adorned with photos, artifacts, and various class-made projects.
The tradition of our 4th Graders sharing their interests and talents during a special assembly with the entire Lower School is yet another way our students share the varied pieces of their stories. A favorite part of each presentation is hearing about how each girl’s interest is inspired.
“Hearing my grandmother play the piano in India made me want to play just like her.”
“Here’s a quote from one of my favorite authors…”
“My cousin, once removed, made really cool things with Legos, and I wanted to be just like him.”
This is not just a leadership opportunity for the oldest girls in our division, it’s also a way to connect with and possibly inspire someone else. We all add another page to our 4th grade stories with each VIP presentation.
We are learners, too!
To round out the culturally rich month of October, our faculty and staff were intellectually challenged by our assigned summer text, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (pronounced: Chim-muh-MAHN-duh en-GOH-zee ah-DEECH-ee-ay). The book was chosen to point a keen eye at cultural competency as we embark on our Global Citizenship Program, led by Marisa Bellingrath and Dan Polk. On Halloween, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the California Historical Society were the setting for a rich discussion of our various reactions, connections, and questions that poured out of the book and into discussions across divisions and disciplines. As if that was not enough, we were able to Skype with the author and ask questions that helped further our understanding of the text as well as the author’s experience growing up in Nigeria and in the United States.
I feel honored to be a part of a Culturally Aware community that Comes Together to Unify our experiences Successfully.
Ms. Ngozi Adichie talks about the “Danger of a Single Story” in this brilliant TED Talk.