Wellington Celebrates Black Voices

Wellington Celebrates Black Voices

Me-chelle Burkhalter, Yolanda Johnson, and David Glover, co-chairs of Wellington's Celebration of Black Voices

“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author

Wellington’s first annual Celebration of Black Voices highlights and uplifts the heritage, achievement, and rampant joy of Black culture within our community and beyond. With the goal of providing  programming and events through the month of February that educate and inspire students of all ages, we celebrate, in the words of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the many stories that empower and humanize the Black experience in America.

When sitting down to plan Black History Month, Theatre Arts Director David Glover and co-organizers Me-Chelle Burkhalter P ’22, middle science and math teacher, and Yolanda Johnson, lower school teacher, sought to expand the focus from the historical to modern-day examples of Black voices found in the Wellington community. 

“We also wanted to acknowledge the emotional drain of the pandemic and the ongoing racial tensions that our Black community members have to navigate within Wellington and the world by offering up Black joy when it seems that all we see framed by the media is the opposite,” Glover said.

Through curriculum, programming, and events, students of all ages have opportunities to explore the vast accomplishments of not just famous Black Americans found in history books, but also Wellington Jaguars leaving their mark on the world in a variety of ways.

During middle school morning meetings, alumni Obinna Adams-Johns ’16 and Harrison Sewell ’08 shared deeply moving video tributes to Hank Aaron shortly after his passing in January. In the coming weeks, more Wellington grads will have lunch talks with students to share their own stories. The hope, according to Glover, is that “the conversations will give us an opportunity to examine what it means to be Black in a predominantly white space and an opportunity to look at how Wellington culture has progressed.”

The upper school group Female Students of Color recently hosted guest speaker Malika Jacobs, founder of Kingmakers, a minority woman-owned company centered on board games. Later in February, middle and upper school students will meet historian Jermaine Fowler of The Humanity Archive. A Flex Day film series, featuring classics like “Hidden Figures” and “Selma,” will further enrich students’ understanding of important contributions of Black Americans in U.S. history. All 9th graders read “Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Advanced American Studies classes examine Black voices within the context of cultural literacy. For 7th graders, historical figures like Rosa Parks will be brought to life as real people beyond their traditional stories.

School librarians Patty Dunn and Vicki Jacobs P ’22 have curated educational resources for faculty and students to enrich their learning experiences, providing video clips, stories, websites, as well as historical and current information that further amplifies Black voices. One of the books lower school students are reading is “Sienna's Scrapbook: Our African American Heritage Trip”, by Toni Trent Parker, about a family visiting Black historical sites on their trip to a family reunion.

“In this first year,” Glover said, “we hope to highlight some of the fantastic work that already is happening within the school and in future years build upon it, as the school builds upon its mission to be a more diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist leading institution.”

Burkhalter looks forward to hearing the stories from Wellington students and faculty, past and present. “Having the alumni as a significant focus excites me because their stories will enrich our current students and build incredible generational bridges within our community,” she said. “Knowing that our freshman read ‘Purple Hibiscus’ makes me think about how the author’s quote resonates with our celebration and how I hope that the joy it brings not only empowers but also repairs the broken dignity of the past.”