On Thursday, February 28th Grace High School students gathered for chapel, one which many might have suspected to be nothing out of the ordinary. However, the following hour was nothing to that effect. This year’s Black History Month Chapel was filled with honest storytelling of what it feels like to be a minority in a dominantly white institution. To many, this chapel was extremely necessary, as recent accusations of racism have surfaced in the Grace community.
The chapel began with some words from Rev. Hummell, Grace Chaplain, acknowledging the recent events and also sharing what he feels we have to benefit from the following service, “When I think about the difference between Poly Prep, Fieldston and Grace, chapel is what comes to my mind… My hope for this chapel is that yes, we acknowledge the ugliness, and dare I say, the sin of racism, of blackface, racist videos, racist language that exists in our world. And, may chapel contribute to our struggle to rise up from it.”
The chapel began with a performance of “The Storm is Passing Over” by GraceNotes. Following was Abisola Fashakin ‘19 with a poem she wrote for the Black History Month Chapel titled, “She was Born A Black Girl.” The poem shares a personal experience of growing up in environments as a minority and a journey from self-hate to self-love. When asked how recent events within the school affected the direction of the chapel, Abisola shared that, “Last year’s chapel was focused on talking about the whole world, and this year was more specific to say as much as it [racism] is in the real world, it’s also here at Grace. I also think it had more impact telling personal stories, hopefully getting the message across that this isn’t just some large scale thing, this is impacting individual students.”
Continuing with the theme of personal storytelling was a reflection by Soleil Andrews ‘19. She shared a story of family and tradition and how that has helped her develop her own definition of community. “Even though Black people are not the majority in this country we always find spaces to come together and be authentically ourselves. Whether this be swapping stories in the barber shop, giving advice in the hair salon, or cracking jokes in a living room, black people have taught me that even when life tries to beat us down we have each other’s backs, and when one of us falls, the community is always there to pick them back up.”
Next was Mirely Garcia ‘20, who shared an incredibly honest reflection on her life and experiences as a minority in New York, contrasting it with her native culture of the Dominican Republic where “blackness is normal.” After the chapel, Mirely shared that, “Recently, it felt like as a community we were heading in the wrong direction, and that’s not Grace. Grace was designed to be an inclusive environment that actively works to fight racism. We wanted to send the message in this chapel that we can do a lot better than what we’ve been doing.”
Following Mirely was a rendition of the song“Holy” by Christina Oxley ‘19, Abisola, and Stephanie Cox ‘19. Finally, came a third personal reflection, this time from Kayla Diaz ‘19, who shared her experience through her school career where race and racism were always made apparent, and then the joy in learning the diverse history behind the black community.
The chapel then concluded with a reading from the book of “Black Excellence” by Stephanie, which reads, “No matter what that may look like to you. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Embrace who you are. Don’t be the expectation. Be the reality. Love yourself. Love each other.”
Following the service, Rev. Hummell shared that, “This chapel, for some reason, in the five years I’ve been here, moved people in a way none of the others have, and I think it was because of the students who got up there and just spoke from their heart.”
Mr. Andre, Dean of Equity and Inclusion, said this when asked if there is one right place to have conversations about race in our community, “I think we should be taking advantage of every community space that we have; from CGC, to advisory, to grade level meetings, to chapel. Chapel is a community space, and I think that the way our school has used the space is one that is very amenable to approaching conversations like this… but I would love to know that these conversations are a part of our community in more ways than just one.”
Both Abisola and Mirely shared that since the Black History Month Chapel the response they have gotten from the community has been positive. “I just hope that the message got across, as much as I was up there emotional, that’s not the only thing you take away from it,” said Abisola. Mirely posed a challenge for the community as a response to the powerful chapel, “I have no doubt they were listening, now I’m just waiting to see what else they do or make of what they heard in Chapel.”