An Amazing Middle School Social Justice Day

With the theme of “Mainstreams and Margins,” the day started with a middle-school assembly where Middle School Head Krista Demas spoke about the value of kindness. “When you make people feel like they belong, you create community. When you do something to make Shady Hill a kinder, more inclusive place, you are building community.” Director of Inclusion & Multicultural Practice, James Greenwood, introduced Dr. Michael “Mykee” Fowlin, a psychologist and performance artist who tackles challenging interpersonal issues using a combination of theater, humor, and straight-talk.
Wearing a “Normal People Scare Me” T-shirt, Mykee portrayed a series of characters whose stories each contained instructive kernels of wisdom. For example:
  • With his character of a star college football player, he talked about defying expectations by pursuing an advanced degree rather than joining the NFL. “If you can’t tell the difference between what you’re expected to do and what you need to do, you will lose at the game of life.”
  • With his character of a Mexican student adopted by a Jewish family and growing up in a white, affluent community, he explored the issue of not fitting in anywhere.
  • With his character of a recalcitrant high-schooler, he made the point that part of education is learning to speak up for yourself and against what is wrong, even if it makes the people in charge uncomfortable. 
Mykee used two analogies to bring home his points—oysters and zebras. “Oysters produce beautiful pearls. But it all starts with a grain of sand causing pain and irritation. Pain is the secret ingredient. One way I’ve dealt with my own struggles is to find ways to tap into my pain in ways that connect me with others. This performance is an example. We all experience pain, but we are more powerful than our pain when we help others.” Shifting to another key point, he said, “When marauding lions approach a herd of zebras, the zebras begin to run in a circle. The blurring of all the lines makes the herd look like a single giant creature, which confuses and intimidates the lions. “We are far more powerful,” he concluded, “when we stand together than when we stand apart.”
Throughout his presentation, Mykee peppered his talk with insightful observations, motivating encouragement, and personal experience, all presented with compassion and gentle humor. Early on, he said, “We need to accept that we are all part of the problem. Knowing that, we need to figure out how we can use our talents and abilities so that people feel better after meeting us than they did before meeting us.” He ended by leaving students with the challenge: for the next ten days, smile at ten people who you don’t normally speak to. “It helps make you feel connected others, helps others feel noticed, and is a simple way to begin experiencing your power.”
Students spilled out of the Assembly Hall and reconvened in 20 classrooms for a series of powerful, faculty-led workshops. (See link below for the catalog.) For weeks, the faculty has been planning a wide selection of experiences that make the concept of social justice real, actionable, and immediate. Students reviewed the catalog and signed up for two workshops. After lunch, they processed their mornings’ experiences and came back together for a closing assembly. With the help of music teachers Darin Goulet and Kabir Sen, 15 groups performed short raps they had written incorporating the Mainstreams and Margins theme. When asked to volunteer some of the things they had learned, students said: 
  • The importance of being an upstander and an ally.
  • Little acts of kindness go a long way.
  • I am not alone and there are always people there for me.
  • Doing things that might seem small can still have a big impact on other people’s lives.
  • Stand up to bullying.
  • Everyone should be included, no matter how different they are.
  • Not everyone is as happy as they look.
  • No one is alone. 
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