As our country and the world watched the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2021, over 300 students and educators from 21 Friends schools across the country gathered virtually for an Inauguration Day Program, “History Behind Us, History Before Us: This Moment in Time.” This is the second inauguration day event to be co-sponsored by Friends Council on Education and The Glasgow Group.
Friends Council serves as the connector between Friends school educators and schools. A key focus is to frame and facilitate conversations through a lens of dismantling racism, oppression, and white supremacy. On this historic day we offered this program as a time of reflection on recent events, particularly Jan 6, 2021, as well as a time for hope about what the next four years might bring -- an intentional time for students and educators to engage in consideration about their own roles in moving forward.
Dr. Rodney Glasgow, head of Sandy Spring Friends School, led the Inauguration Day event, offering inspiration and facilitating journaling and conversation among students and teachers in advance of the swearing in ceremonies. Toni Graves Williamson, experienced antiracism educator, Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Friend Select School, and Friends Council Board member, greeted participants by recalling an earlier Inauguration Day gathering. “Being in community in moments like this is important. Four years ago, despite a sense of uncertainty and fear, we left the workshop with action steps and a sense of hope.”
Glasgow framed the gathering with a reminder that we can't expect to skip over the tough times; we have to move through the difficult parts of the story of our time as well as the easier times. “This moment, for so many disempowered people, this feels like the big exhale,” said Glasgow, as he shared his own mixed emotions of the morning. His call to educators and students was Celebrate, Rest, Exhale, Prepare.
Glasgow acknowledged all that was worth celebrating during this inauguration. “Today we want to exhale, today we want to smile a little bit bigger. Because it was right prevailing over universal wrong. Because someone tried to take over democracy and we said, not today.”
An important part of the celebration was the history-making election of the first woman, the first woman of color, the first woman of South Asian descent - Kamala Harris, who was sworn in as Vice-President by Supreme Court Justice Sotamayor on the Thurgood Marshall Bible. Collectively, students watched this historic swearing in as well as the swearing in of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. Glasgow remarked, “Think how long we had to wait for all these firsts to happen! We celebrate that.”
Glasgow asked students and educators to think about their own “January 6th moment” at their schools; times when they might be colluding with individuals who are acting in an oppressive way. Participants were encouraged to be self-reflective and challenge our own acceptance of structural racism; for example have there been times when members of our communities challenge DEI efforts and administrators back down? Or have there been times when students or faculty absent themselves as a way of “protesting” attendance at a MLK day, LGBTQ day, or social justice week and administrators allow it? He lifted up an example when students were actively mocking or denigrating an aspect of a marginalized person’s identity, and the administration, bowing to outside pressure, allowed it to continue. He then invited students and educators to journal about times when they may have, either consciously or not, been complicit with oppressive actions or policies.
In looking forward, Glasgow advised, “Just because we have ended a divisive presidency, don't think you won’t have divisive moments. ” He encouraged participants to “sit next to someone in the lunchroom who is on the other side of an issue from you.” Although we took time on this day to celebrate, breathe, and exhale, we still have much work to do. Dr Glasgow invited students to consider the query “What do you never want to forget about these past four years and what are you hoping for in the next four years?”
In the virtual Meeting for Worship that followed, students shared reflections on the day. Dr. Darryl J. Ford, Head of William Penn Charter School, remembered his own family’s experience of the inauguration of the first African-American President. Participants considered the following queries:
• How does today represent a new beginning?
• What is the work we need to do to move our country and our schools forward toward racial justice, greater compassion, and civic engagement?
• How might hope become action?
Participants spoke to the invitation to lean into and seek out discomfort, and to stretch ourselves to connect to others with whom we may have deeply felt differences and opinions. “It is a difficult journey we have to go through in order to create a more unified nation that we are all hoping for. . . “
Many thanks to Dr. Rodney Glasgow, Toni Graves Williamson and Deborra Sines Pancoe for planning this workshop.