Following the May 25 murder of George Floyd and subsequent worldwide protests against police brutality, Sheena Phillips, the School Social Worker at Kurt Hahn, a NYC Outward Bound School in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, stepped into action.
Supported by principal Veronica Coleman and Assistant Principal Jessica Jean-Marie, Phillips knew it was important to provide her students at Kurt Hahn — 99% of whom are Black and Brown — with a safe space to process and address current events. Phillips tapped into her “tribe,” as she lovingly refers to her network, and before long, had organized a day-long virtual symposium on racial justice for Friday, June 5.
“When young people connect with each other and harness their power, and create a space where they can use that power collectively in a positive way — I think that it is limitless,” Phillips said.
The symposium, which was open to students, educators, as well as the wider community, featured five guest facilitators speaking on topics that ranged from the history of racism in the U.S. and other countries, to how white teachers can be allies, to how to be an activist and change-maker in this moment, and the importance of practicing self-care. See a full agenda.
The power of young people taking action was a thread throughout the symposium, perhaps best articulated by musician and activist Maya Azucena, who encouraged students to figure out what their “superpower” is — what valuable tools and unique gifts they can bring to the table, even if they’re not fully developed yet.
“Start with one activity at a time that you have access to,” she said. “You don’t have to step into the ring with a Ph.D. You could simply invite 10 friends over to your basement, have a conversation, and write down the ideas that you come up with. Our voices matter, and our ideas are important and need to be put into play.”
“Today was about empowering young people to stand in their greatness,” said Coleman. “Every speaker that Sheena gathered to that end brought knowledge, experience, and hope to the conversation. Institutions truly committed to equity and antiracism need to be willing to hold space for honest and uncomfortable dialogue so we can reflect and grow. This is ongoing work, and I am very proud of our community today.”
NYC Outward Bound Schools is rooted in the philosophy of Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn, who believed that schools have an obligation to not only teach students academic subjects, but to instill in them a passion for justice, a commitment to egalitarianism, and a willingness to stand up for what they believe to be right. The symposium was but one example of how Hahn’s namesake school continues this important legacy.