Dear Idyllwild Arts Community,
Each year during Black History Month a flood of memories rushes in. When I was in grade school, we celebrated Black History Week. Teachers dedicated hours to ensure that students memorized speeches and biographies of famous African Americans. Often, extra credit was given for doing book reports on notable African Americans like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, W. E. B. Du Bois, and my favorite, Madame C.J. Walker.
Later, as I entered high school, schools began celebrating Black History Month. There was always an assembly and it was my responsibility to provide the piano accompaniment for the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It didn’t matter whether we recognized black heritage for one week or for one month. It always seemed to come down to one assembly followed by a potluck dinner or a special meal of ethnic foods in the cafeteria.
Black History Month is now recognized in industries beyond schools, and I am happy to see that we no longer have to harken back to the nineteenth century to find notable African Americans who have made significant contributions to society. Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is sparking corporations, non-profits, and other industries to embrace diversity and inclusion and to dismantle systemic racism and bias.
On a recent Idyllwild Arts-sponsored webinar with members of Pamyua, a performance group that showcases Inuit culture through music and dance, Pamyua co-founder Phillip Blanchett encouraged members of Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Black Student Union not to disregard the work that is right in front of them, even though they have aspirations for change at Idyllwild Arts. This advice resonated with me. I see our students wanting to make the kind of wholesale change that is greatly needed in our school community, change that includes checking our curriculum for bias, reviewing policies that implicitly and explicitly discriminate against people of color, and so much more. However, Phillip reminded us all that there are people right here in our community who may not believe in or understand white privilege. There are some who do not understand microaggressions and the impact of off-handed comments that can be heard and felt everyday throughout our community.
We have started good work at Idyllwild Arts, work that is compassionate, empathetic, and intended to include everyone: white, black, brown, Indigenous, LatinX, Hispanic, LGBTQ, socio-economically challenged, and socio-economically advantaged. And while we address that which is in front of us, I am reminded of the words of restorative justice activist Mariame Kaba: “Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment to the future that must manifest action.”
I am grateful to this community that is embracing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging honestly and bravely. We all want the best for Idyllwild Arts and we know that must mean that everyone is invited into the room and given a seat at the table. It must mean that everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard and valued.
To this day, the words of the Black National Anthem usher in hope, resolve, and commitment for me. I leave you with two of my favorite verses.
Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land.
— “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” verses 3 & 6
With deepest respect,