Humanity, and it’s expression

humanity blog

We are all human – but are we when we can’t see our way into the humanity of each other?

Recent local and global discourse, along with acts of civil disobedience indicate that there just might be a new wave of human and civil rights being ushered in. This energy is not lost in our independent school communities. And, it’s right on time!

Below, is a compelling update to parents from Milton Sipp, Head of Middle School at Riverdale Country School. Read further to enjoy a wonderful multicultural account of the holidays taken from a Washington Post article written by independent school parent, Lisa Argrette Ahmad

Milton Sipp – Head of Middle School – Riverdale Country School

Dear Middle School Parents,

I hope this finds all of you well and that your weekend is off to a great start. I wanted you to know that many conversations and meetings took place at school over the past few days concerning recent grand jury rulings in Ferguson, Mo and New York City. This was inspired by our thoughtful group of students who wanted and needed a forum in which to voice their feelings and opinions.  My colleagues and I are proud that we have a community in which we can engage each other in these kinds of difficult yet necessary conversations. At a faculty meeting on Wednesday, I shared some personal reflection with members of the community and invited us to think together about how we can engage more on a school-wide level. On Thursday, Head of School, Dominic Randolph, and Head of Upper School, Kelley Nicholson Flynn, gathered the Upper School, and we heard powerful, difficult, and inspiring words from students in their assembly. Later that afternoon, students organized a “walk out” where Middle and Upper school students and faculty, including Dominic, Kelley, deans from both divisions, and me, gathered on Jones Lawn for reflective conversation. A good number of our Middle School students spoke in front of the school community. In continued response to students, in classes throughout the last two days in both divisions, many teachers put aside their scheduled work in order to continue these conversations. And yesterday, I had the chance to speak with Middle School students in our morning meeting. On Monday, Middle School students will have a chance to continue to voice their thoughts on these recent events as a part of our morning meeting. As a way to frame their thoughts, I have asked them to engage you in this conversation over the weekend.

It is clear to all of us that our students have a great deal to say and are processing this on many different levels.  As mentioned, we have asked them to talk to you, but I hope that you will seek them out and have these very important conversations. At the same time, I hope that all of you, as parents, will engage each other in discussions about race and class. In this way, we can model for our kids and students the importance of being change agents, and as our school mission says, continue the vital work of “creating a community to change our world for the good.”

Enjoy the weekend and stay tuned. More to come.


My family is Muslim, Pakistani, African American and Christian. We celebrate Thanksgiving by shooting each other with paint.
By Lisa Argrette Ahmad

Every year, my husband’s family and mine gather to celebrate Thanksgiving. They are Pakistani and Muslim. We are African American and Christian.

It’s been more than 20 years since my husband and I fell in love and married. But still, when our families get together, we play it safe. No boisterous laughter; always polite about our politics. While other families cheated at board games or fought about food, ours stayed home for the holiday weekend, always being cordial.

No one wanted to commit the equivalent of holiday hari-kari by offending the other relatives.

My husband offered a mash-up of the Lord’s Prayer and Bis-mi-Allah. I served turkey and lamb, collard greens and biryani. We spoke Urdu and English, wore saris and slacks. But after years of being politically correct, I wanted something more. So last Thanksgiving, I declared: “We’re going paintballing.”

When I informed my relatives the morning after Thanksgiving, there was absolute silence.  The cousins were convinced that I’d lost my mind. My husband pooh-pooh-ed the idea altogether, fretting over the one kid who’d whine to stay home or the hyper-competitive 50-something who’d end up nursing a sprain with ice. My mother, the lawyer, added, “I just don’t think it’s appropriate.”  She exchanged looks with my uncle’s wife, who rolled her eyes. My husband’s parents politely excused themselves, indicating some translation glitch or their disapproval.

“C’mon,” I coaxed. We’d already covered just about every current event and world political crisis. Besides, I’d left a hefty deposit. 

So, without another option, my family relented.

I loaded everyone into three vehicles and we set out. In the spirit of a family holiday, both critics and co-conspirators came. My husband drove our Suburban, which was a lot like riding next to the driver of a hearse. Eight bodies stacked like sardines with no one speaking. Five kids and not even one vying to ride shotgun.

The sports complex was brightly lit. Dozens of patrons happily milled about. One attendant made us sign a stack of documents waiving all legal liability, including death. Her surly co-worker reviewed the rules, then distributed face masks, hazmat coveralls and loaded guns. A girl and two guys in camouflage jumpsuits with munitions belts stood nearby. A floridly tattooed father with his son winked when he caught my eye.

Now, I was nervous. No way did I want to play with Tattoo Tony.

“You know,” I offered, “I don’t normally believe in guns and war games.”

My 18-year-old son wasn’t having it.  “Don’t be a wimp, Mom.”

If only I could tsk tsk with the elders and my husband, I thought, and sit with them in the bleachers.  Leave this sport to the kids. But this had been my dumb idea.  I got this, I crowed, psyching myself up.  I sauntered onto the field.

Brup-bup. The hollow firing of the guns was startling. Brup-bup-bup-bup. My brother-in-law’s wife, a traditional girl who shared a kitchen in our in-laws’ home, crouched behind a rock to shoot. Her wrist full of bangles were a dead giveaway.  I ducked. Her 12-year-old son, my teammate, shouted commands at me in Ur-glish. Huh? I dove. My brother stalked the ground like a marine. I did, too. Someone, I couldn’t tell who, dropped from a phony fortress like a paratrooper. We ambushed them. And this mother was as energized as the next commando.

Moreover, I caught my husband grinning at us from the bleachers. Involuntarily, his body flinched and flexed and his finger curled as if to cock. As we walked off the field, the elders were laughing. Oof-ho, exclaimed my father-in-law,clapping his hands in delight. My uncle couldn’t stop talkin’ trash. My mom high-fived me and my mother-in-law’s thin, cranberry-stained lips parted in a smile.

Paintballing was risky, baring our raw and real selves the way it did. For weeks afterward, I sported massive shiners on my body, my brown skin turning black and blue.

But a year later, our family is still laughing about our bloodthirsty lust to take each other down. This year, maybe I’ll organize a movie or a game of cards. There’s something to be said for a more traditional holiday even though I’m finding great group rates on dog-sledding. Our Thanksgivings remind us that we can survive a letting go of buttoned-up decorum. That we are more similar than dissimilar. That I get bruised sometimes but that the holiday I’ve crafted keeps our family solidly intact.




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