Vineyard Vacation Sows Valuable Seeds

For the past five years my brother and I have taken summer vacations with our respective families in Martha’s Vineyard where we have watched our kids grow and enjoy a slice of summer on that quaint New England island. Over the years the children have built up the courage and the skill to beat the pounding Atlantic Ocean waves at South Beach and take the leap off the bridge at State Beach between Oak Bluffs & Edgartown. They have learned to be better cousins by sharing space, sugary treats from Back Door Donuts, arcade prize winnings, and responsibility for one another. With satisfaction, we have watched them achieve milestones and create memorable moments through their important developmental years.

As independent school families, the third week of August in Martha’s Vineyard allowed us to be among a large and welcome presence of black and brown folks. Although Native Americans and black folks have a long and rich history in this vacation haven, like our private schools, the environment can sometimes feel non-inclusive. But, with the customary verbal & non-verbal greetings we shared as folks of color and the many cultural events taking place that week — like the Annual African American Film Festival, a special viewing of Sparkle, and a forum on Race and Gender in Sports in the 21st Century organized by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School — I felt a palpable sense of pride, comfort, and legacy.

 

Art vendors at the Harlem Fine Arts Show in Oak Bluffs,  applauded our parental initiative to expose our children to the art of our heritage: from paintings that somehow beautifully depict the harrowing experiences of the middle passage, to the powerful masterpieces of Romare Bearden, the show offered powerful teachable moments. It was there that I met an educator and artist who pledged to become a Friend of RIISE and contribute workshops that teach culture & history through art.
We also met an exciting young filmmaker who attends Howard University and is putting the finishing touches on a film that explores the black experience during the Holocaust. She wondered aloud about the response the Jewish community might have to the documentary. Of course, I quickly reflected on the recent comment by Steve Nelson, Calhoun’s Head of School, that our school communities are fertile ground for real discussion on race & culture and determined that our member schools would be a perfect setting for viewing and discussing this documentary when it is completed.

The ritual of boarding the ferry to leave the island is always a somber occasion. But the timing of our departure blessed RIISE with yet another valuable encounter. We met a journalist & fundraiser at the dock in Vineyard Haven who has a long history with private independent schools in New England. His father, as an attorney for Dr. Martin Luther King, was a target during the civil rights movement. This prompted his father to send him and his sister to a private boarding school in Rhode Island. Without delay he asked me,

“Where are your people from?”

“New York,” I answered.

“No, where are your people from?” he asked again, noting that his father always asked black folks this question as a litmus test to determine if they recognized and understood their legacy. A rich legacy himself, we expect him to be a deep repository of research and support for families of color navigating an independent school environment and we look forward to his wise historical & contemporary contributions to RIISE.

We are all back home in New York now and look forward to the cousins transitioning to first, third, fourth grades and middle school.

 

RIISE is in transition too. As we move in to our fourth year we welcome working with new member school Horace Mann and continuing our relationships with Riverdale Country School, Calhoun School, and Léman Manhattan Preparatory School. With vigor, we will continue to promote their goal to attract and retain vested families of color in order to create inclusive and strong school communities. At the same time, RIISE will primarily support diverse communities of color in exploring the independent school landscape.

In the 2012-2013 school years we plan to enrich the experiences of our families by reaping the bounty from seeds sown this summer. We will introduce new recruitment, retention, and research opportunities for families considering and enrolled in our unique school settings. Please join us on our social networks and at our upcoming events.

Here’s to a fabulous school year and great application season. To all incoming families, welcome!

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