Stories and updates from around campus

Speaker Fort to Students: Ask Questions, Pursue Justice

20170117_Nyle-FortThis Martin Luther King Jr. Day, speaker Nyle Fort had a message for Williston Northampton School students: Don’t be taken in by the feel-good “lullaby” that usually passes for celebrating the legacy of Dr. King, which he called, “a sweet song sung by defenders of the status quo to keep us asleep.”

The third Monday in January has come to be associated with community service projects to honor the late civil rights advocate. Fort said he didn’t want to diminish the idea of service. However, he quoted Dr. King who said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

In that vein, Fort asked students to look critically at their country. Why do we have poverty, war, injustice, he asked. Why does the United States have 5 percent of the world’s population, and 25 percent of its prison population? Why, of the 2.7 million incarcerated people in the U.S., are 1 million black, even as sociologists who study crime say that blacks and whites commit crimes at similar rates?

He illustrated this last problem: As a PhD student at Princeton University who commutes from a housing project in Newark, he’s seen police in his mostly poor black neighborhood stop and frisk people (including him) and arrest others for petty drug crimes. Meanwhile, at Ivy League Princeton, he’s seen students use illegal drugs at parties with no judicial consequences. “Why are they not arrested?” he asked.

‘Love Tells the Truth’

Fort said he is points out shortcomings like these in our society because he loves this country. His mother would tell him the truth, he said, if his outfit wasn’t quite right, because she loved him and wanted him to look his best. “Love tells the truth,” he said. For the same reason, he confronts “the ugliness and the nastiness that sits at the heart of this democracy.” He cited author James Baldwin as someone who loved America so much he criticized it, demanded it become its best. Likewise, Fort says, he, a minister, criticizes the Christian church for turning a blind eye to slavery, and the black Christian church for denying women the chance to be pastors. Both institutions have treated poorly members of the LGBT community, he said.

Photo courtesy of Ms. Davey
Photo courtesy of Ms. Davey

Fort described Dr. King as someone whose mythical reputation approaches that of Santa Claus. However, King, the man, was anti-imperialist and a Democratic Socialist. He was in favor of universal employment and he disapproved of the Viet Nam war. These stances made him less popular near the end of his life, but he kept struggling for justice. Fort said it is important that we don’t look at someone like King as a messiah. There will be no messianic figure to create a just world, Fort said. And he paused, driving home the point: We all have to act to transform the world into what we want it to be.

Fort took questions from students. Prompted by one audience member’s question, he named some texts that informed his activism. They are:

  • “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin, an author who Fort said humanized black people, not flattening them into one monolithic entity
  • “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation” by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
  • “Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination” by Robin D. G. Kelley
  • “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
  • “Beloved” by Toni Morrison

An international student asked how to take these concepts to other countries. Fort reminded her that Dr. King was thinking globally and traveled the world to bring a message of universal human rights.

Fort also has trotted the globe (from Ferguson to Israel and Palestine) carrying this message. He has spoken at various academic, cultural, and religious institutions including Harvard University, University of Amsterdam, the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Center, and the historic Riverside Church. His writings are featured in several academic presses including Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy and Socialism and Democracy, as well as various popular media outlets including The Guardian, HuffPost, and The Root, where he made its 2015 100-most-influential list.

Recently, Fort joined 300 grassroots leaders from around the globe to participate in the Vatican’s III World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM).

Fort is pursuing a doctorate in Religion and African American Studies at Princeton. He received a B.A. in English from Morehouse College and a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Activism Always

In his final moments at the podium, Fort reminded students to fold activism into whatever profession they choose. There’s room for making the world better no matter what you do, he said. “If you’re a doctor,” he said, “be a doctor who serves underserved people.” After he finished, students gave him a sustained standing ovation.

Students seemed to respond positively to his visit. A crowd surrounded Fort at the conclusion of his address, asking questions and sharing stories. One student was heard to say, “That was the coolest thing I ever heard!”

Advisors will hold follow-up discussions with students during advisory meetings this week to carry the conversation forward.

Coverage of 2017 Cum Laude Society Induction

Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

The Williston Northampton School inducted 12 students into the Cum Laude Society on January 6 in a ceremony in the Phillips Stevens Chapel. Corporate litigator Ann Laupheimer Sonnenfeld ’75 gave the keynote address.

Read about Ms. Sonnenfeld and see the names of the 12 inductees here.

Read Ms. Sonnenfeld’s address here.

See photos of the event here.

See a video of the ceremony here.

Read a story in Springfield’s online newspaper, MassLive, about local inductees here.

Congratulations to the 12 inductees!

Book Editor Andy Ward Closes out Writers’ Workshop Series

Andy Ward
Editor Andy Ward will be on campus on January 23 to discuss books, writing, and editing.

The Writers’ Workshop Series will conclude with a bang, as Andy Ward, editor in chief at Random House, visits campus on January 23. Ward’s booklist includes Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham and the 2016 New York Times best-seller When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Before coming to the world of books in 2009, he spent almost 15 years as an editor in magazines, first at Esquire, then at GQ. Ward’s talk will be held in the Dodge Room of the Reed Campus Center at 7 p.m., and is free and open to the public. A master class with Williston students will follow at 8 p.m.

English Teacher Lori Pelliccia coordinates the series and leads the Writers’ Workshop honors-level English class that examines the work of the visiting presenters.

“Last year, the students in Writers’ Workshop referred back to the advice they received from the visiting authors time and time again,” she said. “I know this year will be no different. Each speaker’s unique experiences and talents will surely inspire our student writers as they explore and develop their craft.” 

School-Wide Food Drive Exceeds Goal

The Community Service Club issued a school-wide challenge: donate 1,000 food and personal care items to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. As an incentive, the class with the most donations would get a dress-down day (a most-coveted prize!).

Sophomores Glede Wang, Simon Kim, and Robby Hill, shopped for food to donate before winter break.
Sophomores Glede Wang, Simon Kim, and Robby Hill shopped for food to donate before winter break.

At a recent assembly, Kate Garrity, Director of Student Life Curriculum and the faculty advisor to the Community Service Club announced the winners of the competition—and the fact that as a school, we exceeded our goal, bringing in 1,315 items, weighing in at 1,142 pounds, for needy families.

The Class of 2019 was first in the Upper School, and second overall  with 340 donations. And the Middle School collected 465 donations, which put them in first place for the entire school.

“Be proud of this and feel good about how many hungry families you were able to help,” said Ms. Garrity in announcing the winners. “Let’s do it again next year!”

Williston Cum Laude Society to Induct 12 New Students

Ann Blair Laupheimer Sonnenfeld ’75, a corporate litigator, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Cum Laude induction ceremony on Friday, January 6.

Ann (Blair) Laupheimer Sonnenb
Ann Blair Laupheimer Sonnenfeld ’75

Ms. Sonnenfeld attended Williston for two years as a boarding student, earning induction into Cum Laude in her senior year. After graduating from Williston, she earned a BA from Princeton University in 1979, and a JD summa cum laude from University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1984.

Ms. Sonnenfeld has gone on to a distinguished career in corporate and commercial litigation as a partner at Blank Rome LLP in Philadelphia. For the past six years, Ms. Sonnenfeld has been chair of the Board of Trustees of Agnes Irwin School, an all-girls independent school in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. She has served as chair of the Federal Courts Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association, and was appointed by U.S. Senators Toomey and Casey to serve on the judicial selection committee to fill six vacancies on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The following members of the Class of 2017 will be inducted into Williston Northampton’s Cum Laude Society:

Sima Gandevia of Hadley, MA
Zi Dong Gao of Beijing, China
Jin Young Lee of Seoul, Korea
Soma Mizobuchi of Kobe, Japan
Tomasz Paluchowski of Springfield, MA
Zachary Robbins of Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong
Jordan Sansone of Hanover, NH
Shengfu Shen of Tianjin, China
Jiaying Tang of Shanghai, China
Anna Wilinsky of Florence, MA
Emily Yeager of Easthampton, MA
Molly Zawacki of Easthampton, MA

Inducted students and their parents will be invited to attend a reception immediately following the 8:30 a.m. assembly at the home of Head of School Bob and Kathryn Hill.

The Cum Laude Society, founded in 1906 and modeled after Phi Beta Kappa, honors scholastic achievement in secondary scholars. The society has over 350 chapters, the majority of which are in independent schools. In 1921, Williston Academy became a member of the society, followed by Northampton School for Girls in 1951. In 1971, a new charter was created for the Williston Northampton School.

Stories and updates from around campus