Guest Post By Matt Liebowitz
Set aside the descriptors—gay, black, southern, Christian, preacher—and Reverend Erik Taylor Doctor’s message is one of simple and pure inclusion: we are all different, but we all share common bonds.
However, those undeniable identifiers of his character are exactly what brought the Williston community together during his Why Not Speak? Day February 22 assembly, and helped make his message—a sound, sweet one—resonate so strongly.
On February 22, Williston will host its first Why Not Speak? (or WNS) Day. The community will gather to speak about our differences and similarities through the lens of varying perspectives, lifestyles, races, ethnicities, familial backgrounds, religions, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, cultures, gender identities, etc.
“It is a day to speak truthfully, listen intently, learn modestly, and engage respectfully,” according to Erin Davey, director of inclusion, who organized the event.
This 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.”
At an assembly on November 29, student council president Natalie Aquadro ’17 presented a donation of $2,750 to two representatives of Riverside Industries. Students then got to hear about an organization based near the school’s campus in Easthampton that for 48 years has been working for adults with developmental disabilities.
Char Gentes, president and CEO, and Nisa Zalta, director of community relations, projected a series of photographs of clients at their jobs, and enjoying programming including music, art, farming, and yoga. They spoke to students about how adults of all abilities have the right to work, volunteer, learn, and play.
“When each of us can be ourselves, we all live a more rich and full life,” Zalta said.
The donation represented 5 percent of the proceeds earned at the student café, the StuBop, in the 2015-16 school year. Each year, the student council votes to donate those proceeds to a charity, and last year, the council chose Riverside.
The organization provides individualized services combining life-skills development, rehabilitation, and employment options for more than 230 adults living with developmental disabilities from 33 towns in Hampshire, Hampden, and Franklin counties.
As she introduced Gentes and Zalta and handed them a check, Aquadro, who is from Northampton, said, “Thank you for all the great work you are doing in our region.”
Williston has had a working relationship with Riverside for many years. At various times, the school has employed clients for housekeeping, dining services, and grounds positions. Recently, Riverside held a Windows of Opportunity Campaign and Williston contributed $15,000 over a three-year period.
“The work Riverside Industries is doing benefits the community on multiple levels,” said Head of School Robert W. Hill III. “Williston is delighted to support this organization.”