Category Archives: Visiting Speakers

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.

Williston Student Presents $2,750 Donation to Riverside Industries

Nisa Zalta and Char Gentes of Riverside Industries address a student assembly
Nisa Zalta and Char Gentes of Riverside Industries address a school-wide assembly

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.”

Student Life Speaker: Trust the Mind to Self-Correct

Garret Kramer in front of a white board with illustrations of two states of mind
Garret Kramer in front of a white board with illustrations of two states of mind

Williston’s first student life speaker to discuss this year’s theme of Emotional Fitness, Garret Kramer, addressed an assembly in the Phillips Stevens Chapel on September 30. Kramer, founder of Inner Sports, has coached athletes and corporate clients, and is the author of two books, Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life, and The Path of No Resistance: Why Overcoming is Simpler than You Think.

His basic thesis is that our minds are sometimes cluttered with thoughts. That’s when we feel insecure and disconnected. At other times, our minds are clear. That’s when we feel confident and can connect with our passions. Both these states are normal, and we move back and forth from what he called state A (the cluttered mind) to state B (the clear mind). Difficulty arises, he posited, when we resist the up and down nature of this cycle, and when we don’t realize that external circumstances don’t cause the back-and-forth. “We work in-to-out, not out-to-in, even though it’s quite normal to think the opposite is true,” he said.

Kramer called this natural ability to self-correct our “psychological immune system.” To illustrate, he described a toddler having a tantrum. This toddler will eventually calm down and move into a clear state of mind. The toddler didn’t “think” his way to this new state of mind. It just happened, and he or she let it happen. “A toddler doesn’t obstruct the psychological immune system.”

Student approached Kramer after the speech to further the discussion.

Kramer’s talk spurred many questions, and some push-back, from students. One questioned how external circumstances, such as a death in the family, could not affect one’s state of mind. Kramer said there is a correlation between the sadness we feel at someone’s death or any tragedy, but the circumstance doesn’t cause the feeling. Another student asked what Kramer his source for his information. “Truth,” he answered, citing leaders such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela who have spoken about this phenomenon.

Student Harrison Winrow ’18 appreciated both the talk, and the robust give-and-take between Kramer and the audience. “I was inspired to see how passionate members of the student body and faculty were today, inciting lengthy dialogue and insightful debate all around campus for the hours following assembly,” he said.

Students and faculty will have more opportunities to discuss and think about the theme of Emotional Fitness at upcoming advisory meetings and class assemblies this term.

Commencement Launches 132 Graduates

commencement
Photo by Joanna Chattman

Why would you want to leave Williston? That was the question Head of School Robert Hill III put to graduating seniors during Williston Northampton School’s 175th  Commencement ceremony, which took place under a tent on the Quad on May 29. (See the links below for comprehensive coverage.)

Mr. Hill went on to describe the transition graduates were about to engage in as they move past their late adolescent years and enter the adult world. He added that their education at Williston Northampton School had fully prepared them for this next step.

Commencement speaker Nonie Creme ’90, in an authentic and inspiring speech that drew an enthusiastic response from the audience, further illustrated how a Williston education served her throughout her career and life. Creme, an entrepreneur who has started two successful beauty product companies, described herself as a “really messed up teenager,” and began her story in a Santa Fe jail where she ended up after running away from her Texas home. As she tells it, the choice between boarding school and jail was a “no brainer.”

Head of School Robert W. Hill III addresses the assembly. Photo by Joanna Chattman
Head of School Robert W. Hill III addresses the assembly./Photo by Joanna Chattman

Here at Williston, she reinvented herself from a “Southern yokel in mom jeans” (or so she felt) who didn’t know how to use the washing machines in the basement of her dorm, to a cigarette-smoking Goth girl who would steal away to New York City and frequent punk clubs on breaks from school. It was at Williston where she met her “tribe.” “I retain more friendships from Williston than from any other period in my life and I’ve lived, people,” she said. “That’s proof of how critical this place is, and how critical these relationships are to you at this stage of your life.”

After Williston, she studied art at Scripps College and then followed a boy to London, where, by day, she camped out in the Underground with her nail polish supplies and sold desk-side manicures to executives. Soon fashion-lovers sought out her polish mixes. From there, she became the founding creative director of Butter London, a high-end cosmetics company. After experiencing success there, she left to found Nonie Creme Colour Prevails, selling creatively packaged makeup for the mass market at drug stores around the country.

But she never abandoned her punk aesthetic. “It’s not lost on me that there are many people out there who might say a woman who won’t dye her hair and wears a skinhead and a septum ring doesn’t belong in the beauty industry, and certainly couldn’t be the meaningful Founder of a multi-million dollar business,” she said.

Commencement speaker Nonie Creme '90/Photo by Joanna Chattman
Commencement speaker Nonie Creme ’90/Photo by Joanna Chattman

“Well, because of the love and support I received right here at Williston,” she told the audience, “I have the confidence to say ‘Screw you, I can do anything I want.’ And so can you, and so WILL you.”

Creme’s address was followed by the announcement of prizes, which were bestowed at a ceremony the previous day and the induction of 12 students into the Cum Laude Society.

Following the presentation of diplomas to the 132 graduates present (one graduating senior was not able to be at the event) by Board Chairman John Hazen White Jr., Senior Class Speaker Christopher Hudson gave his address.

Hudson asked his classmates to focus on three concepts: discipline, forgiveness, and attitude, and told them to stay positive and be grateful for the education they received at Williston.

Congratulations to the phenomenal Class of 2016!


Please see the following links for more on 2016 Commencement:

 

 

 

 

 

Social Justice Scholar Marcella Runell Hall to Present MLK Day Keynote

The Mount Holyoke dean will talk about social justice storytelling
Courtesy of www.marcellarunellhall.org
Courtesy of www.marcellarunellhall.org

A social justice scholar and noted author will present the keynote address at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day assembly at the Williston Northampton School on Monday, January 18.

Marcella Runell Hall, the dean of students at Mount Holyoke College, will present “Storytelling for Social Justice,” which will encourage students to define the term “ally,” explore what it means to have multiple social identities, and practice the power of storytelling.

Dr. Hall is the author of three award-winning books: “The Hip-Hop Education Guidebook: Volume 1,” with Martha Diaz; “Conscious Women Rock the Page: Using Hip-Hop Fiction to Incite Social Change;” and “Love, Race, and Liberation: ‘Til the White Day Is Done” with Jennifer “JLove” Calderon.

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