The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

“What’s Your Story?”

Dr. David Fakunle (left) and Dr. Edward Carson (right). Both Fakunle and Carson were invited to speak at WIS assemblies by 9/10 Assistant Principal Allison Ewing. (Graphic by Maia Nehme)

Grades 9 and 10 Assistant Principal Allison Ewing implemented a new assembly speaker series this year based on the central question, ‘what’s your story?’ Speakers have tackled tough topics ranging from systemic racism to gender identity through the lens of their insightful personal experiences.

Shortly before the start of the school year, Ewing connected with several identity clubs about hosting assemblies over Zoom. One concern she often heard was that students felt overwhelmed due to the pandemic. However, “they didn’t want to feel an additional responsibility that if they don’t [lead an assembly,] then it doesn’t happen at all.”

Ewing invited guest speakers to talk at assemblies once a cycle to take the pressure off of those student groups. While choosing who to invite, she has prioritized selecting speakers from diverse backgrounds. “I think we underestimate a lot of times the value that one’s identity has [even though] it’s how we connect with people. [For example,] ‘oh, you like the color purple, that’s my favorite color.’ And now, you’re lifelong [friends]. If a favorite color can do that, then shared identities can be even stronger,” Ewing said.

One speaker in particular who stood out to Ewing is Dr. David Fakunle, who spoke at the first assembly of the school year. 

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Fakunle is an artist, researcher, and teacher at the University of Florida and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Ewing explained that “he is the one who set the tone for why it’s important to tell your story.”

Fakunle focuses on the uses of art, specifically storytelling, in the public health field. “By encouraging people to acknowledge their own story you [can] help improve someone’s mental health, someone’s emotional health, which could also lead to improvements in their behavior, such as recovering from substance abuse, alcohol abuse, whatever the case may be,” Fakunle said.

Fakunle has been fascinated by stories since he was nine years old and first met Mary Carter Smith, a renowned griot (Black storyteller). At a museum event, he told a story that he had originally heard on Smith’s radio station, “Griot for the Young and the Young at Heart.” Smith approached him after the event and invited him to tell stories on her show

Because he’s been publicly speaking from such a young age, Fakunle doesn’t prepare his speeches in advance, and his talk at the WIS assembly was no exception. Instead, he thinks of what key takeaway he wants the audience to have after listening to his speech. “Everyone comes with perceptions, and a lot of times they’re misperceptions. They affect how we think, how we feel, and how we interact with other beings. That is what leads to so much of the pain that is experienced in our society. We have to change that. So, where do you start? You start by telling your story,” Fakunle said.

Ewing also felt moved by Dr. Edward Carson, who spoke at the February Black History Month assembly.

Carson is the Dean of Multicultural Education at the Governor’s Academy, where he recruits diverse faculty members and creates new policies to increase inclusion. Additionally, he is a historian and an activist. 

During the assembly, Carson honed in on the importance of allyship between people of different cultural identifiers in order to tackle forms of oppression like systemic racism. “We need to look around at our spaces and ask ourselves, ‘who are we inviting over to dinner? Who is sitting at the table?’ If we’re finding that there are folks who are absent, we need to correct that. If we’re not in proximity with folks who are different from us, then we don’t understand their pain,” Carson said.

Carson first began reflecting on the need for interracial allyship in driving change when he was a high schooler in Montgomery, Alabama. “The levels of segregation and white supremacy that existed at my high school [didn’t sit] well with me. I had teachers who would make comments about how Black and white folks shouldn’t get married… I thought, ‘you know what? I am going to be the kind of teacher, the kind of social justice agent for my students, that I’ve never had,’” Carson said.

After Carson’s speech at the assembly, senior Vanessa Schor noticed an issue in one of her History textbooks about the civil rights movement.

One section of the textbook included different perspectives on the causes of the movement. The majority of the cited historians were white men. “The whole point of historiography is to have a breadth of perspectives so you can understand events from different viewpoints, [but] it seemed like there was a voice missing,” Schor said.

After noticing the lack of representation in the textbook, she reached out to her IB History HL teacher, Don Boehm. 

Schor doesn’t know if she would’ve emailed Boehm if she hadn’t heard Carson speak during the assembly. “I definitely felt like his words resonated with me, [like] what he was saying about keeping your teachers and your peers accountable for what you’re learning, especially when it comes to history,” Schor said. 

Schor’s suggestion for Boehm was to read alternate perspectives from Black historians on the civil rights movement and compare them to the viewpoints in the textbook. 

Boehm was surprised and frustrated by Schor’s email, but when he spoke to her in person, he understood that “it was not her intent to call me out. It was her desire to raise concern… she [wanted] to start discussions and look at things through a critical lens.”

Boehm chose to share supplementary readings from Black historians with the class. He also bought new texts on the civil rights movement for next year’s history class, which include more diverse perspectives.

Boehm hopes that students will continue following Carson’s advice and holding their teachers accountable for their education. “I think I speak from my whole department [in hoping] that we continue to cultivate a classroom atmosphere where kids can follow their personal [and] political interests,” he said. “This allows them to meet that mission that [Carson] was encouraging them to strive for.”

By Maia Nehme

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