By, Jamila O. ’19
On October 11, six seniors from SISTERS, Winsor’s black affinity group, along with Mr. Braxton, Winsor’s Director of Community and Multicultural Affairs, and head of school Ms. Pelmas, had the opportunity to attend the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Awards Ceremony at Harvard University. Since 2013, the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research has awarded the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to black history and culture; this year, Winsor students witnessed eight exceptional honorees receive this distinguished accolade.
Among the evening’s laureates were Bryan Stevenson, social justice activist, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and author of the bestselling memoir Just Mercy; Shirley Ann Jackson, a physicist and the first black woman to earn a doctorate from MIT and to win the National Medal of Science; Colin Kaepernick, an athlete and activist at the forefront of the “Take a Knee” movement; Florence Ladd, a novelist and accomplished educator; Kehinde Wiley, a portrait artist known for his naturalistic depictions of black and brown men, including Barack Obama’s portrait for the National Portrait Gallery; Pamela Joyner, a philanthropist and collector and patron of black art; Kenneth I. Chenault, a business executive and the third black CEO of a Fortune 500 company; and Dave Chappelle, a comedian, actor, writer, and producer known for his commentary on American politics, race relations, and current events.
The vastly different career paths and areas of interest represented among the honorees was of particular importance to the students who attended. Toni Gomes ’19 reflected, “I felt a sense of empowerment when I noticed that they were all successful in such vastly different aspects.” Monique Singletary ’19 added, “to witness the recognition of black excellence in a variety of realms was very special to me.”
Beyond the award recipients’ incredible individual accomplishments and contributions to his or her respective field, each honoree also displayed an unwavering commitment to social justice, advocacy, and equity. In particular, remarks made by the honorees themselves and by other speakers underlined the importance of active, outspoken engagement in effecting change across a variety of spaces and in today’s social and political contexts. Monique Singletary ’19 appreciated this particular emphasis, sharing, “I was really able to see up close that people like each of the honorees still exist in this world and are fighting for what they’re passionate about, staying hopeful, and succeeding in their activism, despite the current state of the world.” Araybia Goodlow ’19 reflected, “One honoree, Bryan Stevenson, struck me, as he had a very moving speech about the struggle of being black in America, and the job we have not yet finished to be uplifted as a people.”
Furthermore, all of Winsor’s attendees seemed to be in agreement that the event fostered a particular sense of community, excitement, and inspiration. Victoria Cadostin ’19 highlighted the event’s uniquely energizing ambience. “Being at a ceremony with mostly other black people to celebrate other black people in a predominantly white institution like Harvard was an interesting and empowering experience,” she shared. “I felt a sense of community among the crowd listening to the honorees and those who introduced them.”
The program’s illumination of the advocacy, courage, and persistence of each recipient certainly inspired student and faculty attendees alike. Upon receiving his medal, Colin Kaepernick closed the ceremony with a powerful observations: “It’s…all our responsibilities — as people that are in positions of privilege, in positions of power — to continue to fight for [marginalized populations facing discrimination], and uplift them, empower them…if we don’t, we become complicit in the problem,” he reflected. In considering the active role that many Winsor students take in advocating for causes in which they believe, Kaepernick’s words, along with the remarkable efforts of each honoree, serve as incredible examples from which the broader Winsor community can continue to draw inspiration in our own endeavors.