This year, the SEL Experience Project’s Sally Martin was the speaker at the Brush National Honor Society induction ceremony. It was a privilege to meet these outstanding students, who we are certain will be changing the world for the better. The following are the remarks that were shared at the ceremony:
One of the most surprising things that has come out of spending the last four years interviewing alumni and sharing stories on the SEL Experience Project blog, has been the almost uncanny way that the Brush grads we interviewed, almost without exception, have chosen professions where they can help others and level the playing field. Whether they become doctors, lawyers, artists, or teachers, they often choose to serve the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised–the ones who need the most help in our increasingly divided society. Often, they tell us that attending a diverse school system made them want to use their skills to make the world more united, fair, and equitable. They felt that SEL helped shape their world view, and made them better equipped to function in the wider world. The examples are inspiring. Dr. Melanie Ferrara Finkenbinder, a primary care physician who works in an underserved Latino community in Columbus has helped create a free grocery store to provide her patients, who live in a food desert, with a reliable supply of fresh produce. Ari Daniel Shapiro brings issues of climate change to national audiences as a science reporter for Public Radio International. Adina Pliskin is breaking the glass ceiling of Hollywood through her work as a Latina documentary filmmaker and producer.
Getting to the place of writing the blog came from some hard-won wisdom. Like many white middle class parents, my husband and I were warned by well-meaning friends that we shouldn’t use the schools in South Euclid. According to them, SEL Schools just weren’t good enough for our children. Since it was part of the family tradition anyway, we dutifully put our kids in Catholic School. When our son, Chris was in eighth grade, he announced that he was done with private school and wanted to attend Brush. Given that this kid was about the most stubborn child ever born, we relented. Much to our surprise, Chris thrived at Brush, got an excellent education and especially enjoyed the incredible art education he received from Ms. Connor and Ms. Curry. In 2018, he graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he continues to live and work in the art field. When I became the Housing Director for the City of South Euclid in 2008, I saw how the lack of confidence in our schools was causing a reduction in our housing prices. Realtors frequently mentioned concerns about the schools, and school rankings–which never tell the whole story– had been dropping. When Brush grad, Beth Fry became my intern one summer, we realized that we both had grave concerns about what was happening as white families left the district. The once balanced diversity that was the hallmark of SEL was rapidly shifting. In less than 12 years, the district went from being 80 percent white to 80 percent black–a particularly strange phenomena since we weren’t seeing the same level of white flight in the populations of the two cities the district serves. Both South Euclid and Lyndhurst are still majority white communities.
Sadly, this isn’t a unique problem. According to award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah Jones, who points out in her recent New York Times article entitled, “It Was Never About Busing”, we have made little progress since the Supreme Court passed Brown vs. the Board of Education. She reminds us that 65 years later, black students are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid 70s.
As our best and brightest, you have a special charge. You are called to be the change. My generation has failed. Our society is divided like never before. When a school district has re-segregated, it should serve as a warning sign that our society has run off course. We look to you, as our future leaders, to change this firmly entrenched pattern of fear and separation. The noted author and psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler Ross said that there are only two emotions from which all other emotions arise: fear and love. If you don’t actively choose love, you will find yourself in a place of fear. Every moment offers the choice to choose one or the other. As we can see from what is happening in Washington, our society at large has chosen fear. Your generation must change that.
Last Friday, I had the privilege to speak to a sold-out crowd at the City Club about the challenges of inner-ring suburbs, which was also being live-broadcast on WCPN (NO PRESSURE THERE!). The subject of schools came up and I told the story of the blog and my family’s positive experiences with SEL Schools. After the presentation, I was mobbed by people who praised me for having the courage to discuss race. They said no one talks about this stuff. That’s precisely the problem. It’s the elephant in the room and it’s time we called it out. One of my favorite poets, the late song writer Leonard Cohen, wrote a song entitled ‘Anthem’ that contains the following lyrics:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
It’s time to let the light in and speak our truth. When I let go of my fear and decided to start talking about this, I found that it resonated with so many people and allowed them to step out of their fear too. When you are old enough to vote—make sure you do. Urge the adults in your household to vote at every election. This is critical. It matters. Never be afraid to speak the truth to power. Keep showing up and speak your truth. We are proud of you. We are depending on you. I can’t wait to see what you accomplish.
Congratulations to the 2019-2020 Inductees and current members of Brush National Honor Society:
Kaelum Adams Hailee Jones
Lillie Alshiekhtala Alex Kumar
Aiyana Buckner Isabelle Lashley
Jessyka Camandillo Sean Pierce
Dylan Dicenzi Jaslyn Rozier
Nathan Eckman Gwyneth Seddon
Gianni Fitch Darrien Smith
Raya Fitch Devin Suttles
Arthur Franklin Carla Wagner
Hali Hocker Alyssa Wiegand
Keenan Barnes Nikolas Anderson
Sloane Boukobza Victoria Semler
Noah Turoff Suyee Chen
Shalea Williams Amber See