Urban School guest speaker Damali Ayo sparks student discussion

Annakai Geshlider, Staff writer

Guest speaker Damali Ayo kicked off this year’s Month of Understanding, “Making the Invisible Visible,” with a presentation about her experience as a student of color in a high school similar to Urban.

The goal of the Month of Understanding is to “explore issues around belonging, empowerment and disempowerment, dominant culture and community,” says Natasha Weiss (’11), a member of Urban’s multicultural team, which is in charge of the annual Month of Understanding.

MultiCulti wants the student body “to actively try to understand in new ways, to interact earnestly, and to be vulnerable,” and reactions from the student body show that this goal has so far been achieved. Ayo’s talk has spurred students into conversation about race during two lunchtime forums and on the online Speak Up forum. Since the day of her presentation, students and teachers have posted over 70 messages to the Speak Up forum.

“Ms. Ayo was a very engaging speaker, and created a lively discourse within the Urban Community,” recounted Max Goldberg (’13). “However, her philosophy was flawed in that it put up barriers in the path towards racial harmony instead of tearing them down.”

Goldberg referenced the proximity of the event to Martin Luther King Jr. day, explaining that “whether or not she was meant to be our ‘Martin Luther King Day speaker,’ her message clashed with King’s. Instead of exaggerating the differences between races, we should try to draw parallels between ourselves and acknowledge our similarities.”

Many were more impressed by the presentation. Isabel Langen (’13) though that “Damali was hilarious and entertaining, and was still able to make many educating and provocative points. Whether you agree with her or not, Damali ‘made the invisible visible’ by prompting conversations between students and faculty.”

Anne Vetter (’12) hopes that during the Month of Understanding, the Urban community will discuss more than just race. “I think that issues relating to sexual orientation and gender diversity are equally relevant,” she said. Hopefully, all of these discussions will continue long after this month is over.

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