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CA Curious

Building Bridges: How One Conference Creates Community at CA and Beyond

March 16, 2023

“You can make what you’re passionate about become a reality […] You can always have a role!”

These rousing words, uttered by keynote speaker Dr. Ya Liu, could not have been truer to the Building Bridges Across Communities conference story. The first of its kind in Cary Academy history, the conference brought together Asian-identifying students and faculty from across multiple Triangle schools in a day of fellowship, fun, and future-oriented enthusiasm. 

It all began one year ago after Leya Tseng Jones, Isa Oon, and I returned from the Asian Educators Alliance (AsEA)conference in California. Invigorated and inspired by the work of Asian diaspora educators from across the country, we immediately began plans to bring a similar necessary experience to our community through connections at other local schools. As Leya explained,  “Collaborating and building strong working partnerships with our counterparts at Durham Academy and Ravenscroft was so rewarding; witnessing the initiative, organization, and collaboration of our student leaders with their counterparts was truly inspiring. Each group took the lead on one component of our morning and thoughtfully managed every detail. I couldn’t be more impressed with what they accomplished together over just a few Zoom meetings of face-to-face time.” 

From the beginning, it was clear to this union, known as the Asian American Alliance, that the conference should not only be student-focused, but student-led. Three student leaders and members of the Upper School Asian American Pacific Islander Affinity Group, senior EJ Jo, junior Eric Xie, and junior Angela Zhang, each took a large role in organizing with other student leaders as well as fellow affinity group students. When asked about how close the first vision was to the final result, the answers were positive. 

“Initially, we wanted to invite a keynote and have a few sessions for discussion,” Angela said. “The result was just that; it was very similar to what we originally thought.” Eric added, “Our turnout was great, especially on such short notice, and every participant definitely seemed to want to be there and actively participated in the group activities and asked insightful questions to our keynote speaker, Dr. Liu. Looking back, there’s very little I would change, if anything at all.”

On Wednesday, March 8, Cary Academy students were joined by members of Durham Academy, Ravenscroft, St. Mary’s School, and the Montessori School of Raleigh. First on the agenda was the keynote address by Dr. Ya Liu, highlighting the connection between the personal and the political.

“I didn’t intend to be a leader,” Dr. Liu told the audience after outlining her impressive experience in community organizing. “It’s precisely because of the work I did. You may think, ‘I’m just a middle schooler, I’m just a high schooler, what can I do?’ […] A lot of these experiences will become part of who you are.” Dr. Liu went on to encourage students to seek out resources from beyond their schools and to “find the friends who will support you. Find the teachers who will support you.” 

Following the speaker, all participants were separated into randomized groups to experience a spectrum activity in which members were asked to discuss the intersections of their identity and what effects this had on their relationship with themselves and others. Students then attended one of several student-only workshops while adults exchanged encouragement and visions for the future in a different affinity group. 

“In both discussion sessions, I heard from many students about their experiences with their ethnicity and race,” Angela recalled of the student portion. “Even though I had never met these students before, it seemed that we had experienced the variation of a common struggle: our adolescent urge to be ‘white.’ So it surprised me how isolated everyone felt compared to how everyone was going through the same thing. Therefore, my biggest takeaway is that we were and are never alone.”

On the adult side, Leya observed that “There are so few Asian-identifying faculty/staff in our schools. We – the adults – need to find time to gather, even if virtually, to connect and support each other. Our brief time together was affirming and empowering.” 

When I looked around the Discovery Studio at the fellowship lunch, it was clear that every person present felt fulfilled and connected. In a world where being Asian American can often lead to so much stress and pressure from many sources, the beauty of Asian diasporic joy becomes not only a delight but a necessity. Looking forward, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we all intend to keep building this reality we’re so passionate about.

Written by Lauren Bullock, Language Arts and World Cultures Teacher

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April 14, 2022

Legendary Asian American civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama once said, “Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it. We are all part of one another.” Ironically, it’s often when I gather with people under the banner of a shared identity that this sentiment truly comes alive, and I realize how intricate and vast the human experience really is.

From March 25th to March 27th Leya Jones, Isa Oon, and I all had the privilege of sharing space with other Asian American educators at the Asian Educators Alliance (AsEA) National Conference in Newport Beach, California. From the very beginning, the conference clearly communicated an intent to coalesce as a community first, rather than leaning into the academic atmosphere that comes both with the setting and the content. Conveying this tone may seem easy on the surface, but as someone with the experience of organizing over a dozen national and international conferences, I know that it’s one thing to mouth “community” and it’s quite another thing to physically relax into communion with strangers from across the country.

I’ve spent my whole life being the only Black, white, and Vietnamese person in the room, so I’ve come to expect that a room will be filled with more of Emily Style’s proverbial “windows” than “mirrors” to my experience. While “Asian American” began as a political term meant to unify various people groups experiencing similar oppression, in recent times it’s been appropriated to stand for an easy checkbox in the diversity list that erases the multiplicity of identities it is meant to stand for, often reducing us to singular representations.

At the AsEA conference, however, not only were there a myriad of Asian Americans represented in origin but also in skin tone; you could look around a room at any given moment and witness the vibrant rainbow of pale to tan to deep brown that reflects the reality of those of us in the global majority. As Jolina Clement mentioned in the “Multiracial Identity: Hyping the Hyphen” workshop, there’s a real privilege in being “in a space and not [having to] explain why I get to be in a space.” Often it was difficult to tell who was a keynote speaker, organizer, workshop leader, teacher, or student in the space, creating a climate of openness and adding a real authenticity to the moments of sharing.

This impression not only imbued the optics of the space, but also the content. The theme, “Radical Re(Imagining) of Asian America: From Myth to Truths,” created a shared metaphorical and literal landscape for both dispelling harmful myths (such as the Model Minority) and reconnecting to pre-colonial understandings of our world, often connected to “myth” and folklore. In “Hyping the Hyphen” we broke down the notion of multiracial Asian Americans as a recent phenomenon, tracing historical records back before the Chinese Exclusion Act and leaning into thinking of multicultural experience as pluralities, not fractions. In “Return to Our Cultural Psychologies to Disrupt the White-Dominant LGBTQ+ Spaces and Narratives” Lilia Cai and Maria Graciela Alcid interrogated what it means for us as educators to hold space for both our own and our students’ intersectional identities without forcing them to fit into narratives that were not built with us in mind. In “We Are Not Monoliths: From Essentialism to Panethnicity” Ricco Siascoco continued the conversation on what it means to have a shared identity that forges connection but can also erase vital disparities between cultures.

Student programming was also a highlight of the conference, involving multi-day workshops with educator and writer Dr. Liza Talusan who challenged participants to dig into what they wanted to build knowledge, engage in reflection, and then move to action to determine 1. what their respective schools needed to start doing, 2. what their schools needed to stop doing, 3. what needed to change, and 4. what needed to continue. This experience culminated in a final share out where students’ voices were centered, reading each other’s work to protect privacy while being able to voice their concerns candidly with their teachers in the presence of other educators. It provided a key reminder that our job as teachers is a continuous push for positive change centered on the needs of future generations in conjunction with ours, a reminder that the age-old translation of I love you, “Did you eat yet?” is a call to both feed ourselves and our students, together.

Written by Lauren Bullock, Middle School Language Arts teacher

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Acclaimed historian addresses Upper School on how everyday people can change the world

March 2, 2021

On Friday, February 26, the Upper School welcomed award-winning historian Dr. Crystal Sanders, who marked the conclusion of Black History Month with a talk entitled “Humanizing the Heroes: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives.”

The address was an examination of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and John Lewis’s lives. By explaining that these now-exalted figures of the Civil Rights Movement were everyday figures who were moved to take action, Sanders hopes that young people will understand that they, too, have the power to make meaningful changes to address injustice and inequality in their own communities.

Sanders is Associate Professor of History at Penn State and is a 2020-21 fellow at the National Humanities Center. Sanders is the author of A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi’s Black Freedom Struggle published by the UNC Press in 2016 as part of the John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture. She is currently writing a book on black southerners’ efforts to secure graduate education during the age of Jim Crow.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Introducing the White Ally Anti-Racist Faculty and Staff Group

January 14, 2021

Image courtesy of CA parent and community activist Charman Driver. Driver, alongside a group of community volunteers, partnered to paint this #EndRacismNow message on W. Martin St. in front of the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh.

Affinity groups have been a vital feature of the Cary Academy experience for well over a decade. Typically, these groups help students find their place at Cary Academy by giving them access to a group of people with whom they share a core identifier or those who are supportive allies of the group. The groups can be educational and fun. Employees at CA have participated in affinity groups as well, including a LBGTQ and Allies group, a women’s group, and an African American Affinity Group.  

Several employees, over a number of years, also participated in a year-long program called SEED: Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity. The National SEED Project works to help attendees understand and recognize systems of power, oppression, and privilege. In light of recent events and a desire to push ourselves, a group of employees have formed the White Ally Anti-Racist Affinity Group to continue this crucial work. 

The impetus to create this employee affinity group really came out of two places. One, the murder of George Floyd in the summer, and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, sparked interest among Middle School teachers to form an anti-racist faculty group. Secondly, many folks who participated in the diversity and inclusion reading groups in the fall felt it was important to continue the work after the groups ended. We want to continue to not only push ourselves individually to become actively anti-racist in our work and in our lives beyond CA, but also to consider systemic changes that can be made at CA to make the school actively anti-racist. Because of feedback received from some BIPOC and white alums, as well as their parents, we felt we had to act. 

While the teachers on this campus explicitly deliver content in our classrooms day in and day out, we must realize that all adults are constantly imparting lessons to students who attend CA. These lessons transcend the classroom; they are delivered in day-to-day interactions in our hallways, in the dining hall, on the sports field, and on field trips. Students observe how we engage with their classmates, our fellow employees and community members, with people who look different than us, act differently than us, and may have very different beliefs than us.  

Cary Academy’s core values of respect, integrity, and compassion demand that we do better. So do our students. A number of our students spoke at an Upper School faculty meeting last school year about how they were impacted by teachers not being actively anti-racist. And CA alums of color have shared experiences of feeling marginalized and even traumatized by adults on our campus. It has been eye-opening for many.  

Beyond personal interactions, students look at the history we teach, the books we assign, the music we perform, and the artists we highlight. It is imperative that we interrupt overt racist behaviors in our hallways, but also the quieter systemic racism that may have infiltrated our course planning and institutional systems.  

CA’s administration is already taking steps to increase the number of faculty and staff of color on campus. There is ample research demonstrating the importance of this for both students of color and white students. Care should be taken to also examine our grading practices and discipline procedures, both in our classrooms and for the school as a whole. We need to make sure that the impact we have on our students and colleagues match our intentions.  

Cary Academy’s mission is a wonderful guide for our work. First of all, we are a learning community. We want to come together to learn from one another, to hold each other accountable, to grow on the journey together—even though we are not all starting the work from the same spot.  

During this work, we will be discovering new things about ourselves, some of which we might not be excited to find; it may be uncomfortable, even difficult. But we also want to discover new and better anti-racist ways of moving forward. Some of those ways might be innovative—new and different ways to teach a unit or course or a different model for one of the other parts of the school. Obviously, we will be collaborating on this work, even as we do our own personal heavy lifting.  

Working together, we hope that we will find excellence – for ourselves and for the Cary Academy community.  

Written by Lucy Dawson and Bill Velto, MS language arts and social studies teacher and US social studies teacher

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Eddie Glaude, Jr. addresses CA Students

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Acclaimed scholar guides students through the lessons of Martin Luther King’s final years

January 13, 2021

On Wednesday, Cary Academy, in partnership with Durham Academy, proudly welcomed acclaimed scholar Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr. as part of its Upper School Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Observance.  

In an inspiring and thought-provoking keynote address “Lessons from the Later Dr. King,” Dr. Glaude offered a complex and nuanced representation of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and work, ultimately issuing a call to action for us all to strive towards creating the Beloved Community– a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings – that King envisioned.

Glaude argues that, for most Americans, the image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is frozen in time. We easily think of him as the leader of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott or as the passionate preacher delivering “I Have a Dream” in 1963. Dr. Glaude, however, offered students a look at another facet of the MLK story: Dr. King’s later and final years — when he was doubtful and felt that the country had turned its back on him.

Five years after “I Have a Dream,” King was grappling with despair and disillusionment over the country’s direction — a sentiment he shared with James Baldwin, one of the 20th century’s greatest writers and chroniclers of the Black experience. When the two men met a few months before Dr. King’s murder, both were desperately trying to re-narrate the civil rights movement and change the consciousness of America.

Dr. Glaude examines this critical juncture in the life of Martin Luther King Jr., and what we all must do to make America live up to its promise. “We long for a Dr. King or an Abe Lincoln, because we don’t see our own capabilities as being sufficient,” Glaude has said. “History converged in a way that called Dr. King forward, and he answered the call. That can happen with anybody. We don’t need another Martin Luther King. We need everyday, ordinary people. We are the leaders we’ve been looking for.”

Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. His most well-known books, Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, and In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America, take a wide look at black communities, the difficulties of race in the United States, and the challenges our democracy face. His most recent book, Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, was released in June 2020. Glaude holds a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College, a master’s degree in African American Studies from Temple University, and a Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University. He is a columnist for Time Magazine, an MSNBC contributor, and regularly appears on Meet the Press.

This event was co-hosted by Cary Academy’s Director of Equity and Community Engagement, Danielle Johnson-Webb and Durham Academy’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Engagement, Kemi Nonez, and sponsored by Cary Academy’s PTAA.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Computer Science Week 2020

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Computer Science for Social Justice

December 17, 2020

It is the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, it is the holiday season, but the month of December is when educators worldwide celebrate Computer Science Education Week!  

Founded in 2009 by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Computer Science Week originated as an effort to convince policymakers to promote computing as a core science and profession. ACM chose the week of December 9th in honor of Grace Hopper’s birthday. (Hopper was the creator of the very first compiler—a computer program that translates code written in one programming language into another—and is credited with coining the word “bug” to mean an error in a program).  

Since 2009, Computer Science Week has grown dramatically, becoming a collaborative worldwide call to promote computer science education broadly. At the heart of the movement is a focus on improving inclusivity in the field—historically dominated by white males—by focusing on introducing women and others from underrepresented groups to computer science.  

According to the College Board, “women who try AP Computer Science in high school are 6 times more likely to major in computer science than those who do not, and Black/African American, Hispanic /[LatinX] students are 7 to 8 times more likely”. Historically, young women represented only 22% of those taking the AP exam while students of of color only represented 13%. For many, the lack of diversity in the field is not from lack of interest but rather a lack of access and awareness.  

And that’s where Computer Science Week and the Hour of Code come in. 

Adopted by Computer Science Week in 2013, the Hour of Code is intended to offer a gentle introduction to computer science through fun, one-hour interactive activities accessible through the Code.org website. Since its introduction, 1,106,972,371 people have tried an Hour of Code activity, of which, “45% of Code.org students are young women, 50% are students from marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and 45% of US students are in high needs schools.” 

While such efforts to increase diversity and access are exciting, they alone are not enough; we must strive for further equity and inclusivity in the field. To that end, this year’s Computer Science Week theme—computer science for social justice—goes beyond issues of diversity to offer deeper consideration of these timely and complex issues.  

Computer science for social justice asks us to consider questions—not only about how computer science can be a positive catalyst for change—but, just as importantly, how it currently perpetuates inequities, including sexism, ableism, and systemic racism.  

Want to be inspired? Checkout the hashtags #CSforGood and #CSforSocialJustice to see how innovators across the globe are tackling some of these thorny issues and harnessing (transforming?) computer science for the social good.  

Some project highlights include: 

  • Investigations into how discrimination is built into artificial intelligence and facial recognition systems,  
  • Critical analysis of how cultural values, including racist beliefs, are encoded into the technologies that we create,  
  • The creation of video games intended to develop empathy and awareness for the daily lived experiences of marginalized groups,  
  • Widespread work to make computing more accessible to those with disabilities,  
  • Apps and software dedicated to reducing users carbon footprints to slow climate change, and 
  • Coordinated efforts to build mentorship networks for underrepresented groups.  

Together, projects like these offer a powerful reminder of the hard work left to be done as we move towards an equitable future, as well as the promise that lies ahead. With all that has gone on in the world this year, there is no better time to talk about access, inequality, and privilege in technology and its role in education and society. I look forward to exploring these issues with our students in the months to come.  

CA’s Computer Science Week is presented by the advanced topics’ computer science class and the Women in Science & Engineering club. As with all things 2020, it looks a bit different this year. While we haven’t been able to offer many of the in-person events that typically characterize the week, we did kick off with a celebratory Hour of Code last week (congratulations to student winner Matthew Schricker ’23, and our faculty winner Charlotte Kelly for completing the most activities).  

And, happily, while the world may have ended their Computer Science Week celebrations, ours will evolve into something bigger throughout the year; this year’s theme of #CSforSocialJustice is too big and too important for just one week. Stay tuned for future events held by the WISE club and a host of activities on future Flex days. 

The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) annual campaign has used the phrase “The idea you don’t have is the voice you haven’t heard. Inclusion changes what’s possible. […]”. With that in mind, I invite everyone to join in the conversation and reach out to me if you would like to be involved in some way. 

Written by Karen McKenzie, Director of Technology and Innovation

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Brianna Gaddy - Alumni

Alumni Spotlight

Re-working the System

September 14, 2020

Brianna Gaddy ‘12 is a lawyer with a mission. Her goal? To fight systemic racism to create a more inclusive and equitable legal system for all—one judicial outcome, one policy at a time.

Gaddy did not always know she wanted to be a lawyer. A love of language and international travel—first ignited during her time at CA, thanks to a transformative world exchange trip to Chile—led her first to pursue majors in global studies and Spanish at the University of North Carolina.

In Murcia, she saw firsthand how the complex historical, social, and economic dynamics she had studied in college played out in the lives of her students. “The dynamics of race, of language, of culture, the challenges that faced my Moroccan immigrant students in Murcia, they were reminiscent of the issues that I had seen tutoring in Durham,” explains Gaddy.

“Global studies encompassed so many things I cared about. It had an international dimension. I could focus on women’s issues, on social issues,” she explains. “I was immediately drawn to classes, particularly geography classes, that focused in on the interconnectedness of political, social, and economic systems.”

Upon graduation, Gaddy, who loved teaching children—having tutored kids in an afterschool program in Durham throughout her undergraduate years—and had developed an abiding love of Spain during a positive study abroad experience, jumped at the opportunity to teach abroad through a program offered by the Spanish government. She moved to the small town of Murcia in southeastern Spain to teach English to students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

In Murcia, she saw firsthand how the complex historical, social, and economic dynamics she had studied in college played out in the lives of her students. “The dynamics of race, of language, of culture, the challenges that faced my Moroccan immigrant students in Murcia, they were reminiscent of the issues that I had seen tutoring in Durham,” explains Gaddy.

“I realized that these issues are much bigger than student/teacher dynamics, much bigger than teaching,” she continues. “As a student, how do you care about learning English, or language arts or math, when you are prevented from being your best self? When you aren’t given the best chance in life? When you are food insecure? When you are marginalized?”

She realized the enormity of the issues at hand called for systemic change. “I couldn’t affect the kind of change I wanted to see on the day-to-day level of teaching. There were laws that needed to be changed, policies that needed to be developed.”

She quickly turned her sights on law school. And, after taking the LSAT, was accepted to American University, known for its focus on international human rights.

She initially dreamed of one day taking a position with the United Nations. She quickly discovered, however, that difficulties enforcing international law, coupled with a challenging job market, would significantly limit her ability to effect change.

Instead, an early internship with The Honorable Reggie Walton in Washington, D.C., would expose her to an interesting alternative, opening her eyes to a surprising new passion for labor and employment law. “I loved how it combined black-letter law with social and economic issues,” offers Gaddy.

That introduction would ultimately lead her to pursue another internship, this time with the Employment and Opportunity Commission. It was a particularly formative experience. “My work with the EEOC helped me to understand how individual cases eventually give rise to implemented policies,” explains Gaddy. And, in policy work, Gaddy discovered her long sought-after outlet to effect meaningful change.

How can employment and labor policy contribute to significant social and anti-racist change? To explain, Gaddy offers an example, pointing to something that, on its face, might seem fairly innocuous: dress codes.

“Some dress codes prohibit certain hairstyles, like afros or dreads,” explains Gaddy. “While not discriminatory on their face—they don’t outright name Black people as the intended targets—their implementation has a discriminatory effect.

“While it may seem a small matter—a hairstyle—these are the microaggressions that add up to systemic racism and larger inequalities,” says Gaddy. In schools, it might mean that Black students get more suspensions for dress code violations, an early condemnation of Blackness. In the workplace, it might mean that Black women or men are discouraged from applying or working for particular companies or in a specific field.

She notes that current shortcomings in our legal system make it hard to combat this kind of discrimination. “Right now, the responsibility is on the aggrieved party to prove something called disparate impact, which is difficult.” She points to the recent CROWN Act legislation—which prohibits discrimination based on hair, and which has been adopted as law in California, New York, and is pending legislation in other states and counties—as a step in the right direction.

However, until that kind of anti-discriminatory legislation is enacted uniformly across the United States, Gaddy is turning her attention to policy. “Employment policies can make the fight easier,” she offers. “We can encourage companies to reconsider their policies, to not simply follow the law at its most basic, but to go further, to ask, for example, ‘what are we doing in our workplace to make sure that Black people are comfortable going in for an interview.’”

Gaddy’s ultimate goal? To effect significant changes in the legal system that reflect an increased focus on inclusivity and equity, and a better awareness of how systemic racism and socio-economic differences influence and are shaped by judicial outcomes.

“There is a big divide when you come into court based around the resources you have at your disposal, based on the education that you have had, based on your background. We have to figure out ways to bridge that gap,” offers Gaddy.

“We have to ensure that people are educated about their rights, that they understand the legal process, that they have a fair experience. We have to make sure that judges understand the larger social, economic, political systems that are in play in a given case and that their decisions are equitable.”

She’ll be doing precisely that in the fall when she starts a year-long clerkship with Judge Jeannie J. Hong in Baltimore City Circuit Court. As a clerk, Gaddy will be performing legal research, ensuring that her judge has the information needed to consider all dimensions of a case and render an equitable decision. And, she’ll be helping to draft opinions that clearly lay out the rationale and legal principles behind a ruling.

While not all lawyers opt to clerk, for Gaddy, it is an important step. “I think it is crucial to get an insider view of how courts work, to see how different people interact with the judicial system. I’m passionate about helping the clients that are before me. On the family court docket in Baltimore City, many litigants are pro-se—they are representing themselves in court—so we’ll have to do a little bit more to ensure they understand the process and have an equitable and fair experience.”

Brianna Gaddy - Alumni

On completion of her clerkship, Gaddy will be moving into a permanent position as a lawyer with Miles and Stockbridge in Baltimore. There, she’ll be working in their Labor, Employment, Benefits, and Immigration division, likely on a range of labor and employment matters such as representing employers and businesses in matters including discrimination and harassment, family medical leave, retaliation, and wage and hour issues.

Gaddy admits that her work is difficult given the current human rights climate, with systemic manifestations of racism and violence against the Black community coming to stark light. “Sometimes, it is hard to stay motivated to work within a system that hasn’t worked for people like me. It can be hard to keep going,” she admits. “Why am I studying for the bar, why am I focused on a test, when I have seen so many instances where the justice system has let down people who look like me?”

In those darker moments, she finds strength and perseverance by tapping into her larger “why” and recentering on her goals. “I try to remember the broader reasons why I chose this path—my passion for changing laws to create a more equitable society, for working to bring justice for all members of our community regardless of their background, privilege, or resources. “Thinking about the difference I can make once I can practice, it helps me put my head down and keep doing the work, to get over the next hurdle.”

She also recognizes the importance of being a role model to others in a field that is one of the least diverse of all professions. “Only 2% of lawyers are Black women. I want little Black girls to know that they can achieve this—that they can be lawyers, that they can be in positions of power, that they too can make important change.”


Equity Work at CA

Racism in the United States is no less a crisis, no less pressing, and presents no less a threat to our society and our community than the current coronavirus pandemic. And it must be met with the same sense of urgency and thoughtful, proactive response.

In June, Cary Academy issued a letter to the community reaffirming our values and reiterating CA’s longstanding commitment to the hard—at times uncomfortable—introspective work of diversity, equity, and inclusion that have been core values since we first opened our doors.

We pledged to be part of the solution and to work together to engage in anti-racist work to ensure that CA is a safe space for all our students to thrive. And to prepare our faculty, staff, and students to combat racism and to be the positive change that is so needed in our world.

We recognize that this demands large-scale institutional introspection and thoughtful, meaningful action. And it requires active listening from our community members about their personal experiences—even when that might be difficult.

This summer, Director of Equity and Community Engagement Danielle Johnson-Webb reached out through a series of Zoom calls to initiate those conversations. In a safe space, alums, parents, and students shared their stories, experiences, and perspectives—both good and bad—of their time at CA. These ongoing conversations will help to inform the work that lies ahead, including professional development efforts; ongoing dialogue work with Essential Partners; curriculum audits, refinements, and additions; and policy review.

This work is complex, crucial, and never-ending. Our planning efforts—by necessity—are fluid and ongoing. As we move forward, we feel it essential to be transparent in our thinking and planning as we engage in what is sometimes messy and challenging work.

To that end, we are launching united.cary.academy. Here, we will provide information about our equity work of the last few years—a foundation on which we will be building. We will also offer regular updates on new anti-racist efforts, sharing our planning process and the thoughts shaping those efforts, as well as the lessons that we are learning together. We welcome your feedback and engagement as we continue to pursue this important work now and in the years to come.

In the meantime, this summer, every employee in the Cary Academy community will engage in professional development efforts that are grounded in anti-racist work. Together, we will be reading and discussing the following books, laying a foundation and shared vocabulary for the work of the coming year. We invite all members of our community to join us.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Robin DiAngelo

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Bryan Stevenson

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race
Beverly Daniel Tatum

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
Ibram X. Kendi

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Michelle Alexander

White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to be White
Daniel Hill

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People
Mahzarin R. Banaji

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race
Debby Irving

How to be an Anti-racist
Ibram X. Kendi

We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom
Bettina Love

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The Work Ahead

August 20, 2020

Photo: The leaders of CoExist (l to r): Sarah George ’21, Clay Thornton ’21, Vibhav Nandagiri ’21. Not pictured: Jordan Cuffee ’21.

This summer, we issued a letter to the community reaffirming our values and reiterating CA’s longstanding commitment to the hard—at times uncomfortable—introspective work of diversity, equity, and inclusion that have been core values since we first opened our doors. We pledged to be part of the solution and to work together to engage in anti-racist work to ensure that CA is a safe space for all our students to thrive.   

As you may have noticed in your social media feeds, in recent months, “Dear@” and “Black@” Instagram accounts have popped up all over the country. These accounts are part of a powerful national movement, as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and their allies share their experiences, rightfully calling independent schools and universities across the United States to account for their roles in perpetuating systemic racism.   

We know from stories shared within our community that CA is not exempt from this charge. Despite a longstanding commitment and history of anti-racist work, we have not been perfect. There is much work to be done, and we are committed to taking it up.   

We recently responded to a newly-launched DearCaryAcademy Instagram. I’ll be honest. These posts are difficult to read and reckon with. Introspection is crucial to anti-racist work, even (especially) when it is difficult. The experiences reported in these posts, however, are crucially important to hear, to acknowledge, and to discuss, process, and address as a community. That’s also why we have been soliciting stories from BIPOC members of our community on our anti-racism action page.   

We hope that owners of this account will be open to formally partnering in our anti-racist efforts, much as we partnered with our alums and parents of alums this summer in a series of listening Zoom calls. In those calls, alums and parents of alums were offered a safe space to share their experiences and perspectives. Being able to have those conversations openly and transparently has been instrumental in allowing us to be more effective and responsive and to chart the critical work that lies ahead this year (you can follow our evolving anti-racist work and planning at http://united.cary.academy/anti-racism/.)  

Indeed, some of the most challenging work that lies ahead is in creating a community where we can dialog openly and honestly about these painful matters. Where we can protect and respect BIPOC as they come forward to share what might be painful, scary, even traumatic, experiences, while also discussing, processing, and addressing them as a community. Only then that we will be able to heal, to learn, and to grow.  

To that end, this year, I am particularly excited to work in partnership with CA’s revamped CoExist Committee. Led by Clay Thornton ’21, Jordan Cuffee ’21, Vibhav Nandagiri ’21, Sarah George ’21, and Student Dialogue Leader Meirav Solomon ‘21, this group represents a passionate group of students working on behalf of their peers. They feel it imperative for young people to have a voice; they are dedicated to ensuring that alums ten years from now have a different, more positive experience than those who came before them.  

Central to their efforts is creating a safe space for intersectional dialogues, where we can work together across our differences to discuss and address hard topics in meaningful ways. This is foundational and crucial anti-racist work, and Meirav has been hard at work planning dialogues in partnership with our affinity groups and student clubs, like the Campus Conservatives.   

I could write for hours about the work that lies ahead of us, but instead, I would like you to hear from our Chief Student Diversity Officer, Clay Thornton:  

My name is Clay Thornton and I am a current senior at Cary Academy (Class of 2021). I am honored to serve this year as Cary Academy’s Chief Student Diversity Officer, or CSDO for short, a role committed to fostering a diverse, equitable environment for our community by leading Cary Academy’s CoExist club. This year, however, I am not leading CoExist alone. For the first time, Cary Academy has established a CoExist council to bolster my role as CSDO, comprising of my fellow Class of 2021 members Jordan Cuffee, Sarah George, and Vibhav Nandagiri. CoExist provides a space for members of the Cary Academy community to learn about and engage with diverse perspectives and identities through dialogue, workshops, and affinity groups. We provide an intersectional curriculum that encourages students to create and foster a better, more equitable CA community. By equipping students with the necessary tools to understand and respect different perspectives and identities, we prepare students to effectively collaborate and build relationships in their future beyond CA. While CoExist is a longstanding club within the CA community, the CoExist council is working this year to rebrand CoExist to match the current needs of the community.  

This school year will be unlike any year we have seen before. Not only must we adapt to the necessary protocols regarding the COVID-19 global pandemic, but we must also prepare opportunities for students to productively explore the tension throughout the United States. Disagreements over health protocols are omnipresent. Civil unrest, including protests against police brutality and racial injustice, has emerged in every major American city. Political tensions are boiling over as Biden and Trump begin their gruesome political warfare, marching quickly towards November 3rd. Americans are truly living in a historic moment, one filled with tension and in desperate need of cohesion. In an effort to find this cohesion, CoExist is pivoting to an introspective agenda. This year, more than ever, CoExist should focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion within the Cary Academy community. CoExist believes that this change will allow students to separate the high-tension experience with equity work in our nation from the equity work happening within our school community. For this reason, a new Social Justice club, unaffiliated with CoExist, has been started at Cary Academy, dedicated to educating students on the societal issues of our nation, as well as organizing ways for students to be catalysts for change. CoExist, however, will host dialogues, workshops, and affinity group meetings, not to discuss policy or politics, but rather to determine what we can change about ourselves and our community to make Cary Academy a place of which we can all be proud.   

Striving for a diverse, inclusive Cary Academy community is not a question of liberal or conservative. It is not an issue of democrats versus republicans. It is instead a commitment to embracing our differences, fostering collaboration, and celebrating our many identities. I hope this pivot will encourage more students, faculty, and staff to make this commitment because, if we all work together, we can create long-lasting, meaningful change within the Cary Academy community.  

Written by Danielle Johnson-Webb, Director of Equity and Community Engagement and Clay Thornton ’21, Chief Student Diversity Officer

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Affirming our values in trying times

June 1, 2020

Dear CA Community, 

It has been a challenging, painful, and scary week for our country and our community. 

Amid such emotion, it can be hard to find the right words to give hope and comfort. Writing on behalf of Cary Academy, we must try – as now is not the time to sit in silence. 

Recent events, including the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Atatiana Jefferson, and the unnerving incident with Amy Cooper—who made a false accusation against a black birdwatcher in Central Park—have laid bare not only the overt physical danger but also the insidious, systemic racism still facing people of color.

At Cary Academy, we are proud of our words and deeds regarding diversity, inclusion, and equity. We have held workshops on implicit bias. We have welcomed speakers such as Peggy McIntosh to campus to speak on white privilege. Regardless, we must recognize that the private act in the woods of Central Park by a self-proclaimed liberal white woman showed that racism transcends political parties and unearthed more than fault lines within our ability to build trust. It exposed a chasm.   

We recognize that there is much work to be done by white people. Racism in the United States is no less a crisis, no less pressing, and presents no less a threat to our society and our community than the current coronavirus pandemic. And it must be met with the same sense of urgency and thoughtful, proactive response.

Many black people in our community are grieving, fearful, angry, and distrustful. Many do not feel safe. We recognize this fear, pain, and anger. We grieve with you. We are angry alongside you. And, representing Cary Academy’s Leadership Team and Board of Directors, we remain committed to listening, earning and building your trust, and ensuring your safety through ongoing community and anti-racism work.

We will not be silent or cave to hopelessness. Instead, Cary Academy reaffirms our longstanding commitment to the hard, at times uncomfortable, introspective work of diversity, equity, and inclusion that have been core CA values since we first opened our doors. 

  • We pledge to be part of the solution—to prepare our faculty, staff, and students to combat racism and make the positive changes we all want to see in the world.
  • We pledge to listen—to lean into discomfort to grow and learn, and to create a safe space for difficult conversations. 
  • We pledge to look hard within to ensure that every member of our community is empowered to participate fully in the CA experience—to be known, lend their voice, and be heard—and to feel safe and respected while doing so.

As with our COVID-19 response, this will be an ongoing, evolving effort—one that is taking shape now. 

To our families of color: your voices and experiences are valuable and crucial. Yet, we recognize the psychological and emotional toll it can take to share your experiences and concerns. If you are in a place to share them, we want to hear them. We are here for you. 

We look forward to inviting all our members into these conversations as we work together to combat racism and become a stronger community, together. 

Dr. Michael Ehrhardt  
Head of School                                                                 

Manju Karkare
Chair, Board of Directors

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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