Kevin Rowsey - Ubuntu

Middle School

Ubuntu inspires students to think about themselves and their communities

March 5, 2021

At Cary Academy, the final Friday in February always marks the Middle School’s Ubuntu program  – CA’s celebration of community that supports our mission by helping students see how they can impact the school, their community, and the world. Ubuntu allows students to experience different cultures, food, work, and other topics through different lenses, piquing their interests and inspiring them to take a deeper dive into a variety of issues.

This year, in the interest of keeping our students and community members safe and healthy, the Ubuntu Celebration was spread across the week, last week. On Tuesday and Thursday, Middle School students in the Blue and Gold learning cohorts had the chance to sample foods from across the globe during lunch. On Friday, each Middle School grade attended virtual discussions with scholars, activists, and artists whose work serves to inspire us to think about ourselves, our roles in our communities, and our place in history.

Jaki Shelton Green - Ubuntu

The sixth grade was inspired by Jaki Shelton Green, the third woman and the first African American to be honored as North Carolina’s state poet laureate. Shelton, who teaches documentary poetry at Duke University, challenged the Class of 2027 to each choose an object or experience that has particular significance to them and then craft a thoughtful personal statement on how it’s shaped who they are. In preparation for her workshop, “What We Keep Keeps Us,” Shelton Green asked the students to consider having a conversation with their family about the object, its meaning to them, and its meaning to their family.

Kevin Rowsey - Ubuntu

CA alumnus Josh “Rowdy” Rowsey ’09 sat down with the seventh grade to discuss how developing one’s voice and a strong sense of self helps us strive towards social justice. Rowsey, an educator and hip hop artist who uses music, writing, and performance workshops to mentor youth across the nation, is the Program Director at the downtown Durham Afrofuturist Teen Center, Blackspace. During Rowsey’s workshop, entitled “Afrofuturism: Taking SPACE as a form of Social Justice,” students created and performed spoken word and lyrics inspired by John Lewis’ autobiographical March trilogy of graphic novels, co-written with Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell.  “Josh’s electric energy and welcoming spirit encouraged students to take a risk and courageously perform their pieces before the entire seventh grade,” says MS language arts and social studies teacher Lucy Dawson.

Brie Starks - Ubuntu

Brie Starks, the Children and Families Program Coordinator at we are, a Durham-based organization dedicated to disrupting structural racism in the education system and promoting youth engagement on racial injustice, spoke with the students and faculty of the eighth grade. Starks worked with the Class of 2025 to better understand cultural identifiers, bias, and how they can take action to effect real, meaningful social change in her workshop, “Unpacking Identity and Implicit Bias.” Starks, who holds a Master of Social Work, has worked on a number of advocacy efforts for students of color, underrepresented youth, persons living with disabilities, and building campaigns around trauma awareness.

About the presenters

Jaki Shelton Green, ninth Poet Laureate of North Carolina is the first African American and third woman to be appointed as the North Carolina Poet Laureate. She is a 2019 Academy of American Poet Laureate Fellow, 2014 NC Literary Hall of Fame Inductee, 2009 NC Piedmont Laureate appointment, 2003 recipient of the North Carolina Award for Literature. Jaki Shelton Green teaches Documentary Poetry at Duke University Center for Documentary Studies and has been named the 2021 Frank B. Hanes Writer in Residence at UNC Chapel Hill. Her publications include: Dead on Arrival, Masks, Dead on Arrival and New Poems, Conjure Blues, singing a tree into dance, breath of the song, Feeding the Light, i want to undie you.On Juneteenth 2020, she released her first LP, poetry album, The River Speaks of Thirst, produced by Soul City Sounds and Clearly Records.Jaki Shelton Green is the owner of SistaWRITE providing writing retreats for women writers in Sedona Arizona, Martha’s Vineyard, Ocracoke North Carolina, Northern Morocco, and Tullamore Ireland.

Joshua Kevin “Rowdy” Rowsey is a National Recording Artist, Writer, Actor, and Educator based in the North Carolina Triangle Area. Rowdy has been featured on BET, NPR, PBS Kids, and has given a TEDX talk on the importance of Hip Hop Culture. Rowsey is a U.S. Hip Hop Ambassador through the U.S. Department of State and the Next Level Hip Hop Program. On stage Rowsey is part of the national collective No9to5 Music and plays with a live Jazz Band (J) Rowdy & The Night Shift which was nominated for a 2017 Carolina Music Award. They’ve been able to share the stage with the likes of Rakim, Busta Rhymes, Ari Lennox, Childish Major, Snow Tha Product, Murs, 2 Chainz, Juicy J, and a plethora of other national recording acts. Currently Rowdy is the founder of two triangle area cyphers – The UNC Cypher (UNC-CH) and the Med City Cypher (Downtown Durham). He also holds the position of Program Director at the Downtown Durham – Afrofuturist Teen Center Blackspace. Through UNC Greensboro’s Master of Arts in Teaching Program Rowsey continues his mission to spread southern hip hop at a national and international level through performance, writing and educational workshops inspiring the culture through the craft. 

Brie M. Starks, MSW is a proud Detroit, MI native. Brie is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan where she obtained a B.A. in History, Political Science, and Afro-American and African Studies. She also holds a Master of Social work from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Instead of a clinical based MSW, Brie chose to pursue a macro-focused MSW in community organizing and obtained a certificate in Global Human Rights at Penn. Brie has worked on a number of advocacy efforts for students of color, underrepresented youth, persons living with disabilities and building campaigns around trauma awareness. She enjoys DIY projects and anything that allows for maximum creativity. Brie is the Children and Families Program Coordinator for we are.

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

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February 27, 2020

Tuesday was Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and it has been on my mind. Fat Tuesday marks the culmination of weeks of parades featuring festive krewes, flambeau carriers, toe-tapping drum and brass bands, parties and balls, and generally lots of revelry for the city and its visitors. For seven years, I lived, studied, and taught in New Orleans, an experience I cherish. I loved learning about the city’s unique and tumultuous history and the French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences that shape the culture, food, music, architecture, and traditions that we see today.  

As Mardi Gras coincides closely with the wrap of our second trimester, I have been making connections. Mardi Gras builds community and contributes to the identity of New Orleans (and it’s a fun time for participants and observers). Similarly, in our Middle School classrooms, on the fields, and on the stage, students participate in and enjoy experiences that bring them together and build team, club, grade -level, Middle School, and CA identities.   

As evident in the creative production of unforgetting, our student performers and tech crew delivered poignant and uplifting stories of life’s moments. They worked together for weeks and developed closely as an ensemble – an experience and connection that will stay with them for years. 

Another example is the unique cross-grade level language arts project that developed from work with longtime CA partner, Burning Coal Theater Company. Sixth graders wrote poems expressing their ideas about the theme of Ubuntu. Seventh graders worked together in small groups and combined the 6th-grade poems with movement, shadow work, and props to create a new work of art. Eighth graders then took these poetic vignettes and added a layer of digital projection. Integral to the process was the thoughtful and constructive student feedback given to peers and teachers who worked alongside in the design of the project. Final pieces of this comprehensive and connected student-inspired project will be performed for the entire middle school as a part of the larger Ubuntu Celebration on Friday. 

These two curricular and co-curricular collaborative projects are illustrative of many amazing community-building activities our middle schoolers experienced over the past twelve weeks and will continue to enjoy during their time at Cary Academy. Facilitated and inspired by creative and supportive faculty in an environment that cultivates collaboration, out-of-the-box thinking, and relevant real-life connections, our students are challenged to think, work, and play hard all trimester. Our students and faculty are ready for a break. 

Now that Mardi Gras has passed, the city is noticeably quiet in contrast to the busy, activity-filled weeks leading up it. I am hopeful that our trimester break provides students and faculty a change in pace and time to relax, reflect, and refresh!

Written by Marti Jenkins, Head of Middle School

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Ubuntu: a celebration of community

January 30, 2020

Members of the Upper School’s Indian Subcontinent Affinity Group (ISAG) teach Bollywood dance in the Middle School during Ubuntu 2019.

As the great Nelson Mandela says, “In Africa, there is a concept known as ‘Ubuntu’—the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will, in equal measure, be due to the work and achievement of others.”

Inspired in part by Raleigh’s International Festival, the Middle School’s World Language department started an International Festival in 2001. It later (around 2009) merged with another CA event, US Nationality Night, which was aimed at enjoying food and performances representative of student cultures. Attendees bought tickets for food items, and money was used for our still active ESL peer tutoring program at Reedy Creek.

Now, across countless conversations, challenges, and a whole lot of caring, we arrive at today, wondering what story Ubuntu 2020 will tell.

The Ubuntu Celebration at Cary Academy is an important community event, one that supports our mission by helping students see how they can impact the school, their community, and the world. It allows students to experience different cultures, food, work, and other topics through different lenses, piquing their interests and allowing them to take a deeper dive into a variety of issues.

The diversity of our community is one of our greatest assets. And, it is one to be celebrated. We see incredible value in sharing the wealth of our diverse experiences and identities with each other. We want our families and teachers to share aspects of what they do and who they are so that we can gain a greater understanding of our community, to connect with one another. We know—and have seen in years past—that this celebration brings many things to the forefront that we may not have known about each other before.

Ubuntu is a time that we come together, and you—our community—are an integral part of the process. We look forward to partnering with you and the PTAA Diversity Committee to make this an exceptional day. There are many ways to get involved:

“Ubuntu tells us that we can create a more peaceful world by striving for goodness in each moment, wherever we are.” —Desmond Tutu

Please join us in spreading goodness on February 28, 2020. We look forward to having you join us!



Written by Danielle Johnson-Webb, Director of Equity and Community Engagement

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