Day of Racial Reform and Solidarity aims to spark conversation and educate



The G-block celebration included food, games, music, and art.

As the high school attempts to grapple with the sheer magnitude of racially charged incidents this year, the Day of Racial Reform and Solidarity (DoRRS) served as a resource for shedding light and educating students on the systems of racial oppression in our community and beyond, while emphasizing a celebration of the diverse racial identities within the high school.

This year’s DoRRS, formerly known as Asking for Courage Day, took place on Thursday, May 12. Junior Madison Allen played a central role in the organization and preparation for the day. The D-block portion of the day was titled “Telling Our Stories” and featured eight speakers: Pablo Meyers, Zara Sideeka, Dean Karim Azeb, Rowan Roudeboush, William Yoon, Ellie Hyde, Marcella Huang, Jacquovia Higgs, Dean Lisa Redding and Ary Alvarez-Valdez. Students of color were provided with the option to watch the speeches live in the auditorium during D-block. The presentation was also streamed online in classrooms. DoRRS closed with a G-block celebration including art, music, games and presentations from various affinity clubs.

Allen said the goal of the name change was to transition the focus of the day to being actively engaged in racial equity work, while also acknowledging the work others are doing.

“Being activism and action-oriented about racial equity is at the core of what it means to be engaged in racial reform work. All the while, we must stand in solidarity with those who are being catalysts for anti-racist change. This is how the name Day of Racial Reform and Solidarity was born,” Allen said. “By no means are we saying that all the racial reform in the world that needs to occur will happen on this day, but I do hope our school community uses this day to elevate marginalized voices, do the foundational work of how race and racism manifest in all realms of our society and to choose love and healing as you continue to bring anti-racist work into your daily lives.”

Sophomore Pablo Meyers opened the assembly with a speech affirming his pride in his Colombian identity through a Colombian soccer shirt that he wore nearly three times a week in elementary school.

“In my mind, being Colombian meant that I had a whole other side of knowledge, experience and depth. I wore the shirt not only because I supported the soccer team, but because I learned how to cook arepas with my grandma on Sunday afternoons. I wore the shirt because I was the best salsa dancer in the room, still am. I wore the shirt because I could speak better Spanish than my elementary school Spanish teacher. I wore this shirt because my phone constantly ran out of storage due to the familia WhatsApp group chat spamming notifications all day,” Meyers said.

Junior Zara Sideeka began her speech by highlighting her identity as Indian and Muslim. She shared some of the appalling, racially charged comments she has experienced firsthand, including being called a terrorist. Sideeka said people’s willingness to change and fight against their own implicit biases is necessary.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight. People deserve a second, maybe even a third, chance,” Sideeka said.

Next, Associate Dean Karim Azeb shared his experiences growing up as a Black immigrant and Muslim in America. Azeb shared his experiences in each new place, each littered with racist remarks and sentiments. Born in Egypt, he emigrated from Buffalo to Kentucky and then to Brooklyn. Azeb said that after 9/11, it became painfully normalized to call anyone Muslim, or anyone who “looks” Muslim, a terrorist. He said his story has transitioned to what will hopefully be a happy ending, but he can’t say the same for many of the kids he grew up with.

“My brother and I weren’t even 11 years old, and this country had turned us into angry Black boys in less than four years. After soccer practices, during soccer games, in school, outside of school, on the playground, at the park, in the grocery store, at movie theaters, in restaurants, you name it, I’ve been called a n-word there,” Azeb said. “I’ve been told I don’t belong, I’ve been told to go back to Africa, I’ve even been told to go back to Mexico.”

Senior William Yoon shared how his close ties with his mother’s family were connected to his culture, and some of his favorite childhood memories were of visiting Chinatown with them. Yoon loved the food his family fed him. He said the Lunar New Year celebration with his family was repeatedly a highlight. He said that despite the beauty of his culture, he cannot feel safe as an Asian American.

“In New York City, anti-Asian hate crimes surged 343 percent between 2021 and the start of this year. Soon enough you will think to yourself, nowhere is safe to be Asian or Asian American,” Yoon said.

Following Yoon, senior Ellie Hyde delivered a speech beginning with a violin lesson where she learned the value of discomfort, which she was taught results in growth. Hyde said she forced herself to unlearn the idea that Japan’s history was exempt from wrongdoings, and that this brought up shame, discomfort and required much bravery. Hyde said she was able to sit with the discomfort she felt when she learned about the shortcomings in Japan’s history, and reflected on it.

“I had no pressure on me, as a Japanese person, to educate myself on what my country was responsible for. I was immersed in a movement of pan-Asianism, and would always ask this: ‘if we’re all Asian, why can’t we just get along?’ Imagine my discomfort as a junior when I found a book in the library that held detailed accounts and images of the atrocities that the imperial Japanese armies committed in Nanjing,” Hyde said.

Junior Marcella Huang recounted a time in an eighth grade Torah study class, when someone told Huang they had an “Asian nose.” She said it was paralyzing to be isolated in that way. An Asian upperclassman saw Huang struggling, and said to her, “I think our features are beautiful.” Huang discussed the complexities and hardships they faced being biracial in addition to the power it has given them.

“I learned I could feel empowered in my racial identity. It’s a gift bringing more empathy, understanding of multidimensional identities and perspective on being white and Asian, all at once. Our identities are a process, they are our experiences and lives and they ebb and flow. The exploration of your racial identity is not bound to a strict timeline. Spend all the time you’d like, because our identities are our lives, ours to decide, and not anyone else’s,” Huang said.

Keya Waikar and Rohan Chopra ran the stand representing the South Asian Student Association during the G-block celebration. (CONTRIBUTED BY JEAN HUR)

Junior Jacquovia Higgs followed Huang, speaking about her experience in the METCO program. She said that although Brookline feels like home, she has never lived in the town. She then addressed her Black peers, telling them that they matter in Brookline and that they belong here, while highlighting the importance of Black teachers.

“The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity was founded in 1966, to desegregate the schools in Metro Boston and beyond, because without it, our schools would unfortunately still be segregated. And so, from the tender age of five years old, my very presence in this town was an act of resistance against white supremacy,” Higgs said. “For the first time, [when I came to the high school] I had Black teachers, though not nearly enough of them, who made me realize that although the world is trying to pull me three steps back, I must always be ready to take my next step forward.”

Students of all grades participated in the celebration, which occurred in 22 Tappan. (CONTRIBUTED BY JEAN HUR)

Dean Lisa Redding explained that she first fully recognized the arbitrary nature of racism when she was pulled over with her friends who were Black during her sophomore year of high school. Redding said she began to yell about the unfairness of the situation while the police officer approached the car and her friends shushed her out of concern.

“I was stunned, but not by what they said. I was stunned by the looks on their faces. They were serious, no, more than serious. Panicked. Fearful. That’s what I saw on their faces. I shut right up. It was then that I understood that racism wasn’t about everyone getting along or not getting along. It was not until this experience in sophomore year of high school that I understood I was allowed to navigate this world in a very different way than my friends were,” Redding said.

Junior Ary Alvarez-Valdez closed the assembly by sharing the joy and the adversity she lives every day as an Afrolatina woman. She described the growing trend of Afrolatinos embracing their African roots, and how this has brought controversy in society within the Latino community. The term Afrolatino refers to people from Latin American countries who also have African ancestry. She rejected the common idea that being Black and Latino are mutually exclusive. She said that a harmful racial hierarchy exists within the Latino community. Alvarez-Valdez said embodying the duality of her identity is necessary to embracing her identity.

“I see a woman [when I look in the mirror each morning] whose heart cried to feel at home, one who struggled to straddle both cultures. But I am a byproduct of reclaiming my freedom. Yo soy una mixtura. No solamente negra, no solamente latina. I’m a mixture. Afrolatina,” Alvarez-Valdrez said. “For me, it doesn’t mean that I devalue my Dominican identity, it just means that my Dominican identity doesn’t flourish without also equally claiming my Black identity. The two must coexist. The emergence of Afrolatinos loudly proclaiming their multifaceted identities is a cure to the virus of the erasure of Afrolatinos.”

The organizers shared five mission statements for the day during C-block. The first was “for all community members to discover or strengthen their fluency in conversations about race and racism. Conversation is as much about listening as it is speaking.” Understand, identify, engage and celebrate were the key words of the four following statements.

With speakers ranging in race, age, gender and much more, listeners were provided with the opportunity to understand perspectives different from their own. Listeners were also exposed to the diverse beauty within so many cultures. Many speakers expressed the oppression they’ve faced, while also rejoicing in their identities. These aspects of the day helped accomplish, in part, the missions of the day.

Allen said that passivity will not drive change or help to dismantle the racist systems in the town.

“I find it troubling that after the year of racial reckoning that we’ve had, people are still asking why they need to be anti-racist. Simply not being racist is incredibly passive and doesn’t help solve the problem of racism as a whole. Being anti-racist is the active practice of identifying and opposing racism. It means actively challenging and changing beliefs, policies and behaviors that perpetuate racist ideals and actions,” Allen said.

Repeatedly stressed by the speakers was the importance of looking inward. Sideeka said a lack of understanding of racial issues is dangerous.

“Here, I am forced to enter a place where I am forced to know I am different,” Sideeka said. “These things are small reminders that Brookline is not exempt from racism.”