The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Day of Racial Reform and Solidarity ’23

The Day of Racial Reform and Solidarity took place on Wednesday Dec. 6. The day consisted of numerous speakers and classroom lessons and ended with a celebration in 22 Tappan.

This year’s Day of Racial Reform and Solidarity (DoRRS)—the annual school-wide tradition with an aim to explore issues and topics of race and racism within the United States—was held on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

C-block: Keynote Speaker Omar Mohuddin

Emilie Ferdinand, Staff Writer

DoRRS commenced during C-block with a speech from keynote speaker Omar Mohuddin, where he gave advice and shared his story about how he ran for mayor of Woburn at 19 years old. Mohuddin identifies as Somali and Black.

Mohuddin began by speaking about his childhood: he was raised by a single mother who immigrated to the United States and had three brothers. He said he got his first job at 14 years old; later in high school, he worked full-time at a local bank, sacrificing his attendance at school.

Mohuddin shared how he turned his absences around and got accepted to Northeastern University on a full academic scholarship even though he had told his mother he did not plan on attending college months prior. Reflecting on his collegiate experience so far, Mohuddin advised students to give themselves the opportunity to pivot in life.

“Change your goals as you change and adapt as a person,” Mohuddin said.

Mohuddin said he ran for mayor of Woburn so that he could amplify the concerns of people without voices in the town and give them opportunities. He said he knew the chances of him winning this election were slim because he was young; despite his loss, he shared the story in the hopes of motivating students to face adversity.

“If there is something you’re passionate about and you are willing to go for it, then go for it,” Mohuddin said.

Mohuddin said he felt content after losing the election because he had made an impact on the people of Woburn, empowering them.

“Take the challenge on, even if it is one to 100,” Mohuddin said.

After Mohuddin finished his speech, moderators and seniors Emeri Shende-Ruiz and Zyad Baliamoune led a question and answer session. Responding to a question that asked what he would want to tell his younger self, Mohuddin ended the block with some parting remarks.

“I would tell my younger self, ‘Don’t be so afraid of failure,’” Mohuddin said.

A-block: Lesson About Redlining

Simon Dolev, Staff Writer

Day of Racial Reform and Solidarity (DoRRS) continued into A-block with classes learning about redlining through a slideshow and a video, titled “How Redlining Prevented Black and Brown Families From Becoming Homeowners,” produced by the Harvard Kennedy School. Students and teachers then discussed the impacts of redlining on local communities.

Senior Aldo Schmitz-Martinez said A-block was his favorite part of the entire day as the stories of communities resisting the injustice of redlining drew him in.

“[The lesson] had to do with a community in the United States, and that resonated with me: people coming together to actually prevent racist things from happening,” Schmitz-Martinez said. “I thought that was really cool all around.”

Schmitz-Martinez said he found the small group aspect of the lesson to be helpful for him, pushing him to participate more and ultimately gain more from the experience.

“If [the lesson] were individual, I think I’d be less inclined to think through what I’m seeing,” Schmitz-Martinez said. “I think the aspect of having to talk with other people about what I learned.”

Senior Odin Hilts said he felt that sometimes people choose to ignore topics that they might not want to hear about. He said that lesson was very important to force people to learn about redlining and its impact on many communities.

“It was really necessary for people to have that discussion: for the people who knew about it to express their feelings about it, and for the people who didn’t know about it to learn about it,” Hilts said.

According to Hilts, the information discussed was important for providing context for the subsequent blocks.

“The other blocks were mainly presenters and them talking about their own unique experiences. [The A block lesson] is necessary and eye-opening for a lot of people,” Hilts said.

Senior Stellaluna Rodriguez said that they were able to make personal connections to the lesson. Rodriguez said that they knew that their own community wasn’t redlined but it helped them to understand what it meant to live in a redlined community like some of their family members.

“I already roughly knew about redlining, but the lesson really expanded my view on it,” Rodriguez said. “I really learned more about my own community and where I live. It really opened my eyes to the bigger view.”

E-block: Telling Our Stories Assembly

Geo Elasmar, News Editor

DoRRS continued with the Telling Our Stories Assembly during E-block, which featured nine speakers who shared speeches of identity, resilience, overcoming and acceptance. Senior Tina Li and junior Jenih Jean-Michel facilitated the assembly.

First to present was senior Jeselle Rosario, who discussed her Dominican and Honduran identity and how she sometimes feels “not Latina enough” for her family. She said she eventually discovered that the depth of one’s Hispanic or Latino identity transcends external characteristics; it can’t be quantified or measured.

“La Latinidad is something that is in your blood, in your skin and in the coils of your hair,” Rosario said. “So yes, I am Hispanic. But no, my Spanish isn’t perfect, and no, I don’t know how to cook most Dominican foods, but I’m sure as hell not going to let anyone else strip me of my identity any longer.”

Next, junior Amarjot Ranu-Laverdiere spoke about growing up South Asian in a predominantly white community, how peers made her “stomach drop” upon requests to imitate stereotypical accents or when mispronouncing her name despite countless corrections. She advised those with similar experiences to hers to break free from silence and conformity.

“I encourage you to trust your values, even when everything around seems to deafen them,” Ranu-Laverdiere said. “When you can, use your voice. It can give you the most lasting strength.”

Third speaker and sophomore Kerisa Ramirez, who is Afro-Latina and Dominican, used her experiences with her hair to tell her story, from Kindergarten’s straightened locks to 8th grade’s box braids. She said throughout her school career, teachers and peers have often touched her hair without her consent, which prompted her to realize the power of saying “no.”

“I do have a voice. I do have a choice,” Ramirez said. “No matter how I wear my hair—curly or straight or braided—I always have the choice to tell people not to touch it.”

Reflecting on her multiracial identity as both a Singaporean-Chinese and Panamanian American, freshman Jieling Pua spoke next. She said she had always felt more connected to her father’s Singaporean-Chinese side and described rediscovering her Panamanian side, like her love for the Spanish language.

“I encourage you to find your people, take that one class, explore your family’s roots,” Pua said. “Who knows? You might even discover a song inside yourself that you never imagined you could sing.”

The fifth speaker was junior Soraya Karimi-Geransayah, who described the “best of both worlds” duality of her Iranian-American identity: its rich Persian heritage and American traditions. She talked about her disapproval of the administration for their silence after the death of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who was killed while in police custody last year after not wearing the hijab according to the Iranian government’s standards.

“There are many Iranian students, families and staff members who were in distress during the movement and were silently suffering with the news of the execution of one imprisoned protester after another,” Karimi-Geransayah said.

Sixth speaker and senior Morgan Grace said profiling is the “common thread” between all the stories she’s heard over the years from Black students at DoRRS. Grace identifies as African American and has sickle cell anemia, a disease that affects the shape of her red blood cells. She said she was profiled by others solely by these two aspects of her identity.

“Take the parts of yourself that make you unique and use them as your armor and shield against people’s prejudiced opinions of you,” Grace said. “You are worth so much more than you think, and you’re the only person that can invent your profile.”

Senior Mihailo Stevanović spoke next, connecting his mixed identity to the world’s misleading narratives that prevent the coexistence of cultures and ethnicities.

“A garden like myself is mixed, and Serbians, Albanians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Palestinians all have a place in it,” Stevanovic said.

The penultimate speaker, Dean of Student Support Systems Brian Poon, who is biracial—Asian and white—discussed his journey of accepting his identity. Poon said he never felt fully welcomed in white spaces or Asian spaces, but his family, the high school and his own personal growth have helped him understand that he is one whole multiracial person, not half of anything.

“While some try to exclude us from one group or another, we [multiracial people] know we belong to both,” Poon said. “I approach my activism as a person of color, encouraging other multiracial people to love their whole selves.”

Finally, senior Kesiah Nwosu shared about being a Haitian and Nigerian American, and the changes that came with moving from Boston to Brookline in 3rd grade. She said her experiences have made her a better version of herself and encourages students to be authentically themselves.

“Your story is still unfolding, and the pen is still in your hands,” Nwosu said. “So write it with courage, resilience and the unwavering commitment to be true to yourself and yourself only.”

G-block: Lesson About Changemakers

Julia Vianello, Staff Writer

During G-block, students participated in a lesson about leaders of change and youth-led movements. They investigated a portrait gallery of many different American leaders and a timeline of youth-led movements. They were then able to brainstorm ways they could create change in and outside their communities by diving deeper into the causes and solutions of an issue.

Freshman Jeffrey Dong said it is important to look back on history, which the lesson had students do.

“From learning about [history], we can look to the future and figure out what went right and what didn’t, and we can go forward from there,” Dong said.

History teacher Elise Brown said the lesson gave students the chance to see a diverse variety of changemakers.

“Giving students as many examples as possible of people just like them who have fought for social change in a variety of ways helps them see themselves in their history,” Brown said. “[This] is exactly why I became a history teacher: to make sure that students can see examples of ordinary people being active agents in their communities.”

Brown said they were also impressed by how educated students were during the discussions.

“One thing I learned from hearing the student’s responses during discussions was how educated they already are about a lot of the issues that happen in the community,” Brown said. “It gave me a lot of hope because when I was in high school, I don’t think I would have been able to say the same about my peers.”

Junior Anna Dencker said her takeaway from the lesson was that becoming a changemaker comes down to a few key aspects.

“Anyone can be an activist and changemaker, and it’s about finding your purpose and what you want to do,” Dencker said. “If you have a good team around you and passion, you can create change, even though you’re young.”

Brown said this was their first DoRRS, and they were able to see how beneficial the day is to students.

“It’s essential, not only for the students who are hearing those perspectives but also for the students who are sharing them,” Brown said. “It’s amazing that Brookline is giving these students a space where their perspective is valuable and their experiences are celebrated, not ignored.”

After School: DoRRS Celebration

Reuben Pomerantz, Opinions Editor

The DoRRS party was hosted in the 22 Tappan cafeteria to celebrate the day and highlight groups such as the Asian Pacific American Club (APAC), Southwest Asian and North African Club (SWANA), the Black Student Union (BSU) and other affinity clubs. Each club hosted a table and primarily sold food and snacks.

BSU co-president junior Nathan Lopes De Carvalho said he was pleased with his club’s inclusion in the DoRRS celebration.

“[I am] more than proud,” Lopes De Carvalho said. “I feel like the BSU is just going up from here on out.”

In hosting the APAC table alongside other students, senior Angela Zhou interacted with the students and staff who visited to learn more about APAC.

“[The celebration is] a really good way to connect with our community. I know we’re selling things, but also, you can connect with other people and share our culture through food,” Zhou said.

Keynote speaker and Woburn 2023 mayoral candidate Omar Mohuddin was among the attendees in the cafeteria. He stopped by the tables and spoke with students and staff. Mohuddin said he felt inspired by the student body.

“These students made me feel like I had an impact on them, and they really appreciated what I was doing,” Mohuddin said. “It made me feel successful. It made me feel like I’m doing not only what I believe in, but what I believe in is having an impact.”

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