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Diversity Equity Inclusion & Belonging at Severn

Leadership in Action: Multicultural Alliance

Multicultural Alliance (MA) is a student-led club that aims to promote cultural awareness and unity in our Upper School. Since its inception, it has served as an unofficial affinity space for students of color to share their daily lived experiences at Severn, and where allies are encouraged to join in and support. Over the past two years, under the leadership of Chéla Cunningham '21, Yeala Grimes '21, Abijah Pennant '21, and Maddie Skinner '21, the club's mission has grown to include more outreach and education as they examine issues and amplify the stories of historically underrepresented communities.

Purpose and Growth

At the end of February, we met with Chéla, Yeala, Abijah, and Maddie, along with the club's faculty advisors, to get their perspectives on why MA is important and how it has evolved. Passionate about cultural advocacy and making positive change at Severn, they shared different ideas driven by the club's overall ethos and goals.
"The purpose of the club is to unite every different race and nationality — to find common ground and talk about things that we all care about while spreading awareness for certain things in relation to those topics. We've been leaders of the club for two years and this year we are trying to do something different every [heritage] month, like Native American and Black History Month. And for Women's History, we want to do something with women of color." — Maddie

"I’m really glad to have been a part of Multicultural because I didn’t have anything like this at my old school. It’s not only a safe space but a place for people to come and learn. My favorite thing is that there’s always a good balance between talking and listening. You can come and share your experience but you also get to hear the experiences of others and learn about something you had no idea about before that day. Another thing that the club has put a huge emphasis on this year is educating the community, which is an important part of any inclusion club." — Chéla

"That is new for us. I've been in this club since my freshman year and we've done other things like going to the National Museum of African American History in D.C. but that was under different leadership. I feel like in past years MA has been confused for being Black only. But it's multicultural — for all minority students at Severn and even allies who would like to come in. It has transformed to being more of an outward reaching group this year because we got the Black Student Alliance group this summer. Because we finally got that affinity group, it was time to make the separation between Multicultural Alliance and Black Student Alliance. BSA focuses more on being an affinity group, a safe place to have activities and get to know each other better. MA serves as a place for every culture. We want to educate . . . and collaborate." — Yeala

"Right now we are [collaborating] with another club that I host, SWAG [Supporting Women Across the Globe], to do something for Women's History Month, possibly a weekly thing. The first week is Black women as a transition from Black History Month, and then Latina women, etc. We want to make sure that we show every community." — Abijah
Members of the Upper School club Multicultural Alliance on Zoom.
Mr. Duane Tyler, Maddie Skinner '21, Yeala Grimes '21, Abijah Pennant '21, Chéla Cunningham '21, Mr. Damon Massenburg, and Ms. Camille Jones

A Foundation for the Future

The outreach-based aspect of the club is in its foundational stages. For now, working with the hybrid schedule and COVID restrictions, they are creating educational Zoom presentations for the Upper School community. Although this group of senior leaders will be moving on after graduation, they hope that the new framework will give future club leaders and members the structure to expand. This year's presentations include:
  • A presentation in November featuring the history of Native American tribes in our geographic region, information about current tribal government, and Native Americans in prominent leadership positions including Congress, activist groups, and more
  • Two presentations in February featuring the founder and history of Black History Month, and a spotlight on Historically Black Colleges and Universities
"Talking about the founder and how Black History Month came to be just seemed appropriate because a lot of people don't know. HBCU's felt important to us going into college, especially because two of us here are going to an HBCU (Abijah and Maddie). We wanted to share that with the school because with this being a PWI (predominantly white institution), not a lot of people consider HBCUs. We thought it would be good to boost the history of them and also boost important figures who are products of HBCUs and how much of an impact they've actually had on American History as a whole." — Yeala

"As we finish the school year, we hope to continue doing presentations like the ones we did for Black History Month and for Native American Heritage Month." — Chéla
Screenshot from the Zoom presentation on Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Screenshot from the group's presentation on HBCUs

Unity Day

Unity Day is a big day for advocacy clubs at Severn; they work throughout the year to develop strategy and plan workshops. With pandemic restrictions and hybrid learning, Unity Day had a new format this year, centered on films to spark conversations about different issues. We asked the group if that change impacted their message.
"Showing a movie made it easier for the audience to have an emotional connection to the issues. We really got to witness each of the characters go through whatever struggle they were going through. We showed 'When They See Us' and instead of us lecturing about mass incarceration and systemic racism, everyone could see it. And also since it is a true story, it emphasizes the fact that this stuff really goes on in our society. I think that they were able to draw from that and foster conversations about what we can do to combat mass incarceration." — Abijah

"It allowed everybody to see the same body of work and come in with the same level of information before you start having the conversation. So you're not having a discussion where one person knows everything about the subject and ten people don't know anything about it. And I think that getting to show something the way that we did puts a face to it. A lot of people get caught up in numbers and get desensitized. You don't really see the faces behind it and what it does to people. [Showing the movie] humanizes the situation and helps everyone develop more empathy." — Maddie

Support From Their Mentors

After the interview, the club faculty advisors expressed heartfelt gratitude and kudos for the club's leadership over the past several years.
"I will say they have been a part of [this club] the entire time they've been here and have left a tremendous footprint in terms of evolving to this next stage. Last year we had some very good conversations, but what they are doing now sets the stage for when we get back to our 'normal.' I want to pay homage to the empathy, the efforts, and the compassion that these young ladies have put into it." — Mr. Tyler

"I am so proud of these ladies. As you know I'm new, so I didn't really know the dynamic beforehand, but I had a really similar type of situation when I was in high school. We didn't have an affinity group so Multicultural [Club] was the space where anyone who wasn't white could go to talk about private school struggles and being a person of color in a white space. So I'm super glad that we have BSA now. But I'm proud of the work that they've put in trying to make this as inclusive as possible and getting out a broader message, like that the space is also for allies. Every history month that we talk about is part of American history so I'm really proud of the effort they've put in and the message they've been able to share this year." — Ms. Jones

"I'm going to echo the same thing. Specifically this four group of girls, these four friends, they've always sat outside my office so they were the first group of kids that I bonded with. To see them grow from those sophomores to now, and the things they've talked about over the years, wanting the BSA, wanting to expand MA . . . it came to fruition because of their work." — Mr. Massenburg

About Upper School Clubs

Through our Upper School club program, we encourage students to develop their passions and explore their identities through unique opportunities for intellectual and social growth. Students can practice leadership skills, make friends outside of their typical peer groups, and dive into their interests in an informal, but structured environment with the support of faculty advisors. Multicultural Alliance is one of over forty student-led clubs available for our students.

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